Top 10 social media stories of 2015

2015 was an interesting year for social media, one where the established players dominated without much hint of competition. Facebook and Snapchat began to look to the future, specifically in VR and video, while one of the biggest social networks that began a giant overhaul in order to save itself.

There will some exciting things coming out social in the next couple of years, and the groundwork for that was layed out in 2015.

Here are the biggest events that happened in social media over the past year:

1. Bye Dick, hello Jack!

The biggest and most important thing to happen in social media was the sudden resignation of Dick Costolo, and the subsequent hiring of Jack Dorsey.

Twitter has been languishing for a while, struggling to get its user numbers back up. And, right from the start Dorsey went into action, outlining “ambitious” and “bold” goals.

So far the company has started experimenting with reordering the timeline, and reports have also come out saying the company is looking to breaking the traditional 140-character limit, which would allow Twitter users to publish long-form content to the service.

Beyond changes in features, Dorsey also attempted to reverse years of animosity between the company and developers by reaching out to them and asking them to come back to the platform. He also gave a third of his stock in the company, which amounts to $211 million, back to employees.

Of course, turning Twitter around isn’t going to be quite that simple, something I will touch on later on.

And, even though Costolo also resigned from the board of directors as well, meaning he officially has no ties to the company he ran for nearly five years, don’t feel too bad: he will be back very soon with a new company in the personal wellness space.

2. Facebook went all in on VR and 360 degree video

It started in 2014 with the purchase of Oculus, but 2015 is the year that Facebook really started to step up its game, which manifested itself into a big push into 360-degree immersive video, debuting 360 video ads, putting them into newsfeeds on iOS and introducing developer tools.

Once Oculus starts shipping its headsets, Zuckerberg believes that it will be the next big thing, and that Facebook will be on the ground floor.

“If you look at how people spend time on all computing platforms, whether it’s phones or desktops before that, about 40% is spent on some kind of communications and media,” he said last month in an interview with The Fast Company.

“Over the long term, when [Oculus] becomes a more mature platform, I would bet that it’s going to be that same 40% of the time spent doing social interactions and things like that. And that’s what we know. That’s what we can do.”

There’s going to be some really exciting stuff happening in this space in 2016.

3. Snapchat emerged as video contender

It’s been clear for a while that video is very important video to Facebook, and that the company is now trying to rival YouTube by becoming a content creation hub.

There’s another service, though, that, surprisingly, is even more successful, with Snapchat confirming last month that it now has over six billion videos viewed on its platform every day. That is a number that has tripled in just six months, when it had two billion views a day back in May.

That is some extremely impressive growth, and it means that sooner, rather than later, Snapchat will likely overtake Facebook’s video numbers. In a conference call, following the release of Facebook’s third quarter earnings last week, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook saw more than eight billion daily video views, and more than 500 million people watching daily.

What this really means is that Snapchat is the only social network in the last 10 years to actively threaten Facebook on any conceivable level. This might get pretty exciting really soon!

4. Twitter stock hit rock bottom… we think

As I said earlier, as much as Jack Dorsey is trying to fix Twitter, this is going to be really hard, especially when it comes to one group: Twitter’s investors. They want user growth and they won’t be happy until they get it.

In August, the stock ended trading under $30 for the first time ever, and except for a few days in October, has never been able to come back up. Then, earlier this month, the stock fell to its lowest point ever, dropping to $23.31 down 36 percent in a year.

The stock has continued to drop since then, going below $23. The company had a $26 IPO price and debuted at $45 a share in November of 2013.

Part of the problem might be Dorsey himself, and a profile by the Wall Street Journal that showed him not being able to give Twitter his full attention due to his other CEO job over at Square.

One thing is for certain: he needs to figure out a way to start turning this company around, and soon.

5. Instagram surpassed Twitter, but does it matter?

One of the main things that sunk Dick Costolo’s tensure as CEO of Twitter was anemic growth. It started to feel like Twitter had peaked in terms of MAUs.

That feeling was compounded when, in September, Instagram announced it now has 400 million monthly active users. That’s a milestone in and of itself, but its even more noteworthy since Twitter has 320 million MAUs as of the third quarter of 2015. Instagram is now officially bigger than Twitter, as least in terms of the number of people officially using it.

Still, Twitter has a secret weapon up its sleeve: according to the company, the number of people who visit Twitter each month without logging in is 500 million, 56 percent more than the number of people who have accounts. That number also includes people who click on links to Tweets in Google search.

That’s why the biggest thing that Dorsey has done so far has been to, finally, start showing ads to logged out users, something the company has been talking about doing for over year.

6. Snapchat tried to be a creator, but wound up a curator

2015 was the year that social networks seemed to learn a valuable lesson about what they should be all about. They are meant to curate content, not create it themselves.

Snapchat launched Discover in January, entering into partnerships with various media companies and giving them a feature that allowed them to connect directly with the Snapchat audience.

The Discover feature was made up of 11 unique channels: one for each media partners, including ESPN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, Food Network, National Geographic, People, Yahoo News, CNN, Vice and Warner Music. Each one will feature photos, videos and other long form content.

There was also a Snapchat channel, where the company would create it own content. Less than eight months later, though, Snap Channel shut down. Snapchat also let go of the team involved in Snap Channel, including Marcus Wiley, Head of Program Planning and Development.

Neither Facebook, nor Twitter, create their own content. These are places for seeing what others have done, not to see what the network itself can create. Snapchat learned that lesson the hard way.

7. Social networks started adding commerce

2015 was also the year that the networks learned they are good for selling people stuff.

The trend started in 2014, actually, with the launch of buy buttons from both Twitter and Facebook, but both Facebook and Pinterest took that baton and ran with it in 2015.

In June, Facebook partnered up with Shopify to allow its merchants to advertise and sell their products and then, in October, it launched a dedicated shopping feed, creating a single place where users can more easily discover, share and purchase products.

Pinterest, meanwhile, announced that it was launching the Pinterest Shop, which will feature collections from different brands, including big stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, as well as small boutiques like The Citizenry and Heist.

What’s most interesting is that these will be curated collections, ones that will hand-picked by employees at Pinterest. It gives a human element that would not have been there if they were picked by an algorithm.

Social networks have always relied on ads, and now they are going that extra step to actually being the commerce facilitator.

8. Social Media used as a marketing tool for terrorists

2015 was a pretty depressing year when it came to news stories, with so many people getting shot or killed in terrorist attacks and social media found itself right in the middle of all of it.

There were the shooters in San Bernardino were reportedly radicalized online, and through social media, news that led Hillary Clinton to call on tech companies to help the government fight ISIS.

“We’re going to have more support from our friends in the technology world to deny online space,” she said.

“And this is complicated. You’re gonna hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, etc. But if we truly are in a war against terrorism, and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, than we’ve got to shut off their means of communicating.”

While Facebook was being blamed for possibly helping to facilitate a terrible incident, at the same time it was doing something really important in response to the attack in Paris in November: for the first time ever the company opened its Safety Check feature for a non-natural disaster, as way for people to show that they were safe.

Safety Check was first introduced in October of 2014 as a response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when social media took on a greater role than ever before during a natural disaster. Facebook became a key way for people to get in touch with loved ones, and let them know that they were alive and well, and so the company decided to embrace this aspect.

There was some criticism of Facebook for allowing people who live in Paris to show they are ok, while having not done the same for other places around the world. So Mark Zuckerberg pledged to do the same for other regions. Sadly, it took literally two days for another incident to occur, this time in Nigeria, but Facebook kept its word.

Obviously I wish this wasn’t necessary, but it does show how important social media has become for people all around the world.

9. Secret said goodbye

Anonymous sharing apps, with the likes of Whisper and Yik Yak, have been all the rage for the last few years, since we found out just how much spying the government was doing on us.

The problem is that those same apps have become synonymous with bullying. And that issue seems to have taken down one of the most well known apps in the space, as Secret closed its doors in April.

The app had a spectacular fall from grace in a very short amount of time, gaining 15 million users in less than 10 months, but its popularity began to wave over time. This led to a major design at the end of December, switching to text-only posts rather than photos, which made it look more like one of its biggest competitors, Yik Yak, erasing what had made Secret special in the first place.

The real problem, though, might have to do with those accusations of not doing enough to prevent cyberbullying, which is something that has plagued many of these anonymous apps, something that David Byttow, Secret’s founder and CEO, was peppered without throughout its life.

Or maybe there were just too many other, similar apps. For whatever the reason, Secret was not long for this world.

10. Pinterest joined the big leagues with 100M MAUs

In September, Pinterest hit a major milestone, crossing 100 million monthly active users. Once a company hits that number,there’s the feeling that they’ve gone from start up to established player.

Snce Pinterest was founded in March of 2010, that means iook over five years for the company to get to this metric, which was similar to two of its competitors. Facebook hit 100 million in August 2008, around four and half years after its launch in February of 2004. Twitter reached it in September 2011, more than five years after the first tweet was sent out on March 21, 2006.

One of the longest to get there was LinkedIn, which has been around a lot longer than I realized, having launched in May of 2003. It didn’t get to 100 million users until March of 2011, right before its IPO, nearly eight years after it was first introduced!

After that it was easy, though, as it took the network less than two years to double it, so maybe the real test for Pinterest is how long it takes for it to make it to the next stage.

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