November 14, 2019

Navigating the Q3 Social Media Blizzard

Social media—Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others—is no longer merely sharing the headlines, but, more often than not, making them. The past few weeks have been exceptionally eventful, so it’s important to clarify what has transpired and assess its impact, if any.

The Snapback
Back from the brink, Snapchat reported surprising growth in Q3 2019, closing Q3 with a 13% increase in users and a 50% increase revenue, year-over-year. It remains popular with teens, college students, and the companies trying to reach them.

Where it’s going: We think that Snapchat will continue to see modest growth over the next few quarters, but will eventually come to odds with TikTok, which appeals to a similar audience and provides similar, short-form vertical video content.

What it means: Younger users prefer more diversity in social media apps. While Boomers are reachable almost exclusively on Facebook, Gen Z users are on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and YouTube. While the Facebook/Instagram duopoly still gets plenty of Gen Z attention, it is not used exclusively as with prior generations.

Twitter Grows … a Spine
Twitter reported healthy growth in Q3 2019: monetizable daily active users were up 17% year-over-year to 145 million, adding six million during the quarter. But the big headline was CEO Jack Dorsey announcing that Twitter would ban political advertising in the run-up to the 2020 election. Social media has, of course, played a controversial role in political and election interference.

Where it’s going: Twitter has set the standard for social media and the role of mainstream social media purveyors in policing the interplay between social media and sponsored political advocacy. Many parties, including its own employees, are calling on Facebook to make a similar move, especially since its collective cross-app audience of 2.4 billion far surpasses Twitter’s audience of 300 million.

What it means: Twitter is doubling down on its commitment to be a news site, and the ethical responsibility that comes with that. It may also be trying to position itself against Facebook as more ethical and open, and better at listening to its users.

Caps Lock
In a daring move, Facebook rebranded to a shocking all-caps “FACEBOOK.” Lower-case “Facebook” refers to the Facebook social network site and app. “FACEBOOK” refers to the parent brand that owns social-network Facebook, as well as Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, Portal, and the upcoming Libra cryptocurrency. However, surprisingly few people know that FACEBOOK owns these sub-companies, particularly Instagram and WhatsApp. A soon-to-be released TDG report shows that 38% of video streamers age 18-65 know FACEBOOK owns Instagram and 22.5% know it owns WhatsApp.

Where it’s going: In June of 2020, FACEBOOK will start adding “from FACEBOOK” to its subsidiaries’ apps. We believe that, as more users become aware of the connection between these companies, Facebook’s poor reputation will simply spread to the other apps.

What it means: While FACEBOOK says it is working to better educate its users (which we agree is sorely needed), some theorize this is merely an effort to thwart FTC interference. At the least, the move insinuates that FACEBOOK doesn’t want to be accused of being deceptive; at the most, it means that, as these apps are further integrated, the harder they may be to break apart in possible future antitrust regulation.

To Like or Not to Like
For the past few months, Instagram has been testing hidden likes on its international posts. This week, it begins testing of in the U.S, with many like counts hidden from view. Publicly, Instagram says this change is to help “well-being and health” and provide a more positive, less psychologically-damaging environment.

Where it’s going: Unfortunately, this change will have minimal effect on the platform. First, users can still see their own likes. This means that you can still get the dopamine rush associated with seeing how many viewers like your posts, only without the low of comparing yours to others. Next, if you want a popularity contest, you can still see follower counts, view counts, and comment counts. Simply removing likes is comparable to tinting one car window (of four) and expecting privacy.

What it means: Some speculate that this will have the most significant impact on influencers, and that Instagram is trying to find a way to cash in on the $8 billion influencer industry that takes place on their platform without them getting a cut. However, influencers simply have to send a screenshot of their like counts to brands they want to work with. In a world where brands are becoming more aware of fake influencers, engagement rates and authentic follower percentages are already under the microscope, thus a screenshot of likes is not a big deal.

Washington Wises Up
Congress is becoming more social savvy, and quickly. In late October, a hearing with Mark Zuckerberg around the Libra cryptocurrency ended in scrutiny not just of Libra, but of FACEBOOK overall. Facebook can’t seem to go a week without a new privacy violation. In fact, 47 state Attorneys General will be launching an antitrust probe into FACEBOOK.

In the meantime, as social network TikTok reaches 100 million U.S. users, Congress is concerned about a slew of issues from bullying, to COPPA violations, to child pornography, to sharing data with the Chinese government.

Where it’s going: It seems that TikTok is the first social network getting full scrutiny from the government, but this is likely the minimum level of involvement we can expect in the future.

What it means: Things have come a long way from the April 2018 Congressional social network hearing, where luddite congressmen were the laughing stock of the internet. The FTC fined Facebook $5 billion, but it didn’t stop their ethical indiscretions. We expect the battle between the government and social networks to escalate, but the fight won’t only be between those two sides. For example, progressives are set on breaking up FACEBOOK, while conservatives believe that this would end in censorship. Political infighting and the balance of power will have a large effect on how these inevitable regulations play out.

If you learned something about the expansive, ever-changing world of social media today, sign up to receive more information on our upcoming report, User Adoption and Trends in Social Streaming, IGTV, and Facebook Watch.

Lauren Kozak, the author of the report and this article, is our Senior Advisor on Social Media, Analytics, and User Behavior. She has previously held positions for the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing, and Britney Spears.

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