Most social media platforms have reported an accelerated growth in 2020, for example, TikTok saw a sharp growth that saw it amass a global footprint that nearly tripled its size since 2018. It’s true, we have long been a society of scrollers, swipers and watchers but the pandemic has elevated this - with people more apart physically than ever before, many have turned to online communities to support them through a time of isolation.
But if you look beneath the surface, a more nuanced picture emerges about social media users today that has implications for the way we interact with each other. More specifically, when you look at who - and importantly who isn’t - driving the growth and popularity of platforms a key demographic appears to be in retreat of ‘more traditional’ social platforms: Gen Z.
To give some context to this, in 2019, in a pre-pandemic world, findings from Edison Research and Triton Digital show social media usage overall among Americans 12 to 34 years old across several platforms has either leveled off or is waning while 2019 research from Global Web Index suggests that the amount of time Millennial and Gen Z audiences spend on many social platforms is either flat, declining, or not rising as greatly as it has in years’ past.
To truly understand what is causing the shift you need to speak with young people. Apparently, after years of building up ‘friend lists’ and carefully creating online identities, they now want to make online friends based on authentic connections and mutual interests. They’re more informed than any generation before them, which means they crave privacy, safety and a haven away from crowds of people on social platforms - particularly when the crowds include their parents, aunts, uncles and family friends.
At times, social media can feel like an unsanctioned space where everyone can go and share their own thoughts and experiences but no one person particularly wants to be there or is listening directly to you. Having a mishmash of followers and friends who you’re connected with but have nothing in common with doesn’t always create the most open space for sharing. The rise of more personal and private platforms is attractive to younger users who want to express themselves out of the gaze of watching eyes - and to meet like-minded people who have a genuine interest in what they have to say.
Live streamers are seeking something entirely different to traditional online video content. The key differentiator here is it allows its users to broadcast in real-time, without having to record, store and edit. Once it’s out there - it’s out there. Naturally, this content has a more raw and authentic feel to it, which likely explains the boom in its uptake in 2020. For example, Yubo reported an uptick in livestreams of 550 percent globally, with young people spending an average of two hours on livestream. One live stream even topped 532 hours.
There is a more genuine exchange of interaction; people can watch the livestream and don’t have to interact - or they can join in creating a two/three/four-way conversation. Young people have been taking to these platforms in droves, where they’re away from prying eyes of parents, can meet new people and discuss mutual interests openly.
Yubo has become a specific hub for Gen Z to discuss any topic that matters to them. Anyone can watch or join in on conversations but the nature of the platforms means there is likely something for every conceivable niche interest. It’s more effective for users who spend time looking through discussions to land on something meaningful, with people they want to become friends with. Combine that with the intimacy engendered by the direct-to-camera style of the platform and users start to build a loyalty towards one another. They want to return and engage with people they met yesterday, to carry on the fun.
Smaller micro-communities which are primarily interactive spaces where people gather to discuss interests and passions. People can also use these spaces to learn new skills, play games or even share their thoughts and feelings. Similar to private messages these micro communities have sprung up across traditional social platforms, as well as entirely dedicated platforms. For example, Instagram’s ‘close friends’ features or Yubo’s ability to let users build a social network based on common interests and play games with people.
There is of course an ideal position for brands and influencers to create exclusive content streams for small groups of their following. However, this activity isn’t reserved only for ‘personal’ platforms. For example, LinkedIn introduced ‘Groups’ a few years ago, with the aim of providing a place for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share their insights and experiences, ask for guidance, and build valuable connections.
We’ve seen a rise in popularity for platforms which enable users to share experiences. This is likely due to the pandemic, and people feeling more isolated than ever before. Users of these platforms are looking for shared experiences that go beyond conversations. Let’s use Fortnite as an example; a multiplayer video game that has more than 200 million users, with up to 8 million users online at any given moment.
Although it is a game, it’s been named a de-facto social network largely down to the role it occupies in the lives of the players. Half of teens on the platform say they use it to keep up with friends - most of whom they have never met face to face. The platform has seen such a rise in popularity that musicians have started to use it as a place to host concerts. Some virtual concerts have seen ‘attendance’ of more than 10millions people - imagine a much larger Glastonbury.
The people who use Fortnite see it as much more than a game. It’s a centralized destination they can visit whenever they want, wherever they are. It’s a catalyst for bringing people together so they can share an experience.
Without question, the way we use social media platforms is evolving. Smaller communities are emerging and everyone is finding their own ‘groove’ as to how they want to socialize online. The pandemic has played a massive part in these and the emergence of new platforms that put people at the heart, not content, is not surprising as more and more focus is shifting towards mental health and self-care.
In 2019 Facebook announced a change in strategy to shift towards more closed groups and private modes of communication. They were paying attention because as Facebook loses more young audiences they need to overcome the hurdle that is around 98 percent of its revenue comes from advertising at scale.
As traditional social platforms grow, they become more crowded, and it becomes more difficult for people to create authentic connections and discuss topics that really matter to them.
- Social media scheduling tools: A boon when your brand has an International audience (opens in new tab)
Sacha Lazimi, co-founder and CEO, Yubo (opens in new tab)