3 Key Takeaways from TheNextWeb’s Animated History of Social



What are the most dominant social platforms, really? And how have they changed? We take a look at TheNextWeb’s animated analysis.


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It’s stark when you see it put before you, in racing black bars.

TheNextWeb’s Callum Booth recently shared an 80 second video, visualizing the history of social media through its reported monthly users. Spanning fifteen years, it’s fascinating to see dominance take hold for platforms like Facebook and YouTube; and to see relevance fade away for others (remember Orkut and Google Buzz?).

But as we watched the bars grow and rearrange, some lessons sprung to mind for those who stake their brand’s future on the state of social.

Massive Market Share Isn’t a Given

It can be easy and tempting to place our eggs in one basket, or to throw a few eggs in a basket every time a new platform rises to prominence. Many of us may be striving to do so with TikTok right now. But it’s important to remember that (a) our brands don’t have to be everywhere, and (b) we should continually reexamine where we are.

This visualization caused me to lament not just the loss of big players like Friendster and MySpace, but also to marvel at the tenure of LinkedIn. It’s been in play since the beginning, and at one point ranked second in the social prominence game. It has since slipped out of the top 10, despite a number of revamps that have increased its utility for many. Its shifting placement on the chart, as well as the larger shifts in the landscape, are a reminder: learn where your people are, go there, and serve them well.

Social is a Worldwide Game

TheNextWeb’s visualization reveals the top 10 platforms at any given point in time between 2003 and 2018. It’s important to note that the fourth and seventh highest ranking platforms by monthly users are based and highly popular overseas: WeChat places fourth, while Weibo places seventh).

Their prominent placement is a reminder that if we are truly global organizations, and if we want to have a place on social, we have to recognize that our audiences may rely on platforms other than the ones we use to get their information, connect with friends, and even be influenced by brands who can more easily utilize these spaces. Companies like Socialgist are working to share data sets and insight from these platforms with marketers; by taking these platforms and their impact seriously, we can make better decisions about how to approach these consumers effectively.

Twitter Is But a Microcosm

The ease with which brands and marketers can have a presence on Twitter, and the relatively large reactions certain content can get in that space, might lead you to believe that it’s the “right” and “most effective” place for your brand to be. And while I wouldn’t say that it isn’t, I would say that we should interrogate just how representative it is. A recent Pew study about the site reveals, “ 22% of American adults who use Twitter are representative of the broader population in certain ways, but not others. Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall.” Moreover, “the 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users.”

Why does this matter? In a world where journalists are informing stories with tweets, implying that these tweets are representative of a larger swath of the population, we have to be careful. If your brand seeks to reach the population that is well-represented on the platform, then, by all means, use it as a platform of choice. But it’s worthwhile to note: while we often treat it as a place where “everyone” is, Pew’s research refutes that in a number of key ways.

Given the outsized influence of a handful of social platforms, it can be tempting to hang our hats on the racks of the major players for the time being. But if TheNextWeb’s chart demonstrates anything, it’s that this sort of dominance can be “easy come, easy go.” As marketers aiming to utilize these spaces to inform our work, it’s essential that we continue to focus on the present…while anticipating the possible shifts of a constantly moving future.

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