It has been quite the whirlwind year for social media. Individually, each network went through a myriad of changes, both small and large, from Facebook’s many app launches to Snapchat’s new payment capabilities. There have been so many acquisitions, additions, feature changes, and rising new players that keeping up has at times been an exhausting exercise. Today we’re looking at some of the bigger trends in social media from the year that fueled all of that activity, and a few of the lessons we learned as well. Here are five of this year’s more influential forces in the social media space:
1. THE ALLURE OF ANONYMITY
Millennials’ desire to publish their thoughts began taking a turn in a new direction this year. While they still want to share and connect with others, they are looking for more controlled and private ways to do so. The Facebookers are becoming the faceless as they are putting a higher value on secrecy and anonymity in their online lives and social media interactions. Apps like Whisper and Secret, which allow users to broadcast personal thoughts without their names attached, were the big talk at 2014’s SXSW, and continued to attract users and attention throughout the year. Yik Yak emerged as one of the biggest rising stars of the anonymous app space, surpassing Whisper and Secret in the App Store daily charts, and becoming incredibly popular with high-school and college students. But the trend of anonymity is a double-edged sward. On one hand, young consumers are drawn to, and comforted by, a space that allows them to share who they with fewer consequences. On the other, the rise of anonymity networks has shown the darker side of being nameless, with bullying and threats a major problem on many platforms.
2. THE ERA OF VISUAL EXPRESSION
2014 was a banner year for visual networks, as young consumers continued to boost their popularity. Photo sharing has become a vital part of young consumers communication in a relatively short amount of time, and image sharing services are not just feeds of pictures—they are an essential part of their peer interactions, and their self-expression. Our most recent social media tracking survey found that as of December 4th, 60% of Millennials 13-18-years-old and 47% of 19-32-year-olds are using Instagram, and 53% of 14-18-year-olds and 35% of 19-32-year-olds are using Snapchat. Instagram is second only to Facebook in the ranking of social networks Millennials are actively posting to on a daily basis. Some of the hottest tech startups today are part of the “photo economy,” as entrepreneurs are fighting into the space with photo apps that put an emphasis on “storytelling, shopping, and storage.” Clearly the apps to know next will likely have something to do with this picture-obsession. Meanwhile, marketing on visual social platforms—Snapshot Marketing— has very quickly become an essential way to reach young consumers. We have no doubt that we will continue to see the influence of visual expression grow in the new year.
3. A GROWING FIGHT FOR POSITIVITY
Though Millennials are more optimistic than generations past, it actually may be easier for them to express negativity towards one other online since these more hurtful opinions are easier to type than say face-to-face. The plight of online bullying has been well-documented, and social media has become known by the generation as a place where they're as likely to collect insults as they are "friends." The trends of anonymity and more exclusive communications (in chat apps and closed communities) are likely direct results of the negativity that young consumers face on other platforms. In response to all of this, social networks are taking it upon themselves to encourage positive communication and finding subtle ways to make sure their Millennial users "play nice." Vine has encouraged positive behavior among users from the start: Ever notice that the comment box for videos on Vine has “Say something nice” written inside? One of YouTube’s most successful vloggers PewDiePie turned off comments on his videos and announced he had never been happier. Twitter has begun to take steps to control harassment among its users. As media coverage of online trolling and bullying will undoubtedly continue, we can also expect this counter-trend to grow, and networks' efforts to ingrain positive behavior in online communication to increase.
4. THE (RE) BIRTH OF EXCLUSIVE NETWORKS
In the early days of social media, older Millennials thought of networks as secret clubs inhabited by just their peers, where they felt free to broadcast personal information and incriminating pictures with little thought. Once that exclusive club was infiltrated, it took some time for them to adjust, but they’ve been doing so by gravitating towards networks and tools that keep things more exclusive. Snapchat has been leading the way in the departure from Facebook's “anything and everything to anyone” sharing practices, and the app's continued increase in popularity shows that there is a growing demand for an online social experience that is more private and less permanent. Chat apps like Whatsapp, acquired by Facebook earlier this year, have gained immense amounts of users seeking refuge from more public communication. Meanwhile, while older Millennials remember joining Facebook when it was a startup only open to top college students, Millennials in college today have grown up with broadcasting to everyone as the norm. Now, a community that is exclusive to just their peers is a new phenomena for them. They’re seeking out the places where their posts are seen by only a select few and where they feel more comfortable broadcasting things they wouldn’t want their grandmother to see. The last few months have given us a flurry of high school and college student-focused apps that are growing fast and making headlines. The trend is moving fast, with competition heating up by the day and scandals plaguing the startups like AfterSchool and DormChat breaking new ground in the space.
5. FACEBOOK’S DEATH ANNOUNCED—OVER AND OVER AGAIN
The year started with a report that teens are leaving Facebook, and it’s ending the same way. A report this month showed that 88% of 13-17-year-olds were using the network in 2014, a drop from 94% in 2013. We’ve looked at the reasons that teens just aren’t as interested in Facebook before, and Ypulse’s latest social media tracker survey actually showed that currently only 63% of 13-17-year-olds say they use Facebook. In our Q&A with visual network We Heart It’s CEO in March, he talked about Facebook’s fate, saying: “Our users are young, influential, passionate, expressive, and love to communicate visually, as images convey so much more than just text…They are looking for a place they can call their own. This is why the story of teens leaving Facebook is such an interesting one. Facebook is a hugely successful company but because of its success it doesn’t feel like a place where young people can feel free to express themselves in authentic ways. We’ve also heard that they want a place where they don’t have to deal with all of the pressures of other social networks, which can sometimes feel like popularity contests on steroids.” Headlines declaring Facebook’s death are clearly an exaggeration, but we are clearly seeing that for younger consumers the site does not hold as much appeal, and as startups continue to “unbundle” Facebook’s features—from image sharing to chat—they have other spaces they prefer to spend time in. Facebook’s not dead, but its dominance is in danger.