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New Report Looks at Social Media Usage Trends Over the Past Decade, and Where Things are Now Headed



If you want to understand the latest social media platform updates, and maximize your own efforts in social media marketing, it’s worth taking a broader view of consumption trends, and considering how people are looking to use social apps to connect, in various ways, over time.

By understanding such trends, you can get a clearer idea of what people want to see from your brand – which is where app analytics platform App Annie’s latest report comes in.

App Annie’s ‘Evolution of Social Apps’ report looks at how social media usage trends have evolved over the last decade, highlighting the rise of live-streaming, the increasing focus on social commerce, the growth of TikTok and Snapchat, and more.

The report is key reading for those looking to maintain a handle on key shifts, and what’s driving the latest platform updates. You can download the full report here, but in this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key notes of interest.

Probably the biggest highlight of the report is the rise in consumer spending within social apps, with cumulative spend already at $3.2 billion in the first half of 2021 – up 50% year-over-year.

App Annie social app spend chart

As you can see in this chart, the broader adoption of social media apps in Asian markets – particularly India – has pushed in-app spending to new heights, with App Annie projecting that, for the full year, in-app spend will hit $6.78b this year.

That’s expected to continue to rise at an annual growth rate of around 29% moving forward, which App Annie projects will see social app spending reach a massive $78 billion by 2025.

If you were wondering why every app is looking to move into in-stream commerce, this is it. The data points to significant opportunity for those platforms that can expand user engagement into direct spending and shopping behaviors, facilitating new revenue potential for the platforms, and new opportunities for brands.

If you’ve not considered plugging your product catalog into Facebook or Instagram Shops, or you’re not tracking TikTok’s evolving eCommerce plans, it may be time to pay attention (you can sign up to our newsletter right here).

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The report also looks at how, exactly, users are looking to spend in social apps, with live-stream creators leading the way in many respects.

App Annie social app usage chart

As per the report:

Total time spent in the top 5 social apps with an emphasis on live streaming are set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone, outside of China in 2021, a 3-year compound annual growth rate of 25% compared to 15% for chat and photo & video apps”

Which is an interesting shift – between 2014 and 2018, the focus moved away from social media platforms, and public broadcasting of your thoughts and opinions, and towards messaging and private groups instead, with Facebook, in particular, making a big push on groups as a means to maximize its in-app engagement.

Now, it seems that live-streaming is gaining traction once again. Which, of course, has been amplified by the pandemic, with live-streaming often providing the best replacement social outlet for those in lockdown. But even with that being the case, it does indeed seem that live-streaming is having a moment. And when you consider the extension of that being VR connection and socializing in digital worlds (i.e. the Metaverse), it seems likely that this trend will hold, even as we move into the post-COVID environment.

But it’s not just viewing live-streams, it’s spending in broadcasts as well:

Social apps that offer live-streaming as a prominent feature account for $3 of every $4 spent in top 25 social apps in H1 2021.”

A large element of this growth has been virtual “gifting”, with content creators in Asia, in particular, generating big dollars from in-stream virtual gifts, which essentially act as donations to the creators, subsidizing their output.

Facebook, YouTube and TikTok have all created their own variations of the same, and while the trend doesn’t seem to have caught on in western regions with the same veracity as their Asian counterparts, the data again points to significant opportunity, with live-streams providing a sense of immediate connection, helping to build community and facilitate direct transactions in-stream.

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Indeed, Facebook is now trialing shopping live-streams in its main app, and on Instagram as well, while TikTok has also hosted a range of live-stream shopping collaborations with big brands and platform stars.

TikTok live-stream shopping

Whether that becomes a bigger trend in western markets remains to be seen, but the opportunity is there, and as noted, it does also align with broader usage shifts.

The report also looks at the growth of TikTok, which, according to App Annie’s data, has now surpassed YouTube in both the US and the UK in terms of average monthly time spent in-app, per user.

App Annie social media usage trends report - TikTok versus YouTube usage over time

TikTok’s growth has been amazing to witness, and it’s now hard to see it not converting that popularity into a sustainable business, both for TikTok itself and for its top stars. The main risk for TikTok remains effective monetization, with short-form video offering less potential for ads, and thus, lower income potential for creators. In this sense, YouTube and Facebook can offer better revenue opportunities, but TikTok is working to establish more direct linkage between brands and creators, while it’s also experimenting with longer form videos to facilitate more ad opportunities.

There is also the ever-present risk that the US Government, and potentially others, could move to ban TikTok due to its Chinese Government links. That element has gone quiet of late, but it’s a lingering concern among security analysts, and could still become a major impediment for the app, if it were to brought to a head once again.

For this reason, it also seems likely that top creators will be looking to keep their options open, rather than relying on the app – which, in itself could also be an impediment to TikTok maximizing its growth potential.

Either way, from a general usage standpoint, TikTok is clearly a big winner, and it continues to gain traction in the social space.

Which is also reflected in this chart, looking at app download rankings over the past decade.

App Annie social app downloads 2012 to 2021

Facebook’s dominance is absolutely clear, but it’s also interesting to note the other trends, like the rise of TikTok, the fall of Twitter and the resurgence of Snapchat.

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Which is another element highlighted in the report – according to App Annie’s data, Snapchat’s overseas downloads have grown by 45% in the last 12 months, in comparison to the 2 years prior.

App Annie Snapchat downloads chart

That can largely be attributed to India, where Snapchat has seen huge take-up since launching its updated Android version back in 2019. Earlier this year, Snapchat reported that it’s seen 150% growth in active users in the region.

Snapchat usage in India stats

Which is really where most social apps are now looking – with Indian smartphone adoption rising, the opportunity exists to connect with billions more users, and the apps that can gain the most traction in India stand to see huge benefit, especially in regard to in-app purchases and revenue potential.

So in many respects, the latest features and updates you’re seeing aren’t even focused on you. Live-stream commerce, in-app shopping and other additions are really aimed at the Asian market, where there’s much larger growth potential for social apps than in western regions, where adoption is already high, and spending is not increasing at the same rates.

So even if you don’t think that these new elements will work out, maybe they will in other regions, and if they see adoption in the US and Europe as well, that’s just a bonus.

As such, if you really want to gauge where things are headed in the social media landscape, and what the platforms will be looking to focus on in future, it may be worth looking to Asian adoption trends instead, or considering what’s gaining traction in China, within its own web bubble.

And what’s gaining traction in China right now? Live-stream commerce and Douyin, the local version of TikTok.

It’s not hard to see either of these elements becoming much bigger considerations in western markets as well.

You can download App Annie’s ‘Evolution of Social Media’ report here.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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