Illustration of mobile phone with social icons

The social media landscape is constantly changing, with new apps launching, old apps losing relevance and billionaire buy outs that forever deface a once favoured app causing loyal users to jump ship forever.

Four months after the launch of Threads, we reflect on what has been happening and ask the following questions: Which social platform should you invest in? Has trust in social media been eroded? Are advertisers abandoning social?

The rise of video

In the last five years, the world of social media has seen a dramatic shift as video content became dominant. Coinciding with a global pandemic, the relatively new app TikTok took the world by storm. This short-form, vertical video-based app has amassed over one billion active users worldwide since its launch in 2016 – for comparison, it has taken almost 20 years for Facebook to grow to three billion active users (according to Buffer).

In the years since TikTok’s meteoric rise up the social media food chain, other well-known social media sites have adopted the app’s approach. As we all know, Meta introduced ‘Reels’ in August 2020 and YouTube launched ‘Shorts’ in July 2021. It is now more common than not to find social media feeds filled with a variety of short-form video content, even on platforms that were once primarily focused on images and text, after brands noticed the new format was receiving the highest engagement rates.

It’s important for brands to keep their fingers on the pulse of what truly resonates with customers and in the last few years we have seen more and more brands utilise short-form, vertical video in their content marketing strategies.

Meta itself lauded the benefits of imagery and video, favouring these formats in its algorithm, so the launch of a text-based app in 2023 was somewhat surprising.

The launch of Threads

Despite the rise of video, on 5th July 2023 – in the aftermath of Tesla billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter – tech rival Mark Zuckerberg launched a brand-new text-based platform.

After his famous $44 billion acquisition of the app then known as Twitter (now X), Elon Musk swiftly started to make changes to the platform. From paid subscription services to receive the famous blue verification tick to banning users who mention rival social media platforms as well as removing the block function, it is safe to say these changes did not leave long-time users best pleased.

In light of this controversy, Meta’s Threads experienced record-breaking growth during its first week, amassing over 100 million users in its initial five days and accumulating more than 150 million downloads. These remarkable statistics surpassed the previous record established by Pokémon GO in 2016. The text-based platform encourages users to initiate conversations and have fellow users respond in a ‘thread’.

Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Selena Gomez were among the first to join Threads. Perhaps it is the app’s integration with Instagram that resulted in its initial roaring success (users with a pre-existing Instagram account can invite their existing followers from that platform to follow them on Threads, making it easier to build an audience).

Many brands also followed, introducing Threads into their content strategy, each in their own unique way. Fast food chain Wendy’s used the new platform to interact with customers all over the world by posting tongue-in-cheek threads about the situation between Musk and Zuckerberg in an extremely casual tone of voice.

However, Threads’ huge success was not to last, and the app’s daily active users decreased from 49 million to 23.6 million in its first week alone. According to Sensor Tower, users now typically spend 2.4 minutes a day on the app, an 80% decrease since its initial launch. Was it rushed out to take advantage of the Musk/Twitter controversy?

The fall of Threads?

What caused the app’s rapid decline in popularity? There are several potential reasons for this loss of interest in Zuckerberg’s shiny new toy.

Perhaps the most interesting reason for its lack of sustained growth is the discussion surrounding the app’s collection of users’ data, which resulted in the app’s delayed launch in Europe due to the EU’s stricter data laws. According to Apple App Store, Threads gives Meta access to collect identity-linked data, such as your financial information, purchases, contact information, location, contacts and ‘sensitive’ information. Meta’s decision to collect this data saw some users question the safety of the app and how their information is being used, ultimately causing a halt in downloads.

Alternatively, the app’s decline in popularity could simply be down to users not seeing the need to build a brand-new account on a seemingly identical platform to Musk’s X. While many flocked to Threads in hope for something new, it shares striking similarities with X. Perhaps users tired of navigating the new platform and reverted to the platform with an algorithm 17 years in the making?

Despite these teething challenges, Threads is not the only new kid on the block from Meta.

Broadcast channels hit Instagram

In June 2023, broadcast channels made their debut on Instagram in the UK, swiftly populating the home screens of phones across the nation. Various brands and influencers invited their followers to join the new craze. But what is a broadcast channel?

Essentially, a broadcast channel lives up to its name, but is best described as a group chat where only the channel owner can share messages. Followers can react to messages in the chat, but it offers a one-way channel of communication between the account and its followers.

As I’m sure you can see, broadcast channels can serve as a valuable tool for a wide range of brands, providing users with a direct means of communicating with customers and clients. From sharing the latest offers to conducting market research, this new tool could become an indispensable resource in B2C communication.

As Instagram announced, in the US broadcast channels “have seen unparalleled engagement from fans, whether they’re sharing sneak peeks of upcoming content, asking for feedback via polls and sharing candid moments via voice notes”. New and upcoming features include the ability to use question prompts to gather feedback, a dedicated channels tab in the inbox so people can easily access their joined channels and the ability to invite other creators (or fans) to participate in broadcast channels.

Don't forget the old favourites

It’s not just new tools that brands should consider in their social media strategy. Some platforms have been hiding in plain sight.

Snapchat, a platform built around sending non-permanent messages or ‘snaps’ to friends, has experienced a resurgence in recent years. After a decline in popularity in 2018 – triggered by Kylie Jenner announcing its “death”, which led to a significant plummet in the platform’s stocks – in recent years, the app has regained its popularity as a must-have app for young people across the globe.

Research firm GWI found that 43% of users between the ages of 16 and 64 didn’t use TikTok, favouring Snapchat instead. Perhaps most interestingly, The Social Shepard found that 77% of Snapchat users fell between the ages of 18 and 24 and that 55% of Gen Z Snapchat users had ad recall after watching 0-2 seconds of an ad shown on the platform.

This impressive statistic highlights the importance of utilising a variety of different platforms when it comes to social media marketing.

Perhaps it’s each platform’s ability to generate revenue that’s key to longevity.

Dialogue’s Digital Production Lead, Vicki Sherman, comments: “X is struggling because it can’t get the formula right and attract advertisers back, and it’s considered hostile by some advertisers. Meta’s suite of Facebook/Instagram still attracts advertisers and I imagine it’s only a matter of time until Threads joins that, too. YouTube (owned by Alphabet) is also a favourite along with Meta for advertiser revenue. TikTok has TikTokShop, which takes 5% commission on all sales and is attracting advertisers.

“Vine was a hugely popular video platform – maybe a little ahead of its time – but it was still shut down despite having some die-hard users because the platform couldn’t make money and users had no way to monetise content. There was no display or native ad options and other platforms were just more competitive.”

Your social strategy

It can be tempting for brands to focus their attention on the big three: Facebook, X and Instagram. But for those who publish on a variety of platforms, both the engagement and ad recall from your target audience could yield impressive results for your brand.

However, there’s no harm in ‘waiting and seeing’ to protect resource. It’s perhaps surprising that TikTok is seven years old as it feels like brands have only really started using it in the last few years – with great success. Arguably, TikTok wasn’t considered ‘popular’ until the acquisition of and subsequent merger with Musical.ly in 2018. So perhaps there’s hope for Threads yet.

Much like Musk’s X, TikTok has begun to deter users thanks to the addition of more corporate content that has started to roll out on ‘for you’ pages across the world. With attention constantly wavering and new tools launching throughout the year, as a marketer, you may find yourself asking: “Should I invest where a proven audience already is or should I search of new audiences? Should I invest in content on each new platform? Or maybe I should focus on finding a good mix of organic, paid and influencer marketing?”

Whichever your answer, it must be part of a coherent content strategy, not a one-off resource hog. The social media landscape is in a constant cycle of renewal and it’s crucial for marketers to keep up to date with trends to create effective and engaging campaigns.

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