The might of Facebook may seem impossible to overcome in the ever more important Social Media industry but it’s surprising how successful a number of other niche networks have been in establishing their control over specific markets. No longer is Facebook the “do it all network” on which users spend an entire evening. According to OFCOM research more and more people are abandoning the site to use new Social media like WhatsApp and Snapchat. And it was recently announced that Instagram (which is – admittedly – owned by Facebook) now has more regular users than Twitter. But was 2014 really a year in which traditional Social Media has been toppled, as some claim?
In reality, the difference between 2014 and ’13 for Facebook and Twitter is minimal, their dominance remains a well established phenomenon. Increasing numbers of big businesses are finally fully embracing these two networks at least, even if they are also adopting into the use of other networks (LinkedIn is becoming a staple of recruitment). It’s true that users are increasingly dividing their Social Media time between multiple networks but Twitter and Facebook are undoubtedly taking up a significant portion of that time. Even though the text led sites are on shaky foundations in an era of increased interest in video and picture content, both sites are subtly including these features and slowly adapting. Perhaps it could have been quicker, the rise in Snapchat is a testament to Facebook and Twitter’s sluggishness but with a core audience as large as theirs it hardly matters as long as they get there.
Instagram went from strength to strength in 2014, at the start of the year it had 200 million users but as of the start of January it boasts more than 300 million users and counting. It’s hard to pin down why the network is such a success though; perhaps it is the increased access to smartphones (a reliably expanding market) and their cameras which has led to the increase in Instagrammers or perhaps it is simply because this year was the year of the ‘selfie’. It began with Ellen Degeneres’ famous Oscar Selfie (supposedly the most shared selfie ever) and continued into the summer as ‘selfie sticks’ appeared (gadgets which allow you to take a selfie from a distance); even the Queen was seen photobombing a couple of selfie takers.
Either way (it is probably a combination of the two), it isn’t just Instagram which has gained from this trend. All networks have seen a seemingly endless increase in selfie laden posts. Instagram’s success is probably because celebrities like Beyonce and Kim Kardashian regularly post their selfies on there saying perhaps more about celebrity culture than Social Media trends.
Although some will claim that the news that Instagram has ‘taken over’ Twitter in popularity proves that Instagram has more strength as a network, it’s hardly true in reality. Although Instagram has more users, Twitter has become an invaluable tool not just to give a voice to the masses but to bring together the leaders of the world. In an interview with Evan Williams, co founder of Twitter, he claimed that he doesn’t “give a shit” that Instagram has more users. He continued by saying that the micro-blogging network is “this realtime information network where everything in the world happens on Twitter, important stuff breaks on Twitter and world leaders have conversations on Twitter.” He has a point, the Top Ten most followed Instagram accounts are mostly made up by the Kardashian family. Twitter may well be suffering from less users but it makes far more money and is undoubtedly more significant on a global scale. Instagram’s selfies and photos of food hardly compare with the ability to discuss social change from different ends of the planet and interract with writers and politicans on a personal level.
And yet, the dominance of these networks has been criticised for the way they sell detailed portraits of our lives to advertisers. Facebook’s privacy settings have repeatedly come under scrutiny over the years but this year saw a resurgence in dislike for the network’s approach to our details. In response, the simple but beautiful ‘Ello was established as a network which vowed to never share data with advertisers. Despite the remarkable takeup of accounts in a short amount of time (it was reported as having at least 1 million users in October) the barren landscape of the network is somewhat offputting. When I logged in I had a poke around but saw that that was what exactly what everyone else was doing, since then it has remained another password for me to forget.
It’s easy to criticise Facebook and Twitter’s approach to advertising for taking advantage of the way we willingly give over data but having advertising targeted at us isn’t as pernicious as some people claim. Personally I find it pretty useful when I see adverts for things I actually would quite like, it’s better than seeing Ten Tips to a Flat Belly on the Google Ads banners which dominate most of the internet. Talking of Google, although its search engine functions are becoming increasingly efficient (and frustrating to owners of sites it is usurping) its own social network (Google Plus) is still one of the least used established networks. Although many have an account by default because it is the only network you can use to comment on YouTube videos, the lack of major development goes to show that maybe even Google have abandoned it.
Perhaps you could argue that the elite companies in the social media world have something to worry about, people are no longer accepting that Facebook is the one and only network, just like it was once thought that MSN Messenger and Myspace were the perfect way of keeping in touch with friends now people are realising that there may be other sites which cater more specifically to their needs. The nature of social media itself is increasingly being criticised for causing loneliness but we still obsessively check our smartphones in the vain hope that something of interest will happen. Although the dominant organisations may well be losing chunks of their audience to niche markets it seems that our insatiable appetite to immerse ourself in these networks isn’t dwindling in the slightest. Whether or not we all move from Facebook to something else, many of us will probably still be immersed in our online lives for a long time to come. As much as I’d like to say that 2015 will free us from our obsession with these networks, at least for now, they’re here to stay.