If you’ve ever found yourself “screaming, crying, throwing up” because your favourite app is changing AGAIN, you’re not alone.
Over the last few years, social media platforms have evolved, sometimes very drastically. Picture-first, now video-first. Chronological order, now algorithm-based. But why do these changes happen? And more importantly…did they have to change?
For casual users and social media marketing professionals, it’s hard not to notice when a social media platform changes its key differentiator in the face of new competition. These shifts beg the question of whether social platforms are genuinely looking to improve the experience for their users, or if they’re just working overtime to stay relevant despite their continued success.
So, why do they do it?
It happens all the time.
TikTok announced that they would be stepping back from their BeReal feature TikTok Now, providing an important reminder for social platforms to focus on why people choose their app instead of the competitor’s in the first place.
TikTok jumping on that bandwagon was surprising, but not unheard of. After all, we’ve seen a steady build in copycat features since back in the Snapchat days when Instagram felt compelled to cash in on Stories, all the way up until 2023 when YouTube promoted their short-form videos YouTube Shorts, and Instagram decided to prioritize full-screen video content over static. The problem is that once an app loses sight of its strengths and tries to be everything all at once, the features that made them special tend to get lost in the shuffle. We don’t get updates to the things that we love, but we do get more optimizations so that Instagram can look just like TikTok, or TikTok can look just like BeReal.
Great trade, right!?
It’s not always a good thing.
It’s not innovation that causes social platforms to change their key differentiator. It’s the fear of being left behind.
TikTok Now was introduced in September 2022 after the rise of the timely photo-sharing trend BeReal, which took off earlier that year. Since TikTok’s key draw is the ability to create quick content, they likely saw BeReal as a threat to the timely aspect of their popularity, but instead of taking their own spin on a push-notification-fueled timely post…they just did a direct copy.
We’ve seen the same thing happen before with the introduction of Instagram Reels in August 2020, and at the same time, TikTok hit over 100 million users in the same month. Social media giants love to borrow the great ideas from other great giants.
Often a trend would appear on TikTok and then in a few weeks it would be replicated by Instagram. Once people knew that they could watch these trends unfold in real time rather than getting hit with an embarrassing “I saw that 2 weeks ago on TikTok,” after sharing a Reel in the DMs, they went straight to the source: TikTok.
TikTok's real strength lies in its ability to provide quick, engaging, and even educational videos. The platform's constant stream of tailored content hooks its audience and can keep them scrolling for hours. Instead of focusing on their strengths, social platforms fall into the same spiral of creating copies of competitors, instead of doubling down on what makes their app great. If all social media platforms are merely iterative of their competitors, say goodbye to true, innovative thinking in the social media space.
Stay on top of trends
While social media professionals can’t do anything about platform changes, it is possible to stay ahead of the curve before the hammer drops. Our advice to brands? Keep your eyes peeled.
Stay in the know about what people are talking about, and how your brand can join the conversation. By embracing social media trends, brands can maintain relevance, reach wider audiences, and stay ahead of the competition in the always-evolving digital space. There’s a reason that brands like Duolingo stay relevant, and it’s because they’re adaptable with their content. Social listening is your best friend in the online landscape of 2023.
Monitor emerging platforms
Sometimes, arriving early to the party is actually the key to success. So, pay attention to new and emerging platforms that are gaining traction. We’re looking at you, Threads. Being involved in the early days of a platform means you can be involved in shaping the platform, and get an inside scoop on what people are doing.
This allows brands to establish a presence, assemble a loyal following, and set themselves apart from competitors. Joining early can have the advantage of organic growth, as the platform user base expands, presenting greater potential for reaching a wider audience. Plus, starting early is the best chance to secure valuable usernames and ensuring consistency across platforms.
Above all else, it shows potential customers that the brand is willing to roll with the times and be adaptable. This showcases an innovative and forward-thinking nature, which can positively impact brand perception and attract a savvy audience.
When in doubt, call in an expert
Reach out to other social media professionals in your niche and hear about their experiences and adapt their learnings for your specific situation. Social media moves quickly, and especially for brands with smaller marketing teams, it can be hard to keep up. Social media managers are the foot soldiers on the front lines of where your consumers spend their downtime – on their phones. No one knows the temperament and personality of your consumers better than the social media managers that interact with them every single day. So if your social media manager recommends that you test out Threads to optimize your network while the platform is still new…Listen to them. Support them. And let them do their jobs.
Of course, social platforms can always grow and introduce new, fun features, but not at the expense of their platform's roots and integrity. Threads emerging at the death of Twitter and Instagram returning to image-first content are clear messages that we are witnessing a cautionary tale. The lesson here is simple: social platforms should focus on their core values and stop trying to imitate successful concepts from competitors. Instead of stealing ideas from the latest big thing, apps should strive to perfect what made them unique, unless they’re ready for users and brands alike to click “Are you sure you want to delete this app?” for good.
On the hunt for a digital branding partner? Super Duper Studios is a digital branding agency in Toronto. We specialize in game-changing visual identity, websites that make sense, and double-tap-worthy social media content. Nice to meet ya! Email me at email@example.com and let’s chat.
Social Media Specialist at Super Duper Studios.