The social media universe in 2022
For a while, life in the social media universe was mostly quiet. Consider these hot (at the time) headlines:
In retrospect, the years leading up to 2016 were decidedly sleepy compared to what was to follow. Donald Trump’s meteoric rise to the presidency fueled by tweets. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. Congressional Hearings on Privacy and Prejudice. TikTok at the center of souring US-China relations. Each new day has brought a new wave of controversy to the shores of once foolproof social media platforms.
Today, the honeymoon phase is long gone and the mess of running a global social platform is now in full view. Nowhere is this more evident than Twitter during Elon Musk’s current transition period, but more details on this later.
For now, let’s explore the social media universe in 2022.
Mapping the universe of social media and messaging
In 2022, the social universe appears more crowded than in previous years.
The scale of Meta’s platforms still dominates thanks to their global reach, but there are a number of smaller networks vying for market share. Here’s a look at the popular platforms, organized from largest to smallest active user base:
In the meantime, here are the top 10 publicly available monthly active user social media and messaging platforms:
|Rank||Platform name||Parent company||Primary function||Monthly active users|
|#1||Metaplatforms||Social network||2.9 billion|
|#2||Youtube||Alphabet||Video content||2.3 billion|
|#5||Metaplatforms||Video content||1.2 billion|
|#7||Tick tock||Byte Dance||Video content||732 million|
|#9||Douyin||Byte Dance||Video content||600 million|
YouTube is the only real competition for Meta’s size and reach. Alphabet’s socially-enabled video content hub boasts over two billion monthly active users. YouTube’s embrace of the creator economy is pushing the platform further into pure social media territory with the introduction of “handles.”
As seen in the visualization above, China has its own ecosystem of large social and messaging platforms, the largest of which is WeChat.
The only platform in the top 20 that isn’t based in either the US or China is the privacy-focused messaging app, Telegram. The Dubai-based firm has a unique backstory. It was created after the founders of the Russian social network VK fled the country after resisting government pressure to release data on the social network’s users in Ukraine.
A number of smaller special interest platforms also exist today. OnlyFans, for example, focuses on adult content creators. Parler and Truth Social appeal to users who want less constraint on the content they post and consume. BeReal aims to create more authentic moments by inviting users to post a photo at a random moment every day.
Below, we dive into some of these platforms.
Big trouble in the little metaverse
Having a figurehead CEO is a double-edged sword. When things go well, the market rally around the successful leader. Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg she was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2010. Also in 2016, Glassdoor named the Facebook founder its “Most Admired Technology CEO.”
On the flip side, when the tide turns, it turns fast. After a series of controversies, Zuckerberg made a multi-billion dollar gamble by renaming his entire company Half and focusing his attention on the burgeoning idea of a metaverse. Meta’s New Horizons platform is said to have stabilized at around 200,000 active users, which is disappointing for a company that still reaches a sizable chunk of humanity with its other services.
Part of Meta’s short-term success hinges on VR headsets being a hot treat this holiday season. Meta’s cheapest headset costs $400, which might be a tough sell in today’s economic environment.
Of course, it’s too early to know whether Zuckerberg’s gamble will pay off. As always, all is forgiven once a business unit takes off and becomes profitable.
Microblogging with macro expectations
Chirping it has a complicated history.
The company launched in the shadow of Facebook’s massive growth and was saddled with expectations that were hard to meet. While Twitter has an engaged and influential audience, it has failed to monetize them at the level of Meta platforms (for better or for worse). The introduction of Twitter Blue in 2021 didn’t resonate with users at the scale the company hoped for, and “fleets” were essentially written off as a failed experiment.
Additionally, Twitter is a magnet for free speech criticism and debate, in part due to its central location in political discourse.
These issues are directly related to the recent sale of the company to Elon Musk. At the time of this article, Twitter is in the midst of a painful and very public internal restructuring.
If reports of an exodus of talent and ad dollars are to be believed, then the future of one of the world’s most influential social media platforms could be at risk.
Social media has always been dominated by Facebook and its related apps. When a new challenger arrived, Facebook either acquired them (Instagram, WhatsApp) or “acquired” their features (Snapchat). Tick tock it’s the first challenger to maintain its momentum and growth, even though Instagram has implemented very similar features.
TikTok is also a rare case of a Chinese tech product entering Western markets. However, the rise of TikTok hasn’t been without controversy. Suspicion over Chinese access to user data continues to be a problem both in the US and in other large markets around the world. TikTok has been banned in India since 2020.
Despite these headwinds, TikTok remains wildly popular. The short-form video platform was the number one downloaded app on the planet and remains a favorite of the all-important Gen Z demographic.
We will supervise
In recent years, neighborhood-based social networks have been born and have taken hold. Next door used physical letters sent to adjacent addresses to boost its growth, while Neighbors capitalized on the popularity of Ring’s doorbell cameras. While members post more benign topics like lost cats and where to find a good plumber, crime is also an increasingly common theme.
Apps like Neighborhood And Citizen focus more on crime and security. While the growth of these apps reflects an obvious interest in preventing crime, critics point out that the ubiquity of personal surveillance equipment and forums built solely around public safety foster a culture of suspicion in communities.
This type of social network is still fairly new, so it remains to be seen whether they remain niche communities or grow into something larger.
Chaos and opportunity
It was Sun Tzu who famously said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
This is the risk and the opportunity in the social media universe today. With their massive networks and high switching costs (e.g. customization, library of existing posts), the larger platforms have created moats that make life difficult for new brands looking to replace established platforms. On the other hand, the controversy on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook could lead some users to consider new options.
Multi-billion dollar demand is temporary dissatisfaction with major platforms or emerging networks like Mastodon or BeReal will reach critical mass and become new hotspots for people to connect online. Time will tell.