‘A single voice cannot make a choir. A single tree cannot make a forest’
To have an impact, we need a village. A global village.
Social media apps were meant to empower people, build community, connect the world. And what gives? Fake news, cyberbullying, ‘filter bubble’ bias, Cambridge Analytica scandal, mistrust and discontent, disruption of privacy, relationship issues, fraud.
Is it the divine intervention or human irrationality?
We’re social animals. We learn, create, relate, feel safe in a community. And there are many causes to stand for. But as the ‘network effect’ turns into the bandwagon, the ominous shadows of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter revive the apocalypse scenarios in our never-resting minds.
Is it possible to avoid the Tower of Babel scenario in digital social networking?
With the forecast of 3 billion MAU worldwide by 2021, can we build a social media app that works?
Here’s a take on the future of social media apps.
What is a social media app?
A social media app creates a digital community through meaningful interaction of individuals and groups. ‘Social’ denotes a network of users and connections. ‘Media’ implies creating shareable content. So a social media app has three basic features: profiles, connections, and feed. On top of that, social media apps generously grant us the tools for self-expression, communication, and gratification.
Top social media giants in numbers
For social media market leaders, the beauty is in numbers.
According to Statcounter, here’s how the four top players divide the world’s social media market in 2019:
- Facebook – 71.75%
- Pinterest – 15.5%
- Twitter – 6.07%
- YouTube – 3.65%
These horizontal social networks connect people worldwide on a personal and professional level. Despite the all-inclusive character, they have diverse engagement techniques, respectively:
- Cushion & sell;
- Inspire & induce;
- Inform & enrage;
- Relax & indulge.
Most favored by 25-34-y.o., it boasts over 2.37 billion MAU. Just fancy the dynamics of engagement on a 1-minute scale: 510,000 comments, 293,000 status updates, and 136,000 photo uploads! With over 65 million businesses using Facebook Pages and seven million active advertisers, it’s fairly noisy. So unlike the other side of the company, whose employees are mostly introverts.
It inspires 291 million DIY enthusiasts, visual art creators and admirers monthly. One of the ‘cleanest’ de-politicized networks to date. 85% of women use Pinterest to plan ‘life moments’ from vacation and home decoration planning to meals, fitness and partying. An equalizer for startups: 97% of searches are unbranded.
It only became profitable in 2017. The marketing mantra ‘tweet often’ creates a cacophony of 5,787 ‘tweets’ per second! As a result, only 328 million out of 1.3 billion Twitter accounts are currently active and 391 million accounts have zero followers. Those who had enough of political drama, steer clear of Twitter. That explains why 80% of Twitter users are not Americans.
With 2 billion MAU worldwide, YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google. It wins over by speaking the language of 95% of Internet multilingual society – 80 languages total. What a way to bond! YouTube is a well of delight that is never going to drain, with over 400 hours of videos uploaded each minute. Welcome to the rabbit hole, ya’ll!
More of ‘less’: types of vertical social media apps
‘No group is worth joining if everybody is welcome.’
The irony is, social media apps have a Goldilocks zone. However paradoxal it may sound, as the network’s size increases, our ability to be social decreases.
Gen-Zers flee from Facebook to more private and streamlined apps, ‘groups’ have the swarming-out potential, and niche networking apps are gaining momentum. Vertical networks connect people with particular interests.
Every niche social media app has a unique ratio of ‘social’ and ‘media’, creating an endlessly diverse social media universe.
- Industry-specific networks focus on a particular vertical: recruiting (LinkedIn), IT (Spiceworks), finance (Wave), medicine (PracticeFusion), software development (Github), R&D (ResearchGate), government (GovLoop), etc.
- Job seekers’ social networks (Jobster, MyWorkster, VisualCV, JobFox) facilitate exclusively job search and recruitment.
- Media sharing networks (Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Vimeo, Imgur, TikTok, Streem, Village.fm, PROMO) make sharing various media file formats a breeze.
- Discussion Forums – (Quora, Reddit, Ask.fm) enable public and private anonymous text-message exchange.
- Bookmarking and content curation networks (Feedly, Pinterest, Mix, Flipboard) allow users to store/share links – literature, citations to academic papers, visuals, micro-blogs.
- Consumer review networks (Yelp, Foursquare) give advice on consumer issues, assist in decision-making, boost competition, provide a wider product range and more specific search.
- Blogging and publishing networks (The Verge, Vox, Mashable, Medium, Tumblr, HubSpot, WordPress, Lifehacker, Mighty Networks) unite creative writers and audiences worldwide on a deeper level. Blogging is an awesome start of a niche network. Check the case of Styberry, a fashionista publishing platform our company helped to develop.
- Social shopping networks (Instagram, Pinterest, Fancy, Wanelo, Flerika) foster shopping discovery among the local community and beyond. They bring together products from a vast array of stores onto one pinboard-style platform or, alternatively, allow generating interest-based e-commerce groups.
- Interest-based networks (Goodreads, Last.fm, Hairbrained, Scratch, Flickr, Ravelry) bring kindred souls together to share hobbies, kindle and cultivate an interest. It’s a great start for friendships and business partnerships.
- Location-based social networks (Foursquare, Gowalla, Meetups, Tinder, Ushahidi) combine onsite and off-site UX for different purposes like finding one’s bearings, sending real-time emergency reports, summoning humanitarian help, or finding a mate nearby.
- ‘Sharing economy’ networks (OLX, Snapgoods, TaskRabbit, Poshmark, NeighbourGoods) allows getting goods and services for cheap, even free. Everyone needs a helping hand every now and then, while the idle value is wasted value.
- Anonymous social networks (Ask.fm, After School, Whisper) are gaining popularity among teens. Anonymous social media sites make it easier for users to hide or better protect their offline and online identities. There are no followers, friends, or profiles, no photos or email addresses disclosed.
- Social network aggregators (Hootsuite, FriendFeed) allow keeping your ‘lifestream’ (and that of your loved ones) at your fingertips and accessing it from a single interface.
Quiet is the new smart. We want more control over our lives and a safe haven for interests. Exclusive platforms for hobbyists, professionals, creatives, and other fiery birds of a feather aren’t after numbers but value. Still, we can make them better.
Let’s now look further ahead – into the future of social media.
What to expect in a social media app of the future
We love the world-wide connectivity, friendships, partnerships, and discovery. Yet dread infobesity, fraud, personal data misuse, and detrimental effects on kids. No one can tell what will happen to social media in the future. But there is a vision.
More Security and Privacy
‘Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun’
Privacy is critical. ‘Walled gardens’ in the past, today many SNS provide data-portability API allowing 3rd parties to integrate a user social interface profile data into external apps. What they don’t provide though is access control and privacy rules along with portable data.
Identity theft, authentication, fake news are fundamental problems: we’ve seen it on FB, Google, Twitter, etc. Some features, though privacy infringing, keep users unaware of their actual behavior in case of opt-in. For example, Snapchat’s snap map is ideal for stalkers. It can be zoomed in to feature detailed geographical information, such as street addresses. Even tools like FB’s ‘clear history’ for user data control aren’t efficient as we are the weakest link in this chain.
The future asks for an open architecture and data formats, with fine-grained authorization schemes which can delegate access. Web-of-trust techniques (smart algos harnessing the network of contacts’ data) can help establish identity. Encrypting user data and establishing different levels of trust is essential to privacy. That will make social media sites and apps safer for all user categories.
Smarter algorithms: it’s all in your head
Algos of social networking apps balance meaningful interactions for users with value for brands. Future apps will harness the intelligence in user browsers to deliver the best UX and smarter filters to funnel the ever-expanding content.
AI-driven algos will garner insights about users, just like FB uses DeepFace to recognize the images you love most (e.g., dogs) and then deep-learning methods to feed you the fitting ads. We’ll see more smart tools like:
- content recommendations on Netflix;
- personalized shopping on Amazon;
- enhancing search results on Google;
- natural language processing on Apple.
Creepy as it sounds, AI can help, too. Social media apps track human behaviors, like suicidal sentiment moderation and prevention (FB, Instagram). Sentiment detection tools are useful for kids, parents, and beyond. Age-based AI-driven content filtering can help in fending off cybercrime or gating inappropriate content.
Less web, more mobile
YouTube going mobile wasn’t a coincidence. According to the Mobility Report, ‘Video currently stands out as the most significant traffic type consumed by smartphone users. At the end of 2024, the average data consumption per smartphone is projected to be 21GB per month.’
In many Asian countries, mobile is the only affordable option for the social media app users.
Messaging apps will play a key role in this mobile-centric world, giving micro-businesses new ways to communicate with customers. In fact, they already are, according to Facebook’s research.
Mobile social networks of the future will have a payment feature, allowing in-app international money transfers. GlobalWebIndex found 63% of mobile banking, users are also on IM mobile apps. So it’s easy to bring the two features together.
Social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat transformed us into visual consumers. We’re pressed for time. Longreads require efforts, while visual-based content is easily digestive.
But it doesn’t stop at that. Since virtually every phone has a built-in camera, becoming a photographer is a snap. Photo animation tools are taking it to the next level.
Video is expected to make 80% of global traffic by the end of 2020, ’cause nothing beats its appeal. V-marketing is already #1 tool in generating conversions. Fun short-form product videos, micro-learning, social live streaming, one-to-one video messaging, passive networking – and whatnot! Explainer product videos help 90% of customers to make purchase decisions. Enjoyable commercials increase purchase intent by 97% and brand association by 139%.
That means the tools for video content creation (like Instagram stories camera) are in demand. Consider various video formats (live streaming, vlogging, produced video), templates for product marketing (discovery, promotion, benefits), animation and text-editing features.
Business needs variety. On Instagram, businesses can now create immersive storefronts, display featured products in Stories, and let users discover them via Search & Explore.
Standalone video sharing apps – like TikTok with its bingeing on wacky 15-second musical videos or Instagram’s IGTV app for long-form, vertical videos – will be big, too.
Video streaming app development is attractive, but many questions need resolution – privacy, copyright, addiction, monetization.
More AR and VR
Snapchat has made AR part of our reality. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but gen Z enjoys it. The future of AR is mobile. Mobile AR (Apple ARKit, Google ARCore, Facebook Camera Effects, Snap Lens Studio) can approach three and a half billion installed base by 2022. Investors are exploring new markets. Besides games, the greatest innovation and growth could come from the social sector and beyond. Totally new use cases could give rise to new business models.
Curious to know how to create an app like SnapChat and how much it costs?
So how will the ‘realities’ impact social media?
- New content delivery and business models. AR-based advertising creates an on-to-off-line user experience. For example, check a poster child of the L’Oreal and ModiFace partnership – an app called Style My Hair. It allows users to try a new hairstyle or color (digitally) by using their phone camera on the app. The AR mask changes the color or applies a new style on live video. Next, save the picture and send it to your stylist, or swipe to try a different look.
- New market and tools. Millennials and Gen Zers are all too eager to explore new storytelling channels – the more immersive, the better. With VR tools (Facebook 360, Oculus, Quill, React 360) and AR tool (Spark AR studio), brands can already try creating immersive interactive stories and experiences. Illustrate, animate, and engage with a VR audience across mobile, web and VR.
Voice race is on! Voice searches are expected to reach 50% of all online searches by 2020. Voice recognition technology, deemed as the next big platform for consumers and businesses, is getting a lot of attention from the FAMGA. Together with image search, voice assistants may soon render typing obsolete.
Mobile apps can take advantage of voice control technology, too. Google’s voice search on mobile devices is now available in over 100 languages.
The tools are getting better, too. Google’s RankBrain tool boasts 95% precision. Chinese voice recognition technology iFlytek has 98% of accuracy.
Today’s voice technology allows converting any text or script to the highest quality human-like voice-overs, adding tones and emphasis, and even doing that in different voices. And for various languages, too.
But it doesn’t stop at that. FB researches the areas of speech recognition and synthesis, speaker identification, acoustic event detection, and music analysis and generation. There are voice interfaces for Portal and Oculus devices, and video understanding for Facebook and Instagram, including transcription, captioning, and content understanding.
According to Andrew Ng, the Chief Scientist at Baidu, half of all searches will be visual or voice by 2020. A couple of tools to aid brand and product visual discovery are Pinterest Lens and Google Lens.
So how is it good for business? The spot-it-want-it scene is common and fairly simple, but a path from seeing to buying has not been straight till image recognition technology came along. Now, powered by AI, the machine sees, interprets, and takes the visual cues it learns from people. After applying metadata to the image, AI-powered visual search systems can dig through and retrieve relevant results based on visual similarities, such as color and composition.
Monetization options for social media apps
Monetization strategy is never set in stone with social media apps. It’s a careful tightrope walk in harsh weather conditions. And it won’t change in the future of social media. But at least you will know your options.
Top US social media sites are primarily supported by advertising – the toll for the ‘free’ use. But ad space is getting too crowded and there’s bound to be a downward trend. Advertising fits best niche networks, where brand voice won’t get drowned out. Yet, ad revenue alone is risky for online businesses.
Conversely, their contenders in China have a widely diversified monetization strategy. On Tencent, for example, ads make up less than 20% of revenue. Many social media apps in China are mobile-only, and nothing can be more annoying than ads on mobile, so app creators care for better consumer experiences.
While ads are declining, subscription is rocketing in social media and beyond. Newspapers are now seeing a resurgence via direct sales. The New York Times reported a $24 million profit thanks to 2.9 million digital subscribers in 2018. Netflix and Amazon Prime continue torrid growth with their ad-free experiences, and Hulu and YouTube are racing to launch their own subscription models.
The problem is there’s bound to be a free counterpart of a fairly good value.
The subscription model may fit in with growing when users get to know the quality of your product or service and you know their needs. Do you think they’ll pay a $10 monthly subscriptions on condition that:
- They’ll never see ads;
- You won’t share any of their data with a third-party, ever;
- Your content regulation and censorship rules will always be 100% transparent;
- The data you gather on them will only be used to serve you relevant organic content;
- They have micro-control over websites, people and keywords that they see content about;
- A radical one: No brands or companies will be allowed on the platform?
A value-added service (VAS) in telecommunication are non-core services – all beyond standard voice calls and fax transmissions.
Modern social media apps can monetize various VAS like live streaming, location-based services, missed calls, mobile advertising, stickering, OTT services and others.
Tencent – a self-sufficient consumer entertainment company in China – has skyrocketing revenue and very diversified revenue streams. Its cloud/payments revenue is up 105% YOY, value-added services for social networks are growing by 47%, and less than 20% of their revenue is from advertising.
Premium features and services: why pay for networking?
The concept of offering high-end products and services appealing to discriminating consumers is not alien to social media apps. These features are not for everyone, but there’s a beauty in the premium membership. There are paid tools for business on Facebook, learning and HR resources on LinkedIn, gated content on NYT, Forbes, and other quality publishing sites.
Premium does not take away from ‘free’ but adds to it. So it is a win-win as long as you’ve worked out a happy ratio for your business. So what are users willing to pay for?
- Ad-free experience. We’re used to the luxury of ‘free’ networking, forgetting we still pay. Different currency. So it’s up to us – to sacrifice or pay for privacy. Avoiding pesky ads is a good enough reason to switch to premium but not the only one.
- Unlimited storage space. How about preserving the best quality content? Storage space is finite and you can’t keep your content forever. Snapchat is a great reminder. But other SNS are finally getting rid of old posts (try scrolling down your LinkedIn thread). No way to hold onto your precious memories other than pay – for keeping photos, videos, posts – the way you do in GSuite, Dropbox, or other cloud storage.
- Access to top-quality resources and tools. Paying for quality is justified. And even more so if it’s investing in one’s professional development. LinkedIn, for one, facilitates recruiting with its premium learning platform, Learning Pro, a set of features that let companies publish their own content and create custom learning paths.
In traditional publishing, the content was a product. Newspapers and magazines had very well defined business models and revenue streams. It all changed with the coming of digital. There’s a lot of competition with free content of dubious origin, and quality magazines struggle with monetization. Conversely, new tech companies wielding powerful mass media tools struggle to stand out in the highly competitive yet one-sided market. As a result, curious blends are born. A new giant is forming out of a podcast empire with streaming television deals (Vox Media) and a 50-y.o. print magazine (New York Magazine). Catering for a more discerned audience, the modern media company will combine editorial materials with advertising capabilities and offerings that will be deeper, broader, and smarter than what’s out there.
One-time payments and sneak-peeks
Books, videos, music, and games can thrive off sneak-peeks. Content creation is a painstaking process and has to be reimbursed. But complete gating of the content feels like you’re buying a cat in the sack. Instead, users can enjoy a sneak-peek, say 6 mins of free video, before they make a decision about a one-off payment or subscription.
In European and American cultures, vloggers, podcasters, and online publications remind content consumers about desirable donations, as a CTA at the end of the post or script. In Chinese apps, there are tipping buttons. So tipping a host of a particularly enjoyable podcast is a breeze. Totally optional, but thoroughly motivational. A tip of about $0.3-$21 (shared with the platform) – what an incentive for content creators!
Gimmicky monetizing: social gaming as a driver
As we mentioned above, Asian social media revenue streams go beyond advertising and subscription. While Americans may find this gimmicky, Chinese users are totally hooked on gamification combined with a social element. The models vigorously exploit human irrational drivers. Users engage in competitions on leaderboards, make ‘informed’ decisions by sneak-peeking content, go through a series of rewards and initiations to build deeper connections with their idols in fan zones. In short, reap all the ‘freedoms’ of social networking. The presence of annoying ads is reduced to two per day in WeChat.
All in all, traditional methods like advertising and subscription alone may be ineffective. Experiment with various monetization methods to see what suits your target audience. Secure your app’s standing with multiple revenue streams and innovative business models.
We’ve had enough of bad news about social media – from data breaches to election tampering, fake news, and loss of engagement. We are on the cusp of a new era for social. With the cogs already in motion and new ideas at full throttle, let’s make sure the future of social media is bright and pleasant. Share your ideas in the comments.
How much does it cost to build a social media app with CodeTiburon?