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Social Media: What’s Next?
While the endless legal drama surrounding Meta and the political and media storm related to Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter take center stage, a revolution is bubbling behind the scenes as startups sniff out the right time-to-market to shake up the leaders. Stimulated by the creator economy and/or the new Web3 paradigm, and driven by overflowing creativity, these outsiders could well renew the social media model. Let’s get to it.
Cracking the Creativity Code
Is past experience enough to understand the future? In any case, if the study of the social media timeline highlights a consolidation of the ecosystem over the last ten years around the behemoths — the big "blue app" of Meta (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger), YouTube, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Reddit... — it also teaches us that every five years or so, a sufficiently disruptive player emerges to make its way to the top.
Remember, in 2011, Snapchat renewed the genre with its ephemeral messages, its revolutionary stories format and its filters that were soon copied by other platforms. Today, creativity is still at the heart of Evan Spiegel's network, which is one step ahead of the game in many areas, such as augmented reality.
In 2016, it was TikTok that landed in the arena with its micro-videos and, above all, a powerful algorithm that, unlike most of its competitors, allows any video to go viral in a few seconds, giving unpredictable visibility to a brand or an individual.
What about the 2022 season? In my opinion, the surprise could well come from the BeReal platform and its unusual positioning. Gone is the 24-hour connection that weighs on our mental load: this French app targets a different time each day to send a simultaneous notification to its users inviting them to take a double photo in two minutes: one with the front camera, the other with the rear camera of the smartphone. That's it. Another strength? Its ability to get rid of lurkers — users who consume content in ghost mode — since unless the user posts their photo, they will not be able to view others. Note that here, the introduction of friction goes against the general trend on the web and yet, it works. The app, financed by VC fund a16z, was downloaded 3.5M times on iOS and Android last May according to Sensor Tower. The question remains whether it will be able to monetize its user base with such short usage time..
Embracing tomorrow's trendy format
Creativity often goes hand in hand with the ability to anticipate a new medium or a new format likely to feed the communication modes of new generations. In 2010, Instagram democratized the image format. In 2013, Snapchat introduced stories, while three years later, TikTok popularized micro-videos.
In 2020, Clubhouse embraced the audio format: it is precisely in this niche that I believe there are still opportunities to be seized. One example is Somewhere Good. Launched last month, this platform is based on voice recording. Its particularity? No followers, no likes, no feeds or personal profiles. Currently, the app includes four "worlds" that users can choose to enter: Artist Rituals, Radical Library, Communal Care, and Deep Discourse. In short, as you can see, this audio community seeks to heal the woes of previous platforms by targeting the growing issue of mental health.
But audio isn't the only format that's likely to make its way into the spotlight. More than a trend, the meme has become a new visual language. Based on Darwin's theory of evolution, this format illustrates the hypothesis that imitation plays a key role in cultural transmission. Proof of their power? The subreddits r/Memes (19.2M subscribers) or r/MemesEconomy (1.5M subscribers) are still growing. One social network I keep a close eye on is Piñata Farms. Its concept? Allow everyone to create custom memes that get social by commenting, liking, and sharing.
Another format to look out for: 3D holograms. I already mentioned Jadu in May 2020, bringing a foretaste of the potential new uses. This app specialized in holography has since pivoted into the creation of an augmented reality game world. Since my previous article, the startup has raised $34M via three funding rounds, the last of which took place last May.
New players are emerging in this segment such as Volograms. To be more exact, the latter is a company specialising in capturing humans in 3D using a technology called volumetric video. The company moves away from the typical volumetric capture setups with dozens of cameras, green screens and server rooms, by developing a set of AI algorithms that allow you to capture 3D humans simply using your smartphone. To that effect, they have developed Volu (try it out!) a new communication tool that solves one of the Metaverse’s biggest challenges: content creation. As Rafael Pagés explains to me: “All content in the Metaverse is created by a developer, an artist, or a professional, using professional tools… this is not scalable! Volu allows, for the first time, user-generated content for the Metaverse. And this is only the beginning! Our vision is building a camera for the Metaverse. We are starting to work with other companies to integrate our capture technology in different platforms and devices: a camera for the Metaverse in everyone’s pocket!”
2mee is another company more specifically looking into building hologram messages, a concept coined as “human messaging” or “immersive messaging”. In other words, your messages could soon be conveyed via your hologram with special effects and other features that will definitely overtake images and GIFs. The future of WhatsApp and the like? Who knows. Anyway, the subject is fascinating and I will dedicate a more detailed article to it very soon. Stay tuned ;)
Niche, at scale
Over the last few years, we have lost count of the number of players who have taken the gamble of launching themselves into vertical markets. This is a major challenge, since in order to attract early adopters in the fashion, beauty and food communities, it seems essential to put forward strong added value arguments, especially since generalist platforms are developing more and more segmented tools, such as the "recipes" widget developed by Tiktok in partnership with Whisk.
The crucial points in focus? Distribution, monetization and governance, a key point at a time when creator-influencers are asserting themselves as entrepreneurs and, beyond the monetary remuneration of their content and products, now intend to become shareholders of the platforms they use. In other words, we are moving from co-creation with their audiences or brands to co-ownership.
The question of distribution, in particular, can be considered in the manner of TikTok via an algorithm that removes the need to spend months — or even years — building an audience. But it's not that simple... Another way, in my opinion, is to take inspiration from Canva to propose templates specific to each vertical and give the ability to distribute content directly on existing platforms to leverage the audience pools that are already in place.
An example? The French social network Mirepoi, which is dedicated to foodistas and currently in beta rollout. Its founder, Olivier Mermet, explained to me that he is developing dedicated templates and an ad hoc infrastructure to redistribute content on existing platforms with one click. "One of the real challenges is to oil the distribution as much as possible to promote adoption," he says. The platform is also testing a dedicated support to help creators generate high-end content through a more competitive advance system inspired by publishing houses. The social adage "If Content is King, Distribution is King Kong" has never been more true.
NFTs at the heart of the social model
Today, we post our photos, videos, status, and more on social platforms. What if, tomorrow, we use our NFT collections — and their associated benefits — to connect with other holders? What if these digital wallets embody a new form of interaction within the metaverse that we've been talking about so much lately?
"Owning NFTs for your business will be like having a website in 2005 or having a social media account in 2015," said expert Gary Vaynerchuck recently. It’s an opinion shared by Eytan Messika, founder of Nilos, a financial infrastructure startup that allows anyone to create a business on Web3. "In a few years, a wallet will be the equivalent of a bank account, a social network and an instant messenger," he told me in a previous issue of this newsletter.
It seems that the news supports the idea... First of all, the market leaders are studying all the possibilities around NFTs. Following Twitter’s move at the beginning of the year, Facebook and Instagram are also preparing a feature that will allow users to display NFTs as their profile picture. Meta is also considering allowing users to create NFTs directly within its applications.
And yet, these digital giants are still far from the ambitions of a whole new generation of startups such as Primitives, Omni or Showtime. One of my faves? Pikomit, a Web3 app that unites and strengthens tokenized communities around three main concepts: first, to highlight one's Web3 profile with the ability to customize it by changing the avatar, the banner and other graphical elements using one's NFT assets. Secondly, wallet-to-wallet messaging by allowing one to send a message to any wallet owner on the blockchain to connect with those who hold the same assets as you, and finally, community clubs. Thanks to the blockchain, Pikomit detects NFTs and tokens to allow one to automatically join dedicated spaces.
What should we learn from this? Extreme diversity and an unprecedented multifaceted nature, which are adding many ethical considerations. The social network Supernova donates 60 percent of its advertising revenue to charities chosen by users while providing 24/7 human moderation in the name of a "kinder and more inclusive" community.
Obviously, all these examples cannot be considered an exhaustive vision, but we have to admit that the renewal is underway. The social big bang is definitely not about to fade away.