The evolving nature of social media platforms

It’s late December 2021 and something extraordinary has just happened. TikTok has overtaken Google as the year’s most visited website. It thereby ended Google’s 15-year reign as the world’s most popular web domain.

Amidst the panic around the Omicron surge, the news didn’t receive nearly enough attention. What does it tell us about how people spend their time online? Well, in short, that the way people use technology to find information is changing.

Consumers increasingly look to platforms to fulfil a whole range of needs – from information-gathering, learning and e-commerce. Businesses need to prepare to meet them where they are, on their own terms.

TikTok is leading the way

Hitting 1 billion monthly active users in September 2021, TikTok emerged as a clear winner from the Covid crisis. It had not only taken advantage of the increased time people spent at home to become the world’s most popular entertainment app. It, more importantly, developed into a leading information app. Through its varied content and variety of short-form user videos, it pulled together our information-gathering, learning and e-commerce needs into a one-stop-shop.

TikTok isn’t just videos of memes or teenagers dancing (although those are great too). Some of the most popular content are beauty tips, recipes, and how-to videos. That’s squarely in the lane once occupied by players like Google, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Indeed, our TikTok deep-dives showed how TikTok is starting to compete with LinkedIn as people’s go-to career aid, offering bitesize advice and support on everything from interviewing to CV-writing. How people use it to educate themselves about climate change and tackling migraines.  Meaning not only have most consumers moved on from spending all their time on Google and Facebook, but their entry point for seeking out their needs have changed too.

If you can’t beat em’

As TikTok becomes the new Facebook-Google hybrid – the centre for both entertainment and information – it is shaping other platforms and the very future of tech in its image.

At its heart is multimedia. Along with Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram and Spotify, TikTok placed its emphasis on video, audio and images. The rapid rise in podcasts reinforced this shift. The rise of these challengers meant Facebook and Twitter tried to play catch-up. And bam: the scales were tipped.  An internet that had once been based around text is now awash with, and firmly dominated by, multimedia. This is only expected to continue. As Tod Neilson, CEO of Talkwalker, predicted in a recent article on the top social media trends of 2022:

“TikTok’s success is driven by consumers themselves, and if we’ve learnt anything over the past couple of years, it’s that companies which listen to consumers fare better in the long run. Expect to see brands across multiple industries incorporate short-form video into their content strategies in 2022.”

Google is one of the first to answer the call.  For the company that has spent two decades dedicated to organising the world’s information, the change towards multimedia content threatens Google in a serious, potentially existential way. So its focus is now on developing a multimedia search tool. As David Pierce writes for the specialist tech magazine The Protocol:

“If Google can unlock a truly visual search engine in both directions — visual queries, visual data, visual output — it can be much better equipped to be to the future what, well, Google was to the past. More than two decades ago, the company took a disparate set of content and put it at users’ fingertips. Now the content has changed, but the need hasn’t.”

TikTok’s rise to the top, as well as competitors’ efforts to keep up, highlight the change in how we find and consume entertainment and information about the world around us. Multimedia has taken over, and so has our need for all-purpose social media platforms. Social networks, search engines and e-commerce sites have blurred and coalesced: social is evolving into an expansive place of equal parts networking, entertainment, information-gathering and e-commerce.

Meaning it’s about time to stop looking for consumer insight on just Facebook and Google. Recalibrate your market research teams to help you understand people through a range of social media platforms. Give them the resources they need to analyse a multitude of customer journeys online. We’re here to help you make a start. Schedule a chat with us to get expert advice on how social media insights can transform your business. So you can make an impact and stay ahead of the curve.

Because consumers have moved on. Businesses should too.


By Louise Alestam

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