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Social media’s here to stay – and the fight to get our attention is only going to get more fierce

Social media’s here to stay – and the fight to get our attention is only going to get more fierce

Social media platforms have traditionally been marketed as a way to stay connected with the world. In recent years, these platforms have also become a force in news, marketing and sales, taking up a greater stake in the social, commercial and political spheres.

Social media platforms – Meta’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or the original Snapchat – arose as a means to stay in touch with friends and to keep updated on trends and the comings and goings of celebrities and influencers. Since their creation, though, much has changed, with added functionalities and digital tools and an increasingly competitive market fighting for a share of our digital attention.

In fact, driven by tense competition (trading in billions of eyeballs), social media platforms have and continue to capitalise on innovations – while dominant platforms continue to adapt, others are now seeking to make their mark. 

What are the developments you should know about and what has been planned for 2023? We explore. 

What’s trending?

In terms of popularity, Facebook continues to hold its spot as the local favourite social media platform, with 22 million South Africans telling Ornico that they have used the platform within a seven-day period. 

Instagram reportedly has 1.5 million daily users, while TikTok was found to have the fastest rate of growth, with a tenth of the local population accessing the app on a daily basis. 

Though Instagram and Facebook remain dominant forces in the South African social media sphere, these platforms have experienced their lowest levels of usage in the last five years, with the former experiencing a decline from 96% to 81% locally, and the latter experiencing a drop from 86% to 68%.

Meta-owned messaging service WhatsApp continues to dominate with 23 million users, outperforming its major competitors Signal and Telegram; however, further competition has arisen in the form of MoyaApp, a local messaging app which has reached 10 million downloads and hosts four million daily users. 

Twitter has also seen competition in the form of Mastodon – an alternative, and not a clone, of the former app. Mastodon users choose a server on which their account lives, grouped by location, topic and common interests. The app reached over a million active users in November. 

Read in Daily Maverick: What is Mastodon, the ‘Twitter alternative’ people are flocking to? Here’s everything you need to know

Social trade: a world of digital shops 

Social commerce is online selling that takes place on social media, where users are able to complete their purchases within the platform. The entire process is centralised – from browsing the products to placing the order. It has been predicted that social commerce could near a valuation of $3-trillion by 2026. 

Major brands also continue to profit from users’ purchasing power. According to Ornico’s report, TikTok has become increasingly attractive to South African brands, increasing its penetration amongst marketers from 12% to 25%. 

The platform’s influence is expected to grow, with an additional 13% of major South African brands surveyed stating that they plan to use the platform within the next year. This means that TikTok will outperform every other platform in terms of marketing growth in South Africa – not bad for a platform that was only created in September 2016, 12 years after the colossal Facebook.

The old, the new and the ugly

Beyond the usual suspects, the metaverse, touted mostly by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg (although he’s not the only one eyeing the concept as a next step in social media opportunities), is said to soon “revolutionise everything”. 

Experiencing the metaverse doesn’t always mean owning a bulky expensive VR set like the Oculus Quest (owned by Meta). In fact, the actual word “metaverse” originated from the 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash, by author Neal Stephenson. 

Still, today, there is no universally accepted definition of the metaverse: it can range from online worlds such as Decentraland, which can be accessed via a desktop computer, to games such as Fortnite, all the way through to Meta’s would-be Ready Player One concept.

Even with all the different takes, metaverse technology ultimately seeks to map the real world into the digital world, says Boaz Keren-Gil, the chief technology officer at Treedis, an Israel-based company that creates digital twins for a vast array of spaces, including clubs, properties and stores. 

Newcomer BeReal, with its tag line, “Your friends. For real”, has marketed itself as a healthier alternative to mainstream social media apps. The app pushes users to create one post a day, with a feature that uses both the regular camera and selfie camera. 

Users around the world receive a push notification at a different time each day; and should they not post within two minutes of receiving the notification, the app will indicate that they have posted late. 

BeReal’s goal is to offer a fundamental and, according to the platform, necessary “alternative to addictive social networks fuelling social comparison and portraying life with the goal of amassing influence”. This means focusing on “spontaneity and authenticity”, while removing the focus on followers, likes and filters. 

In 2021, the app reached over 500,000 users, and saw a 1,000% increase in downloads this year. It remains to be seen if BeReal’s simple approach, which has been described by some as a “gimmick”, will maintain its audience. According to the Financial Times, the app is also looking at a premium version with a monthly fee to unlock extra benefits and tools. 

WhatsApp rolled out several new features this year. Their new “communities” feature allows users to organise related group chats under one umbrella; additionally, they have also introduced in-chat polls, groups with up to 1,024 users and 32-person video calls.

Clubhouse, a social audio application which had, in 2022, over 10 million users, has been struggling in the past year with a number of top executives leaving – and an 80% decline in downloads from the first half of 2021 to the first half of this year. Still, the app wants to innovate and recently introduced a feature dubbed Houses, which allows users to create customisable private group chats where they can connect with other users. 

Snapchat is currently trialling a new feature which allows creators to make money by selling paid upgrades to augmented reality lenses; however, the feature currently has limited rollout to a handful of creators in New Zealand and Australia. 

Discord, the chat app that lets users share texts, videos, and voice messages in private chats or private and public communities identified as “servers”,  has been particularly popular with the gamers of the past few years. And now, gamers recently received a long-awaited Discord update Microsoft released an update which allows Xbox owners to connect a Discord voice channel to their console. Xbox owners previously had to transfer their voice call from the app onto their device, but can now skip this additional step. 

The new update also comes with noise suppression on Discord Voice, which blocks out distracting background sounds; however, this feature has limited availability to Xbox Series X/S consoles. 

Also catering to the gaming community are the new YouTube Emotes. These custom emotes can be used in video and live chat comment sections, and are currently focused on gaming, but are reported to expand in their range over time. DM/ML

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  • bongani Ngcobo says:

    It is understood that the Bill of Hate Speech and Hate Crime to regulate what is posted on social media in SA is in the pipeline. However, I am worried that this Law comes at the time SA is about to hold National Elections in 2024. Some of African Countries, banned or suspended certain social media towards or during elections because community members of different political parties and civic organisations spelt a language with vulgar and carrying weapons that promoting violence. Are we not going to witness this before, during and after elections in our country ?

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