State of Social 2020

35 trends the shape social networks, messengers, and digital media

Trends below are collected by founders in Consumer HQ chat community. The full contributor list is at the end. Edited by Yury Lifshits, CEO at Openland (YC W18).

Consumer behavior

Less posting as the quality bar gets higher

Over time, a large share of users on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are stopping creating new content and updating profiles. Many of these users also gradually shifting their content consumption from immediate friends to professional authors. This may be caused by increased "quality bar" for passing algorithmic feed filter and drives everyday users to find new places to create and share "low effort" content. Some of that content creation energy is going to chat communities on Discord and Slack, as well as close friends-and-family chats on WhatsApp and Telegram.

Tribe chats are on the rise

Chats for families and other close-together small social groups are on the rise. As the first generations of digital natives get older, starting and growing families, they move everyday content creation and sharing from public feeds and direct messages to private family chats and other small groups, typically sized between 2 and 20 people. This creates a safe space where you can be yourself and not fight for any vanity metrics. And people who aren't yet on any tribe chats are feeling left out and are actively looking to join or start one. Specialized platforms like Cocoon and new experiments from majors like Instagram Threads were recently launched to serve this use case.

"Mediafication" of social networks

Many apps that started as social networks in a narrow sense (connecting friends) and messengers over time became media networks. At the start, most of their content and activity was created by friends. Now the usage is driven more and more by high-effort individual creators (premium UGC) and brands. This pattern can be also seen in individual user journeys. Early in life, our social life is based on proximity as we mostly consume content from people nearby, in the same class, school, and city. As we grow and progress in career, those early life connections get weaker, people move to new geographies and develop specialized narrow interests. As a result, the content from friends becomes less and less relevant. This leads to resetting media diet from "friends-first" to "interests-first" and to prioritizing quality of content over relationship with the author. Youtube and Reddit are well-established networks primarily serving interest-based consumption, while Telepath is a prominent new player in space (currently still in beta).

Mixing work and personal

In 2019, users may need 3-7 messaging apps to maintain connections across all social groups they are involved in. To resist this fragmentations users try to move some of their communication segments into another network to reduce the total number of inboxes to track. This leads to bringing personal and work communications into the same system. It's not uncommon now to see major business development happening on Facebook or family chats running in Slack. Bumble now supports dating and business networking within the same app.

Notifications off

With every year, more and more apps are requesting the privilege to interrupt our life at any moment. Many users are reaching the breaking point, turning off notifications from social media and entering a permanent do-not-disturb mode. As push notification getting harder to deliver, consumer media products need to explore new ways to stay in people's lives. In the near future, more effort is likely to go into email delivery (newsletters and digests), habit formation, and fixed time content publishing (live chat sessions and livestreams). HQ Trivia in particular did a lot of pioneering work on fixed schedule mobile experiences.

Media diet consciousness

In 2019, we saw the start of a public conversation on how our digital media diet shapes our quality of life and careers. We are what information we consume. Recognizing this, we see a rise of experiments towards curating information sources, tracking and limiting social media time, and using aggressive blocking and unsubscription tools. Apple Screen Time and Blocksite are among the key services bringing control over media consumption back to users.

Consumer collaboration

While the vast majority of collaborative services are focused on a business usecase, there's a growing trend of consumers doing things together on the internet. This growth is particularly driven by support groups and online challenges that provide actionable instructions, accountability, motivation, and moral support. On mobile live video and screen sharing app Squad users do online dating and shopping together among other things.

Dark side social

Things like racism, conspiracy, drugs, radical politics, content piracy, crime, and porn are always looking for their place on the social internet. As these activities get more efficiently banned from major social networks they are moving into (and will drive the growth of) new platforms. E.g. as live stream link sharing is getting banned on Reddit, some of that activity is shifting to Discord.

Media snacking

In modern times, the gap times between high-focus tasks are unpredictable. An average day is filled with segments of 1-30 minutes only suitable for lightweight content consumption, casual chatting, and casual gaming. This pattern creates an enormous market for "snackable" experiences that can be consumed in short and variable time segments, giving users many instant gratification moments per session. In worst cases, media snacking is turning into media addiction, interfering with tasks that require deep focus. Many professions have long feedback cycles. It takes months and years before you know whether you are succeeding in your work. Long feedback cycles make people particularly dependent on media snacking to generate some "quick wins" on a side to balance painful wait times on their primary goals.

Business models

Subscription

Membership plans as a monetization model exploded in 2019. Traditionally ad-supported companies are adding and expanding their premium plans (Reddit, Youtube), free content creators adding VIP areas for their superfans using tools like Patreon, Glow, Memberful, and Podia, new membership-focused media properties are created on Mighty Networks and Teachable, and communities on Slack are staring selling invite links on third-party services.

Sponsorships

Content creators are making more money on sponsorships than from the ad revenue share from their publishing platform. Direct advertiser-creator collaboration results in more genuine and better-integrated ad placement than pure algorithmic advertising. Some companies like Meetup have already introduced built-in tools for selling and implementing sponsorships. At the same time, major players like Instagram and Youtube aren't yet controlling sponsorship markets on their networks.

Donations and tips

Donations became a breakout monetization model for streamers at Twitch a few years back. Now we see built-in donation tools appearing in Youtube Live as well as third-party donation platforms like Buy me a coffee and Patreon that can be used by content creators on any platform. We can see more after-consumption tips capabilities to be introduced in 2020. Along with donations to content creators, charity fundraising is getting increasingly built into social experiences. Facebook's brithday fundraisers are a great example.

Ecommerce + social

Consumer media companies are working hard to make it easier to buy products directly from the native-looking content on their apps. Pinterest buy button and Instagram action bars continue to gain popularity. Still, a lot of work is to be done to reduce the number of steps needed to make a physical or digital purchase from any social media.

Product

Relationship assistants

In 2019 many social apps made a major step forward in help users build deeper connections between themselves by providing icebreakers, templates, reminders, autocomplete options, and sentiment indicators in messaging and email. Examples include Dex, Relish, Cocoon, Rooit, Grammarly, and Gmail.

Generative content

In 2019, we continue to see the growth of apps that help create new content, from basic filters and stickers to Respeacher's voice generator, Snapchat's vocie filters, Gradient's celebrity look-alike transitions, Zao's face swapping, and Mubert's AI-generated music.

Close friends

As users' friends lists become bigger the intersection of their friends’ interests becomes smaller and smaller, leaving fewer and fewer things to publish that will appeal to the user's full friend list. To reduce publishing anxiety social networks like Instagram are introducing "close friends" feature that makes is psychologically safer to publish low-effort content.

Podcasting and voice

In 2019 we saw the explosion of podcasting services and voice messaging. This trend is in large part driven by Apple Airpods shipping around 60M units in 2019. Voice content is getting popular as it fills off-screen time, particularly driving, commute, cooking, fitness, and go-to-sleep routine. Additional factors for voice messaging popularity are (1) faster-than-typing input speed and (2) emotional dimension that is harder to express in words and emojis. Finally, async voice messaging is crucial for building remote-first teams, as shown by the early success of Yac Chat.

Live video

Live video format was demonstrating mixed results in 2019. While it is getting less prominent on Facebook and Twitter, and Houseparty got acquired with unclear prospects, other services enter the game, particularly Yubo, Squad, and Mixer. Twitch is continuing to grow and expand into non-gaming marketings.

Stories

Stories format continues to take share from traditional feeds. The adoption is expanding from major networks like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Youtube to business publishing and even entertainment section of taxi apps.

Pull publishing

As everyday users got increasingly reserved in content creation, social media apps are introducing features to pull content from their users. This trend includes interviews, questions from friends, challenges, and the network-wide question of the day. While Quora served as a key example of pull publishing on the web, new players like F3 and YOLO are leading pull publishing on mobile.

Hiding metrics

In 2019, Instagram experiments showed early evidence that publicly visible like counts can introduce psychological barriers for users to publish content. We may see an industry-wide move to hidden metrics if this approach proves to increase content publishing rates.

Keyboard innovation

Memes, gifs, stickers, and animated emojis continue to play a massive role in casual messaging. New forms of expression are coming both from established players like Apple, Telegram, and Giphy, as well as new entrants like Usplash API that recently made its high-quality image library available for use in third-party apps. We can expect more growth in this space when/if iOS and Android open their default keyboards for third-party plugins.

Gamification

Major social networks continue to experiment with incentive and reputation systems to drive publishing rates, content quality, invites, and retention. Reddit and Zenly are among the leaders in this space.

Predictions

High-end social

As the first generation of digital natives enters their 40s and reaches high levels of disposable income, there will be more demand for luxury digital experiences that can serve as a status symbol. In other words, consumer media companies will look to establish an ultra-premium offering that can serve the same self-expression purpose as the high-end models of smartphones, cars, and watches. sent-with-Superhuman email signature and Twitter’s blue checkmarks are some of the current examples of status symbols in the digital world.

New identity

With time, user profiles on major social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram became less informative, current, or truly representative of their owners. In 2020, new forms of self-representation may emerge, with a focus on storytelling, visual content, new forms of social proof and reputation, and built-in donations and ecommerce capabilities. Mobile-focused website builders Universe and mssg.me as well as Instagram bio link services like Linktree and Lnk.bio are among the most promising players in this space.

Self-discovery

The world gets more connected and yet there is more loneliness than ever. This leads to a new "solo social" category of consumer media, focused on user's communication with themselves representing bu such apps as Replika, Stoic, and Flo. This includes meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, and InsightTimer, journaling, health monitoring, and psychology quizzes. The 2020 can be the year when self-discovery hits mainstream and talking-with-yourself-digitally becomes as common as messaging with friends.

Design personalization

The dark mode is only the start. Soon, consumer media apps will add more appearance settings for users to customize their experience. This likely to include colors, font sizes, and information density.

Premium plans for ad-supported apps

Advertising-driven consumer media companies will continue to experiment with user subscriptions and donations. Someone from Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or WhatsApp may add a premium plan in 2020.

Employer-paid social

Employers will begin to see the value in their employees using social media, particularly for recruiting and professional development services. More companies to establish reimbursement policies to cover premium plans in services like LinkedIn, Dribbble, and Substack.

Reference publishing

Social media companies will build more tools for their users to create evergreen content. Instagram highlight stories is an example of content users create for search and discovery rather than feed consumption. We may also see more social and community use cases for document writing platforms like Notion and Slite.

Demand mining

Social media companies will introduce tools for creators to help them decide what content to create next. This is one of the biggest pain points of professional creators who want to maximize audience growth and revenue returns on their investment in new content creation. Demand mining is particularly important for narrowly-defined active interests, where users are already investing their time and money and are likely to support new content with subscriptions and donations. Instagram and Twitter polls and ask-me-anything posts are examples of demand mining behavior happening today.

Inbound networking

Tinder-style people feeds can emerge as an interface-of-choice to discover new people to connect with even in many areas outside of dating, including professional networking, recruiting, fundraising, sales, philanthropy, mentorship, public relations, professional development, and business development. LunchClub and The League are the players to keep an eye on in this space.

Group apps

In 2020 we may see a new generation of plugins and mini-apps that can be added to individual group chats and 1-1 conversations. When more and more user activities are moving from email and social networks to messaging, it creates demand for advanced functionality that can be added to individual chats only when needed. The group apps may include shared calendars, reminders, conversation prompts, new member screening, onboarding flows, and in-group profiles. In a way, group apps can be seen as the next wave of innovation extending and expanding on the recent chatbot trend. Enterprise messaging companies like ManyChat and Intercom are at the forefront of this trend.

Personal systems of record

As users hunt for inspiration on the internet and observe the activities of others, there is a growing need to save best-found ideas into a knowledge system. "Save button" functionality is an important part of Pinterest, Twitter, Telegram, and Amazon, and can be enabled for the whole internet with Pocket. And yet, it feels that most of the innovation in this space is still ahead of us.

Group spaces and friend spaces

With time, many apps are broadening their positioning from a single-function workflow to a multi-functional space. Now, they aim is to become an all-in-one solution for a particular group of users and an important slice of their life. Many productivity apps have started in different places (files, chats, code hosting, project management) but now all are racing towards becoming a unified workspace. We are likely to see the same with pure social apps. Group chats will become group spaces. Direct messages will become friend spaces. Family photo folders become family spaces. The functional evolution of subreddits on Reddit is a great illustration of this trend.

To chat about these trends, make new friends, and stay in the loop for future resources like this one, join our Consumer HQ community.

Alternatively, feel free to share your thoughts and feedback to yury@openland.com

Edited by Yury Lifshits with contributions from Alex Krupp, Alex Lisovoy, Anton Gladkoborodov, Ethan Anderson, Harry Qi, James Routledge, Jared Downing, Jordan Walker, Kirill Averyanov, Piotr Grudzien, and Sachin Monga. Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash.

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