When it Comes to Commerce, TikTok is Poised to Compete with Facebook


TikTok launched globally in September 2017, a year after its debut in China. In that time, it has amassed 100 Million monthly active users and surpassed Facebook as the most time-consuming social media app of 2020, with users spending an average of 21.5 hours on TikTok per month (App Annie 2020). 

There’s a reason Americans are flocking to TikTok, watching an entire futbol game’s worth of videos every day. Actually, there are 5 reasons:

  • Its algorithm optimizes to encourage creation 
  • Its algorithm encourages discovery
  • Its features lower the barrier to creating (duets & stich)
  • It encourages users to share TikToks off platform 
  • It allows users to crowdsource music & sounds

This amount of undivided, sound-on attention is obviously interesting to brands looking to build awareness among a new generation of buyers – especially those at the precipice of forming lifelong purchasing habits and brand loyalties. 

The ability to elicit emotion with an audio-on atmosphere, tap into happier mindsets & encourage user generated content makes TikTok a recognizable tool to drive upper and middle funnel campaigns. 

But don’t sleep on TikTok’s ability to drive sales. 

If Douyin, its Chinese equivalent, is any example, TikTok’s bound to become a mainstay of sales-driven campaigns and is poised to compete with Facebook in 1-2 years’ time. 

Revenue from Douyin’s livestreaming commerce formats doubled from April to July of 2020, from around $10M to nearly $20MM (chanmama, 36Kr). Though TikTok has US-based ownership, Bytedance is sure to share what’s driven its social commerce success in China, our north star for commerce in general. 

Okay, so what makes TikTok commerce more promising/different from other platforms?

Its distinct Audience – TikTok obviously has its own unique formats and mindset, but it also has a distinct audience that isn’t replicated on other platforms. Recent data from TikTok purports that 40% of people on TikTok don’t have a Facebook account and 63% aren’t on Twitter. Not only are the users on TikTok more engaged and, therefore, more likely to remember an ad, they’re also not reachable on some of the other tried & true commerce-driven platforms. 

A new class of creators brings authenticity & entertainment to commerce- Where Instagram has influencers, TikTok has creators. Because they can’t rely on followership to ensure success, TikTok creators have even tighter relationships with their followers than those of influencers past. TikTokers are forced to bring their A game to every single video they share. And the A in A game stands for Authenticity. 

Take this ad for Converse by Steezy Kane.

The second part of this ad is what you’d see on Instagram. The entirety is what you see on TikTok. And that’s the personality and transparency I want to buy. But you don’t have to take my word for it,

More than 48% of Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to buy a product a Creator recommends, when this influencer is a person they can relate to.1

TikTok Puts the Product in Participation – Because TikTok is at the epicenter of culture, brands have a greater opportunity to achieve both product-focused campaigns and campaigns that foster brand advocacy. TikTok creates a FOMO effect for its users via challenges, prioritizes sharing content that inspires creation & democratizes influence making it easier for anyone/anything to be discovered. These things combined, compel users to participate in trends more often, even when these trends surround a product…actually, especially when they surround a product.

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The most noteworthy example is Doggface’s Morning Vibe trend set to ‘Dreams’. From countless members of the community, to Mick Fleetwood and even the Ocean Spray CEO joining in, the world joined in and sold out the product. Earlier examples include Chipotle’s #GuacDance challenge from 2019, the ever-popular Target Couples Challenge and more recent include the feta cheese supply chain issues caused by this baked feta pasta recipe.

Heightened Discovery & Impulse Purchase – Because of its non-follower-based graph, users are much more likely to passively discover content and brands without actively seeking them out. This behavior trains users’ receptivity to brand messaging and purchase. In fact, TikTok has inspired more impulse buying than any other platform. 

Take @hannahshschelenker’s organic post raving about Aerie’s Crossover leggings for example. She posts an organic video wearing the leggings, a TikToker than duets the video quite literally searching for the product online and buying the leggings immediately. The product immediately sold out and drove 700,000 searches on Aerie’s website, and a 200,000% increase in Google searches. 

Today, commerce on TikTok is still nascent

While platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all have introduced ways to generate causal attribution between a particular campaign and sales, TikTok isn’t quite there yet. Many marketers still rely on third-party measurement providers to assess the impact of their advertising – including their investments on TikTok. 

TikTok added product links to help advertisers with attribution late last year and it’s clear from the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt trend (1.3B video views) and other campaign case studies that commerce is alive and well on the platform, but it’s still new and that means there’s still not as much data to support it. 

TikTok’s strategy is to catch up with its competitors AND differentiate its strategy 

Because of its parent company, Bytedance, TikTok has the opportunity learn about what drives commerce from the most social commerce active place in the world: China. In the next year we will see TikTok catch up to its social commerce peers like Facebook/Instagram and Pinterest, creating the building blocks it needs to compete dollar for dollar. Here’s how:

Catching up to its #SCommerce Peers

Facebook’s main competitive advantages are its attribution models, DPA, Product catalogues and product tags. TikTok is in active alphas on their version of these right now. 


Showcase Tiles allow advertisers to highlight 3 products or categories and multiple destination pages from a single video.

  • Promo Tiles appear on in-feed videos that can be used to draw attention to special promotions, offers, or sale events.   
  • Collection Ads Tiles are fed from your catalog and link to an instant loading product listing page (PLP)  hosted by TikTok. The PLP hosts a collection of top products from the catalog.
  • DPA (Dynamic Product Ads) enable advertisers to use existing video templates to translate their product catalogs into compelling TikTok videos at scale or upload product specific videos in their feed. 

A differentiated strategy that seeks to create experiential ads with younger audiences at the center

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A Focus on creator monetization

TikTok’s already made a concerted effort to ensure creators aren’t monetized by brands without seeing a piece of the action. For commerce specifically, TikTok’s already formalized its relationship with Creators via Creator Marketplace and it’s working on a tool that allows its most popular users to share links to products & automatically earn commission on any sales. Most popular users, not just influencers – a far cry from Instagram’s mandate that creators must have 100k followers in order to add links to Stories. TikTok’s focus on supporting creators ensures that creators stay active on the platform because they’re able to make money more consistently and securely than on others.  

Livestreaming Expertise 

As recently piloted with Walmart via its “Spring Shop Along”, “Livestreamed” shopping is a big part of TikTok’s future. It essentially creates a mobile version of TV shopping channels where users can buy goods with a few taps after seeing them showcased by TikTok stars. 

TikTok Show Windows

The TikTok Show Window is TikTok’s foray into helping brands create a shoppable page within their Business Accounts. Creators can collaborate with brands to help promote those same products on their profile page and in their TikTok videos. Their initial launch will only be available via Shopify, but by next year they’ll build additional integrations for other 3rd party platforms and individual brands to plug in.

With these three areas of focus, there is nothing stopping TikTok from taking on the biggest players in the social commerce space.


  1. US Holiday Shopping research with Walnut, 2020. EU Holiday Shopping Research, 2020. Compared to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat users.

It’s not over til it’s over, but advertisers should still stick with TikTok.


As the news of a Trump-approved deal between TikTok, Oracle and Walmart broke over the weekend, brands and agencies alike breathed sighs of relief. Our ad budgets can stay! Our data will be protected! TikTok will live to see another day!

Then I woke up on Monday morning to a dizzying twilight zone as Bytedance and Trump seem to have read two completely different deals, issuing statements in direct contradiction with one another. However nauseous we may be, we agree with TikTok when they say they’re here to stay.

Despite the looming ban, TikTok remains the #1 downloaded app across all three app stores.

And, while many brands feared its audience would abandon ship, TikTok has also maintained its 800M global active users, 100M of which are here in the states. For comparison, Twitter has less than half of that at about 49M US users, Snapchat has about 101M US users and Instagram has 120M US users.

So, my message to advertisers remains: stay the course. Here’s why:

  1. TikTok is continues to show its commitment to making it work — No brand has worked harder on every single angle of this situation than TikTok. It’s set up an offense and a defense that should assure advertisers that it’s not going anywhere and, in fact, where it’s headed is safer & more lucrative for brands than ever before.


The Defense:

  • Showing its cards – Earlier this summer it created transparency centers, a facility in their LA office allowing experts to come learn how TikTok is enforcing its policies. TikTok also allowed for an open investigation of its data policies and hired a very reputable US-based CSO, Roland Cloutier.
  • Making the deal – Bytedance knows what’s proprietary and what’s mandatory to TikTok’s success and that means keeping ownership of the platform. But it also knows data privacy is a legitimate concern that they it can’t lawsuit its way out of. To that end, it developed a deal with a one of the biggest data providers, Oracle and retail expert, Walmart. Two companies that may not be the first choice for such a hip, up & coming platform, but companies that can answer legitimate data concerns and solidify its commerce-forward future.
  • Sweetening it – While there’s still speculation around some of these deal points, a part of this deal is TikTok’s commitment to creating 25,000 new jobs in the US and developing an AI-enabled virtual learning platform to teach children a variety of courses from basic reading and math to science, history, and computer engineering.

TikTok may not be doing exactly what Trump is asking of them, sell, but they are addressing the legitimate data privacy concerns that exist and ensuring its own ability to monetize long term all in one deal.


The Offense:

  • Filing suit – While the most recent suit is likely to be dropped pending the ultimate deal, TikTok has filed two lawsuits against the Trump administration. The first lawsuit filed in federal court, was a response to President Trump’s executive order that would ban TikTok if it didn’t find an American buyer for its US operations. TikTok’s lawyers said that this violates due process protections of the Fifth Amendment, since they were given no time to react to the news. The second lawsuit is in response to the US banning US downloads of the app. This was filed last Friday as the company awaited a decision from President Trump regarding its deal with potential US partners, Oracle and Walmart. The complaint states that the Trump administration is acting beyond its capacity and violating the First Amendment of free speech.
  • Lobbyists – Bytedance has reportedly spent over $300k on lobbyists helping make the case that Trump will sour millions of voters against him.
  • Mitigating Attrition – The $1B creator fund was developed to reward all types of creators on the app for their creativity, passion and ability to connect with their audiences. This fund keeps creators around and when creators stay, their audiences stay.

An offense like this shows TikTok isn’t going to just sit still and look pretty. It’s going to fight for what makes the platform special and that should give advertisers more than enough faith that they have their users, brands and creators interests in mind every step of the way.

  1. Social ad dollars are easy to reallocate – First and probably most reasonably, reallocating advertising dollars is pretty easy. Whereas linear and some digital buys have long lead times, the self-serve nature of social advertising makes it fairly easy to change at a moment’s notice. Should the TikTok ban take effect in 45 days, the IOs you’ve created with TikTok will be flexible and you will be able to reinvest that money elsewhere. If your media is running on auction, once the ban takes effect, the cancelation happens immediately. No matter what, create a backup media plan, but don’t get hasty and reallocate dollars today. The user base is still there, it’s still active and your ads will still be effective.


  1. Unique Ad Options – Here’s the kicker, though. If your campaign was inherently UGC-oriented or counted on one of TikTok’s more unique ad options, like a branded hashtag challenge, you can’t easily change your creative or your buy. It wouldn’t be an apples to apples switch. In this case, you’ll need a contingency plan that is potentially a rework of your entire strategy and approach. While there are hashtag challenges on Instagram, they’re not buyable just yet and advertisers won’t get the same exposure as branded challenges receive as a part of the For You page on TikTok.


  1. The TikTok Mindset – In paid media, every impression isn’t the same. When trying to gain brand favorability, it helps if you meet users on a platform where they’re already happy. Just when Snapchat claimed the happiest mindset of any social platform, TikTok came around and changed the status quo. Because of the dancing and the originally younger demographic base, the platform became an environment of positivity, education, silliness and fun. Ads on this platform meet users in an open-minded and happier mindset, something invaluable to advertisers attempting to create positive context around their brands.


  1. Lean In Nature – The only platform that can reproduce the lean in nature of TikTok is YouTube. And even it doesn’t have the same addictive, time-agnostic feed that TikTok has. Generally, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. are all platforms that can be second screens. These feeds are ones that can be mindlessly scrolled through, with less attention placed on the content itself. Simply by forcing audio-on, TikTok required its users to lean in and more actively consume content. For advertisers, an active impression is much more valuable than a passive impression.

All these factors considered, indicate that keeping your ad commitments to TikTok make sense. Certainly, living in uncertainty is not our favorite. But if we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that any sense of ultimate control over our advertising month over month is a myth. All we can do is plan against what we know today, and what we know is that TikTok remains one of the most popular social networks, that takes up the most time spent by any platform and it is as resilient as they come.

Why advertisers should stick with TikTok


From an advertising standpoint, TikTok is still a nascent platform. Many advertisers have been slow to adopt the platform for some of the same brand safety & privacy concerns the government has. Those who have used it, haven’t used it very consistently. Big splashes and test & learn budgets are the extent of the ad dollars lobbed at it to date.

My message to advertisers is: stay the course. Here’s why:

  1. TikTok is committed to preventing the ban from coming to fruition – Despite the potential ban in 45 days, TikTok is working very hard to prevent it from happening in the first place. It’s instituted transparency centers, appointed a new CSO, changed the makeup of its board and is in talks with Microsoft and Twitter to change ownership of the platform.


  1. Social ad dollars are easy to reallocate – First and probably most reasonably, reallocating advertising dollars is pretty easy. Whereas linear and some digital buys have long lead times, the self-serve nature of social advertising makes it fairly easy to change at a moment’s notice. Should the TikTok ban take effect in 45 days, the IOs you’ve created with TikTok will be flexible and you will be able to reinvest that money elsewhere. If your media is running on auction, once the ban takes effect, the cancelation happens immediately. No matter what, create a backup media plan, but don’t get hasty and reallocate dollars today. The user base is still there, it’s still active and your ads will still be effective.


  1. Unique Ad Options – Here’s the kicker, though. If your campaign was inherently UGC-oriented or counted on one of TikTok’s more unique ad options, like a branded hashtag challenge, you can’t easily change your creative or your buy. It wouldn’t be an apples to apples switch. In this case, you’ll need a contingency plan that is potentially a rework of your entire strategy and approach. While there are hashtag challenges on Instagram, they’re not buyable just yet and advertisers won’t get the same exposure as branded challenges receive as a part of the For You page on TikTok.


  1. The TikTok Mindset – In paid media, every impression isn’t the same. When trying to gain brand favorability, it helps if you meet users on a platform where they’re already happy. Just when Snapchat claimed the happiest mindset of any social platform, TikTok came around and changed the status quo. Because of the dancing and the originally younger demographic base, the platform became an environment of positivity, education, silliness and fun. Ads on this platform meet users in an open-minded and happier mindset, something invaluable to advertisers attempting to create positive context around their brands.


  1. Lean In Nature – The only platform that can reproduce the lean in nature of TikTok is YouTube. And even it doesn’t have the same addictive, time-agnostic feed that TikTok has. Generally, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. are all platforms that can be second screens. These feeds are ones that can be mindlessly scrolled through, with less attention placed on the content itself. Simply by forcing audio-on, TikTok required its users to lean in and more actively consume content. For advertisers, an active impression is much more valuable than a passive impression.


All these factors considered, indicate that keeping your ad commitments to TikTok make sense. Create contingency plans, no matter what. But for now, if your ad buy isn’t something you have to set in stone today or that contributes significantly to the bottom line, stay the course.

TikTok really is here to stay & here’s why


By: John Stier & Allie Wassum

TikTok says it’s here to stay and we agree.

Despite how it’s been reported, TikTok wasn’t an overnight success. Its roots grew as Music.ly, and then, alongside a major rebranding, TikTok spent billions to amass the user base it has today. In an almost unprecedented way, TikTok advertised on social networks, on billboards and even during the Superbowl.

What got TikTok its 35M+ daily users was its mega ad spend. What kept users around and what will keep users around are TikTok’s unique sharing functionality, its algorithm and its unique relationship with music. Three things Instagram hasn’t replicated and won’t anytime soon.

TikTok’s Special Sauce:

  1. Sharing on TikTok is open. Whereas most social platforms keep sharing closed, placing the emphasis on sharing content exclusively on the platform on which it was created, TikTok was never precious about where you share your content. It smartly places a TikTok logo in the right corner of every video and makes sharing via SMS, Twitter, Snapchat, FB, IG, IG Stories, saving a video, etc. all seamless. It seems counterintuitive but doing this has contributed to TikTok’s growth and popularity.


  1. TikTok’s algorithm starts with the what, not the who.TikTok’s content serving model is based less on who you follow and more on what you like. This is important, because unless Instagram/Facebook completely overhaul their algorithms, they will never be able to achieve TikTok’s addictive succewss. No Reels product is going to change the fact that I follow who I follow. Unless, of course, Instagram changes its own Explore page to be more like the TikTok For You page (which it hasn’t), there’s no replicating the means of discovery TikTok has facilitated. It’s this discovery that’s also led to the democratization of virality. Going TikTok viral is open to any and everyone. Why? Because your existing followership isn’t more important than the content itself.


  1. Audio Discovery & Attribution Because of its roots as music.ly, TikTok’s platform depends on music and audio. Artists have been discovered on TikTok (see #2) and the entire music industry has changed because of TikTok. Anyone can upload their own audio track and it can then be used by someone else, with attribution back to the originator.

If we use these three factors as lenses on the new competitors launched alongside the potential ban on TikTok, it’s easy to see why TikTok has staying power:

  • Reels: Instagram’s TikTok clone that launched Wednesday morning, can be found hidden on IG’s explore page. Reels functions almost identically to TikTok, but it is missing all 3 items that make up TikTok’s secret sauce:
    • Shareability – At launch, Reels doesn’t allow users to share videos on other platforms.
    • Algorithm – Reels also only shows you the videos of people you currently follow & is hidden on the Explore page.
    • Music Integration – Finally, Reels has a music integration, but it doesn’t allow users to upload their own audio to be dubbed or reused by the rest of the platform.

Reels does provide an opportunity for brands to lean into the TikTok aesthetic and mentality without the burden of standing up a new platform. It also provides a way for creators to diversify their following. But without the secret sauce, it doesn’t pose a threat to TikTok’s survival.


  • Triller: When news of the potential TikTok originally ban broke, Triller shot to the top of the Apple App store. Triller is similar to TikTok in that it is a video sharing app, but it caters more to the celebrity than the everyday person. Celebrities & record labels alike have used Triller for quite some time, but it lacks a wide user base as well as the comedic relief inherent in TikTok.
    • Shareability – Triller allows users to share content with a link on other platforms, but it forces viewers to view content inside the app. Not seamless.
    • Algorithm – Triller’s algorithm does surface content based on the content itself and not on who created it, however it’s not as great/addictive as TikTok’s.
    • Music Integration – Triller allows users to choose from licensed music on Spotify or Apple and it allows users to upload their own audio, but this isn’t a common user behavior (yet).


  • Byte: Byte is the second try for Vine co-creator Dom Hoffman and, as such, is focused mostly on comedy and content curation, lacking the musical aspect of TikTok as well as its intelligent content-serving algorithm. Byte also lacks a strong user base with only 2.5M U.S. downloads so far. We wouldn’t put our money on this being the next home for TikTok creators.
    • Shareability – Byte’s still in development, so currently you can only share content within the app itself.
    • Algorithm – Content on Byte is served to you based on what you’ve interacted with thus far and so it has a similar feel to TikTok’s. Though again, it definitely isn’t as addictive.
    • Music Integration – Byte’s allows users to upload music but it doesn’t have an official library of tracks as do the others.


  • Dubsmash: This German app is focused first and foremost on music, dancing and lip-syncing to your favorite songs. Like Byte, it lacks entertainment options outside of the music angle however Dubsmash does have 41.5M downloads in the U.S. Despite accomplishing two of our lenses, it’s been around for a while and just doesn’t have the same cache as TikTok.
    • Shareability – Dubsmash sounds can be shared publicly in the app, but the videos (called “my dubs”) are not publicly viewable unless they’re downloaded and reuploaded, without any Dubsmash branding.
    • Algorithm – Content on Dubsmash is served based on both the content you like and people you follow.
    • Music Integration – Dubsmash has a library of music and allows users to upload their own sounds, it is very core to the experience.

Started from the bottom now we’re here:  10 revolutionary changes to social media in the 2010s


By: Allie Wassum with contributions from Boston Social Strategy team

The last decade was particularly vibrant for social media. Remember what 2010 was like? Facebook had just surpassed Myspace in unique users with 350 million users. Foursquare had just launched and in less than 3 years became irrelevant. Mobile was just starting to disrupt desktop usage for entertainment and social networking. Social media marketing was a wild west (some argue it still is), with just over 40% of US adults using it regularly. Fast forward to 2020 and that number has increased to over 70%. Social is now woven into the threads of culture and our culture has forever been changed.

1. The rise of influencers

In 2019 the term ‘influencer’ was finally added to the dictionary, marking its ubiquity outside of just the marketing world. Over the past decade, an influencer changed from being a household name like Jackie O to a handheld name like David Dobrik

Digital influence began to grow as soon as camera technology became synonymous with mobile technology and social networking moved from being about just sharing pictures on your camera roll to sharing pictures of yourself. 

Pair these technological advances with every social platform’s continued focus on who you follow versus what you’re interested in. It’s this emphasis that led to the exponential growth we’ve seen in influencer culture in the past decade. As each social platform has improved its functionality to help users explore and find new accounts to follow, the democratization of influence within these channels exploded, leading to micro-influencers and even the nano-influencers we might use for brand campaigns today. 

Influencers have had an enormous impact on the social media landscape: 

    • The first, and probably most obvious, is the immeasurable pressure placed on “likes” as a form of status. Constantly comparing yourself to an influencer has been proven to promote negative self-worth and impossible standards, not unlike those constructed by popular magazines. 
    • Creators and influencers are often small business owners. Many openly speak about what it means to be an entrepreneur and want to share what they’ve learned. This encouragement has fostered one of the most entrepreneurially-focused generations we’ve ever seen. Nearly half of Gen Zers plan to own their own business and one of the most popular career aspirations for young Americans is to become an influencer.  
    • Influencers have also cultivated a sense of community in social media that may not have happened otherwise. Think about it: having access to celebrities lives and having the potential to actually interact with them keeps you coming back for more. It also makes the world feel smaller. 
    • The rise of influencers has enabled social media to become not just about conversation and entertainment, but also about shopping. Without influencers, it’s unlikely that the rise of commerce via apps like Instagram and Pinterest would have become so pronounced. When you see someone you follow endorsing a product in an environment where it’s encouraged to ask questions, you’re definitely more likely to buy right then and there. 
    • Finally, no change happens in social without influencers being privy to it. Think about Instagram testing the removal of Likes. Influencers expressed varied opinions which will ultimately impact how the platform rolls out this change. 

2. Timeline to algorithm

Prior to 2009, platforms focused on organizing content in users’ feeds chronologically – ensuring the most recent content was seen first. But Facebook noticed something in the last decade that would have widespread implications for its revenue model: people weren’t spending the same time on the platform. Since Facebook needed users to spend more time in platform, it had to make sure the content user’s see when they get to Facebook is relevant, not just recent. Thus, EdgeRank rolled out in 2009 prioritizing affinity, weight and decay. 

Over the rest of the decade, EdgeRank morphed into a complex algorithm that constantly optimized and thereby constantly morphed how users and brands used the platform. Prominent changes included: the deprioritization of branded content, focusing on friends/family over news, prioritizing video content and, more recently, making Groups more prominent. 

Facebook’s algorithmic shift ultimately rolled out from platform to platform as they all realized the revenue power associated with it. With this, the importance of organic social dwindled and it became a “pay to play” environment for brands. Steadily, spend in paid social increased from $1.2B in 2008 to Facebook alone bringing home over $43B in 2019 global ad revenue. That increase has changed the entire user experience of social. It means ads are just a part of our feeds and the amount of media messages we consume in aggregate has increased exponentially.

The introduction of this algorithm has impacted not just social, but also the world. Many argue that we have algorithms to blame for the online echo chambers that contributed to off base 2016 election predictions and, ultimately, to an even further fragmented society.

For all of the negatives attributed to algorithms there are some positives too. Spotify knows what I want to listen to. Netflix knows what I want to watch. Instagram knows what I want to buy. Pinterest knows what I’m planning to do. The barriers to finding the unique things you love are much lower, though the tradeoffs have pervasive implications for data privacy. But let’s keep that can of worms closed for now.

3. The Selfie

Oh, the Selfie. The selfie. THE SELFIE. Selfies have transformed the face of social media from feeds full of photos folks took, to feeds full of photos of one another. But the act of capturing a self-portrait is not something new to this decade.  Throughout history, everyone from artists to astronauts have found creative ways to leave their mark. Even as camera technology steadily improved over the years, the means of taking photos of ourselves was still pretty difficult. It wasn’t until Sony introduced the front-facing camera in 2003 to enhance business meetings that self-portraits finally became easier to capture. Yet, few people actually had this device. Enter the iPhone 4. It was in this model that Steve Jobs unveiled a front-facing camera meant to support its new Facetime service. We’d use it for Facetime, but we’d also use this functionality to forever change the nature of what we share.

The convergence of social networks (where you strive to show your best self) with technology (where you can very easily capture photos of yourself when you’re at your best) provided an addictive outlet for performance and vulnerability like nothing had before. The selfie allowed users to share moments of confidence, of pride, and receive real-time feedback. Paired with the potential for virality inherent in algorithms, the selfie would drive us to seek approval, build confidence and maybe, just maybe, become famous. 

Apps like Snapchat and Instagram now thrive on the selfie. It’s this variable ratio schedule that keeps users on their platforms, driving up time spent in platform and, of course, ad revenue. 

4. Stories & Ephemerality

Without the selfie, “Stories” never would have taken off. But because selfies had already skyrocketed in popularity and phones were more vertically-oriented, peopled swooned when Snapchat launched the format back in 2013. Reggie Brown, credited with the inception of the app, hit on something no one knew they needed – a way to share photos that would eventually disappear. At the time every piece of content felt so permanent and as such, every post held an associated reputational risk. But ephemerality reduced that risk, allowing people to be less curated and way more spontaneous.

Ephemerality was the key that would unlock an untapped world of interactivity and creativity. It let our guards down and once this happened users started to share the silly, uncut tales of their everyday lives. Whether via video, a succession of photos or just in one frame, Stories empowered storytelling. Prior to Snap stories, our creativity was limited by time and functionality. Sure, we had cameras in our hands, but we didn’t have the means to quickly make our perspectives understandable. A selfie of me in class is completely different than a selfie of me puking rainbows, with the caption “acing the test like…”. 

Stories also took off because of the generation they catered to – Gen Z (born between 1995-2015). With seemingly unlimited access to almost any form of media, they are the most creative of all generations. Augmented reality, polls, filters, geo-filters, GIFs, etc., revealed this creativity and provided a more genuine outlet for Gen Z to share its vision with the world.

Today Stories have harnessed this creativity in a way that’s beneficial for our mental wellness and relationships. The pressure for the picture-perfect life can erode our self-worth, but stories finally provided an escape and a way to interact more comfortably and more regularly. 

5. Private messaging

What we can see publicly in our social feeds is only the tip of the iceberg. The majority of sharing and communication in social actually happens under the surface via private messaging. In fact, 63% of people report messaging apps to be their favorite way to send content or recommendations to those in their circle. Despite its popularity as a social medium today, the first era of messaging focused on simple desktop clients (Aim Messenger anyone?). It wasn’t until iOS launched in 2007 that mobile messaging apps inundated the space. 

But what led to the creation of 5 billion global private messaging accounts today? The tiniest little thing – the three-dot typing indicator. In text this little notice let us know someone was around and that the conversation could continue. This extended the length of private text conversations and led to a greater feeling of connectivity. 

We needed this connection. Today’s world is so public—we share what we’re eating, what we’re listening to, where we are, where we work, what vacations we’ve taken—we needed messaging to give us a break from being so “polished” and to have more obviously altruistic conversations — conversations are always more genuine in private settings. 

WhatsApp and Kik knew this and provided unique spaces for users to have more genuine conversations both with friends and brands while still in platform. They integrated interesting chatbot features that furthered conversations when no one else was around. They even enabled commerce in a way that social networks hadn’t yet nailed. In 2011, Snapchat would revolutionize both the social and private messaging space by enabling this deeper connection in a more creative way – lenses, geo-filters and stories. It would become the new check-in and a way for friends to stay connected all day long and enabled new forms of communication between friends. The most popular social networks would follow suit, all creating ways for users to foster conversation more privately.

As waves of users begin to #QuitFacebook over data privacy concerns and others are exhausted by the feeling of being always on, we’re likely to see even greater growth in the private messaging space in 2020. For better or for worse, it’s because of private messaging that social/messaging is now the dominant way we spend our screen time. 

6. Live Streaming

By 2005, DVRs were almost commonplace and by 2010 they were a mainstay of cable providers. Interestingly, while we wanted to delay linear viewing, our desire for live content on our mobile devices increased. In 2015 Meerkat made the livestream, mainstream with a major launch at SXSW. What Meerkat had figured out is that livestreaming only worked if the technology was on point and there was an existing base of users to see it. While YouTube had already introduced livestreaming, user behavior hadn’t yet caught up to the technology and it was mostly used in the same way as linear TV. Meerkat, however, tapped into the network that was known for having an audience who cared about what’s going on now: Twitter. For a few days it seamlessly integrated with Twitter’s social graph, allowing attendees to share things everyone wanted to know about (SXSW) as they happened to their existing base of interested followers. Genius.

Since then, we’ve seen Twitter (first through Periscope), Facebook, and Instagram join twitchthe live streaming game. As the options increased, use and consumption of live video ballooned, with over 100 million Instagrammers watching or sharing on Live every day and over 3.5 Billion Facebook Live broadcasts from 2016 to mid-2018. With zero lag time, Twitch encourages even more livestreaming and now accounts for almost 76% of the livestreaming market. It’s average viewership even surpasses that of ESPN and cable news outlets. 

Livestreaming has contributed to quite a few shifts in society. Formerly a medium that was most commonly used to share breaking news and allow others to watch live performances has transformed into a completely new form of entertainment. As such, livestreaming has contributed to a larger shift in how we consume and create media. The pressure to “go live” has contributed to the spread of misinformation as news outlets often spend less time vetting stories prior to streaming. Since anyone can live stream, we’ve seen a diversification in the types of content available. You can stream someone playing a video game, trying on a Chewbacca mask, selling natural oils or potting a plant. This has enabled greater access to education and global points of view. People who may have been isolated can now access different cultures, foods, sports and more with the touch of a button. 

7. GIFS/Meme culture

No one: …

Absolutely No one: …

Me: Like most things on the internet, there can be a lot of confusion about what defines a meme. 

The term “meme” was originally coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976. Dawkins theorized that virality was something that extended further than infectious diseases and could also be found in human behaviors. In other words, in anthropological settings, human behaviors could also “go viral.” He defined a meme as any shareable cultural artifact that spreads through a culture like wildfire. Furthermore, he believed that memes increase the chance of human survival because they strike a common chord that humans crave and rely on to exist. Okay, Boomer, now that we got out of the way….

Flash forward to 2009, memes were weird pictures that anonymous creators of the internet made to entertain themselves and share on Tumblr or 4chan. As time went on, Tumblr grew into a larger social media platform and memes started infiltrating the internet quickly and to a larger audience. Tumblr paved the way for the peak-meme era, as accounts were created with the sole purpose of posting memes and accumulating mass followings, a strategy that would be emulated and used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which have much higher audience numbers than Tumblr. 

Today, memes have become mainstream and play a major role in our digital and social environments. They are created, shared, and consumed every minute across every social media channel and in many forms; from viral videos to GIFs to screenshots of tweets or texts – ermahgerd!

What makes memes so popular is their relatability and simplicity—they spark human connections through common mindsets, opinions and circumstances and are extremely digestible with a shareability factor that is hard to compete with. The majority of meme content is based off humor and nostalgia – two types of emotions that bond and connect people. When you are sharing a post to a friend, you are implying a shared experience or sense of humor. The most popular memes are so relatable, they feel like an inside joke. 

This type of connection works so well that it increases the level at which a meme or meme account gain traction, which leads to higher discoverability on social media platforms and in some cases, virality. In actuality, a good meme is doing exactly what Dawkins described, striking a common chord that humans crave and rely on. 

8. The retweet 

Originally launched in 2009, the “retweet” button (shortened to RT) was a quick fix to eliminate manual RTs which started in 2007. People wanted to share the things they saw/read on Twitter and still give credit to the original author. 

Twitter itself was (and still is to some degree) one of the more intimidating platforms. It is infiltrated with highly opinionated and powerful journalists, politicians and world leaders. This made users less apt to share their own takes and POVs. But the Retweet, which seemed like a no brainer, provided an easy way for a user to participate in a conversation without having to be clever him or herself. It played into our desire to share what reflects our own values and, as such, enabled something that’s core to social media today – the ability to go viral. If someone retweeted you, your exposure to new followers was exponential. The allure of going viral helped Twitter amass more users and more engagement, so Facebook introduced its own version, the Share button, in 2012. 

The retweet and share buttons had a powerful multiplier effect that allowed the mass spread of important information like earthquakes. But they also lessened the friction of sharing content and, in doing so, led to the proliferation of misinformation. It encouraged being the first to share something versus rewarding thorough journalism. The retweet button propelled Gamergate (a harassment campaign against women in the game industry) and, for the first time, really showed how quickly hate could spread faster than people were able to defend themselves. The impulse to share things we are outraged by increased and led to the spread of terrible rumors during the 2016 Presidential election. Ultimately retweet and share buttons have forever changed the discourse around social media’s impact on society. It has ultimately incentivized the creation of polarizing and outrageous content.

9. Spotify & Music Integration

Music started as one of the most powerful draws to using social media and, after some bumps in the road, continues to coalesce with the most successful user experiences. It’s hard to explain how much social media has impacted music without going back to the days of Myspace, which, at the time, was the hottest place for musicians to share their songs and gain fans, especially aspiring indie artists. Musicians cultivated new, global audiences that could connect on their shared musical interests despite not knowing each other in-person. Myspace primed young audiences for future social habits with user-generated music discovery as the focal point– like YouTube and Soundcloud.

But as social networking moved to a mostly mobile experience, users stopped listening. In trying to create an optimized experience for users and encourage usage in noisy environments, Facebook’s default was an audio-off environment. Videos would autoplay, but without sound. Now, as someone who’s been in social media for a pretty long time, this would be one of the greatest battles I’d ever enter – trying to explain the importance of creating videos that made sense without sound or voice over was no easy feat. 

Of course, once I’d finally imparted the importance of audio-off video, Snapchat did what it does best, disrupt. It saw the success Vine was experiencing by integrating music and built an experience that ultimately led to Vine’s demise. Sound was allowed to be a vital part of Snapchat because the videos you received were from your friends. Vine was allowed to have sound because that was what it was built on – it was its own separate community that eventually launched the musical careers of some pretty famous musicians… Shawn Mendes anyone? 

We all know how powerful the right music can be in drawing out emotion; Snap had figured out how do this in a way that enhanced rather than disturbed a user’s experience. As a result, Facebook announced the reversal of their audio-off default policy in 2017. Sound on would be its default unless a user muted their device

The landscape changed, music made sense in some environments and not in others (so don’t forget about audio-off consumption people!). But music still wasn’t the most integral part of a platform until Music.ly (now TikTok) figured out a way to tap into the everyday creator, not just the talented creator that Vine had. It mashed up dubsmash and Vine, allowing users to lipsync. Yet another instance of a lower barrier to creativity. 

Music ended up changing social media, but social media ended up changing music too. Ever hear of Lizzo or Lil Nas X? Their careers skyrocketed when users were able to create their own lipsynced versions of their top hits. Meme/music crossover culture is just the beginning and we’ll likely see this trend increase in 2020 and beyond as platforms, brands, and musicians continue to make users the stars. 

10. Challenge Mentality

While we’re talking about TikTok, we might as well tip our hats to one of my favorite changes to social media in the past 10 years: challenge culture. Now I’m sure there were many challenges forced upon friends on social media before, but the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 created magic. It fused the generous nature of younger generations with the ability to show off and go viral (Call Me Maybe anyone?), creating the most powerful examples of how social media can give back. But it also showed just how far we’d go to be a part of something. A movement doesn’t always have to be about raising money or making huge policy changes, it can also be just something fun that everyone does together. The mixture of memes, the popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge and the growth of sound on social environments paved the way for TikTok. And in return, TikTok paved the way for challenges to become a pillar of what we consume and create on social media.

The past decade has been quite the social media revolution. So much so that it’s hard to include all of the big changes that have happened in a list of 10. Things like Augmented Reality, gaming, and social commerce have all become major forces in the social media landscape. While they may be a little too nascent for a 2010-decade post, we’re likely to see these and many more have a substantial impact on social media in 2020 and beyond.

THE RISE OF THE SOCIAL ORIGINAL: Will episodic content finally take off on social media?


Last week and Facebook relaunched MTV’s Real World via its Watch Tab. A few months ago, Instagram introduced IGTV, focusing on long-form creator videos. It’s clear that social is in an all-out battle to own the mega enterprise that has become mobile video viewership. And rightfully so; mobile video viewing accounts for 75% of digital video views and social networking is the #2 use of a mobile device after audio. It’s only natural that these two forces combined could take over the entire mobile landscape.

But are we really ready to watch shows on social?

When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that watching episodic, traditional-TV programming on social networks is still nascent. But the intent is there. People do appear to be ready to watch their favorite shows on social. In fact, eMarketer found that 47% of 18 to 24-year-olds would do just that.

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 10.44.58 PM

However, social networks are struggling to find their niche in the on-demand video viewing world. Take Facebook Watch for example. Though viewership has increased, going to the Watch Tab still isn’t a habit of its regular users – about 50 Million people watch about 1 minute of Facebook Watch content a month. For reference, Facebook has over a Billion active users, so this represents just 5% of its network. And while there’s promise with IGTV’s focus on creators, it hasn’t maintained the success of its early weeks in the app store, with sharp declines in app downloads week over week.

So, what gives?

In a world where…

  • Time spent on social networks supersedes much other time on a mobile device
  • Mobile video viewing is at an all-time high
  • People are willing to watch their favorite shows on social

…why hasn’t it clicked for any social platform other than YouTube?


It’s the content. Up until now the episodes and content just haven’t been that amazing. Yes, New England was enthralled by the Facebook Watch show Tom [Brady] vs. Time, but holistically the options presented by the networks have failed to stand out. They are simply regurgitations of shows that already exist on YouTube or on other channels.

If we can take anything away from the rise of Netflix and Hulu, it’s that the shows have to be nothing short of captivating. They have to be The Handmaid’s Tale shocking, Making A Murderer buzzworthy, or Master of None hilarious. If you want to change a user’s behavior from causally finding videos in-feed to going to a social network as a destination for episodic content, that content has got to be good.

And this isn’t just our theory. Facebook has done its own study to understand what TV Viewers and Streaming Viewers prefer and the content itself is #1 on that list:

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 10.46.20 PM

For this reason, we actually predict that Snap Originals may create a halo effect for the entire category. With Originals, Snapchat took the time to partner with publishers to find writers, producers, and actors that will make its videos binge-worthy.

For example, the 12 originals they’ve announced leverage the same talent that brought us Stranger Things, Friday Night Lights, and even Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The new show Class of Lies comes from the mind of one of the writers on Riverdale. These are creators who have developed some of the most popular shows for the Millennial and Z generations. When you put some of the best film/TV talent together with the perfect format, there’s bound to be magic.

In time, this magic will have a trickle effect on viewership for the rest of the platforms. If we’re used to watching shows on Snapchat, how long before we’re used to viewing all of social media as a destination for episodic content? It didn’t take that long for Stories to catch on, either.

We’ve seen this before. According to Adweek, Netflix is having a “halo effect” on traditional cable shows. Riverdale saw live-plus-7 (the live airing plus seven days) ratings jump 60% in season two.

In summary, the concept of the social original isn’t going anywhere. Success is inevitable in this category, and as advertisers we’ll be remiss if we don’t start to develop our own muscle memory. We must begin understanding what works and why. So when Instagram, Snapchat or any of the platforms start winning Emmy’s, we won’t be shocked, and our brands will be at the forefront.

So, if I never go back to #boston this is likely where you’ll find me. #park #lazienki #islandpalace #gardens #warsaw #parksofinstagram


Did I already post this in my album yesterday? Yes. Does it deserve its own post? Also yes. @59rivoli #stairs #parisjetaime #woot #AdventureswithAandA


Not sure what kind of #Saturdaynight could be better? ———————————Buffalo chickpea #pizza & #martinis #vegan


When @lucybvizsla was a pup, she was somehow cuter than she is today. Love you boo bear! #nationalpuppyday #vizslapuppy #vizslagram #ilovemypuppy


Saw a post about #nedaawarenessweek and wanted everyone to know that they are amazing just the way they are. LOVE yourself. #neda TY for the inspiration, @sbkelley9


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So #thankful for so many things this thanksgiving but first and foremost for my amazing pup @lucybvizsla who helped me get a #personalbest at today’s #turkeytrot ❤️🍁🐶#runningwithmydog


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Don’t hate me for posting everything I eat. #sorrynotsorry #pasta #food #blackbeanpasta with tomato, pepper & spinach sauce. #yummy


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