A long time ago, in an internet not so far away… back when ‘pandemic’ was just a word with insignificant meaning to the modern world (and back before ‘Partygate’ had become an internet meme,) we posted a blog called ‘Social Media is Dead’ and we meant it. But after the tumultuous two years we’ve just experienced, I think it’s fair to say that many of us are more prepared to accept life’s crazy inconsistencies and surprises. So, it’s not all too shocking that social media is making a comeback from the grave. Kind of. Perhaps it was never truly dead after all, but merely wriggling underneath a boggy pile of covid- culture. But it’s slowly making its way out of the internet tomb. The Twitter-logo-covered coffin doors are starting to creak ajar, and Elon Musk’s open palm cinematically strikes the air from out of the soil – like a 2022 response to the Thriller music video.
Why so stagnate?
One word. COVID.
As the world changed, so did our social media habits. The complete and utter shift of global events left many social media users clinging to their social apps for interaction to soften the sting of isolation. In the truly isolative days of lockdowns, social media became the only vessel of communication. Before, social media felt like a disposable activity; something that could kill 10 minutes or so on our lunch breaks. But these universal shifts in routine meant a shift in perspective, with many clinging to their networking apps as if they were social lifejackets.
The World Health Organisation even explored the effects of social media usage on COVID, in a report called ‘Social media & COVID-19: A global study of digital crisis interaction among Gen Z and Millennials.’ The report encapsulated findings that depicted how Facebook essentially went through the pandemic along with us and had a giant part to play in communicating every chapter of the health crisis. The WHO have even restored the word ‘infodemic,’ describing how
“The COVID-19 outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive infodemic: an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”
The vehicle of such misinformation? Social media, of course.
Many social media users believed information about the health crisis was being incorrectly posted, reposted, and believed. This could have potentially influenced transmission rates and the spread of the virus itself. Social media became a viral notice board packed with untrue information from sources which lacked credibility. Not only this – but the internet became populated with wild conspiracies and fake news. Vaccination theory, QNon, and government lizards, to name a few.
People were starting to get so tired of these scroll-storms of global controversy, that social media’s usability development was sort of neglected – particularly as Facebook became under fire for being a vessel of misinformation, and Twitter tightened its posting restrictions. With these platforms becoming saturated with spam accounts, robots, and fake news – it’s no wonder that users didn’t take them as seriously anymore.
Or perhaps we’re so accustomed to social media that it’s become autonomous. For many users, opening the Facebook app comes as naturally as breathing.
But overall, the reason for this plateau? Users became comfortable with the new trends. And with comfort, comes stagnancy. The pandemic witnessed the peak of short-form videos and social shopping, with many of us making unconscious routine habits of checking in within the Meta network on an hourly basis. But could these things bring it back from the grave forever? But was this period of stagnancy just a calm before the storm? Is Twitter really going to make a comeback?
As the world moves on, so will social media. Let’s explore the newest trends in today’s social media and analyse how these formats are slowly brewing some new trends in the making.
The Short Form Video Boom
As outdated social platforms like Facebook re-popularised over the pandemic, newer platforms like TikTok absolutely rocketed. Since 2018, the app had over 2 billion downloads and has reached over 50% of the whole US population. That’s approximately 164 million people. During the pandemic, the app grew a huge 180%, and that’s where the short-form video really had its hay day.
The short-form video is a current Gen Z favourite. With a whopping 43% of TikTok users between the ages of 18 and 24 – it’s no wonder that many businesses are beginning to turn to Tik Tok to promote their brand towards those who have a higher disposable income. Short-form videos feed on our short-term attention span, giving us that sporadic splash of dopamine that’s over as quickly as it hits. The app has become established enough to provide us with talking points; it has comfortably embedded itself into the average user’s daily routine, and can even be the conversational tool to provide foundations for new friendships and relationships.
TikTok does also remove that aspect of social performativity amongst real-life social groups and is generally used more as a platform for entertainment. It’s fun more than it is topical or serious. While users can personalise their profiles and video content, Tik Tok is predominantly used as a tool to watch popular content tailored to your preferences, as estimated by its algorithm. Loaded up with moving-image ammo, TikTok’s content is rife with quick cuts and shortened video length, echoing the long lost Vine. This gives its users a short window into a stranger’s life on the internet. And somehow, this has become highly addictive.
Perhaps the impersonal nature of TikTok is merely an evolution of the new way of online socialising. Younger people are far more selective over what they publicly post within the realms of Facebook and Instagram, but TikTok explores a whole vortex of impersonal content outside of our immediate social circles. TikTok is a platform that moves as fast as the world around us, and it works to make it impossible for its users to get bored.
Or perhaps its popularity is merely due to the short-form video itself. It encapsulates everything the poster wants us to know about a topic, in a more concise way than using text. Moving image content simply gets more attention than text-based content. The incorporation of short-form video has truly soared, with many businesses advantaging its popularity as a prime marketing opportunity. Even Instagram jumped on the bandwagon, enabling their platform to be more accommodating to video content with the introduction of ‘reels’ and ‘shorts’ being useful tools to gain more traffic than the classic image with text. It's not surprising that many brands have followed suit with the trend, to directly anchor user engagement with attention-grabbing short videos to market their products or services.
So, I think it’s safe to say that short-form videos won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Social shopping became even more interactive. AR shopping replaced the in-person experience, with updated apps allowing users to embed products into a real photo – to get the most realistic perspective of what their product would look like.
Virtual marketplaces popularised massively over the last few years. Particularly with COVID, businesses relied more heavily on paid social media marketing like Facebook ads, with the knowledge that isolation catalysed an increase in time spent on Facebook and Instagram. Even Snapchat has latched on to the social shopping bandwagon, with the discover section integrating product ads between their clickbait videos. 30% of businesses stated that marketing their brands, using paid social ads gave them a higher return on investment than their websites did. This isn’t too surprising, as social ads are designed to meet the market so that the potential buyers are looking the company square in the face. Expensive yet effective, social shopping is so successful that businesses can’t afford not to take part in the trend, and we fully expect to see it interlinking with new usability trends that are on the horizon.
Clearly aware of the yo-yoing usability, and decreasing faith in the app, Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook to ‘Meta’, with a plan to integrate the social networking giant into the ‘Metaverse.’
The Metaverse echoes Charlie Tucker’s Black Mirror, or Dave Eggers’ The Circle, as it strives for a social networking style that completely embodies in-person experience. The idea is that it strengthens its original tactic, to help friends across the world interact with each other in an even more life-like format. For those of us who still remember the birth of the walkie-talkie, the Metaverse is equal parts exciting and terrifying. Particularly as Zuckerberg endeavours to normalise the use of VR, integrating social media interaction with Oculus
Could Elon save twitter?
And then there’s Twitter.
Let’s be honest, out of the whole pile, Twitter needs the most resuscitation. Outdated and shrunken, Twitter is a social media ghost. If anyone is going to bring Twitter back to life, it’s going to be Elon Musk. Musk has agreed to privatise the company in a $44 billion deal, and it’s thought that he aims to stop the platform's overabundance of fake/spam accounts - although Musk has been careful not to disclose too much about the changes he’ll make. There’s a lot of media conjecture circulating on the topic of free speech, with many predicting that he’ll relax some of Twitter’s content rules. But perhaps he will be focussing on updating the app’s usability to restore its popularity.
With the new short-form video sheriff in town, social media users just aren’t up for reading 280 characters worth of text. And while Twitter supports video content, it’s not quite as user friendly as TikTok or Instagram. The format of Twitter posts seems to be outdated now, with many text-based posts integrating emoji bullet points and using negative space to catch attention. Twitter simply doesn’t allow this functionality as well as other platforms do.
So, what will Elon do? His plans for Twitter could just save the app from the grave – or maybe he’s fighting a losing battle.
Social messaging and virtual communication are becoming so deeply rooted in the societal infrastructure that they won’t be going anywhere just yet. The world of technology is moving so quickly that Gen Z’s children will pick up an iPhone X like a lost artefact and marvel at its ancientness.
But for the foreseeable, social media, in general, is ticking along, slowly metamorphosing into a fresh form of trends. But will these new trends be successful?
Just like a virus, social media adapts. It will evolve, develop, die, and then reincarnate. But it’s not dead. Yet.