The Decline, Fall & TikTokification of the Social Media Empire

By : |August 11, 2022 0

Does anyone remember Orkut? This was a social media website launched in 2004 by Orkut Büyükkökten, a Google employee. For some reason this became a craze in India and Brazil. It was the hottest social media property in India and till date so many of us had made their social media debut on Orkut.

Orkut had a great run and with its share of controversies featuring anti-India pages and police cases. Twitter is not the first controversial social media company. Orkut launched pages in multiple Indian regional languages and at one time looked to totally dominate the Indian Internet.

But Google took it over and killed it. They launched Google+ and that was a grade one disaster and is arguably Alphabet’s biggest failure till date. Google Search and YouTube are still mega giants that rule the global Internet space. But Google+ sank without a trace and many don’t even remember that such a thing once existed.

A brief history of social media

SixDegrees was launched in 1997 and crossed 1 million registered users, which was huge at that time, but shut down soon after. Friendster, launched in 2003, crossed 100 million users, but still went nowhere. MySpace was probably the first global biggie and that too could not sustain itself. That despite being bought over by News Corporation for $580 million way back in 2005.

After that you had the reign of the biggies: Facebook (2.9 billion users), Twitter (400 million), LinkedIn (300 million), Instagram (1.2 billion), Pinterest (450 million), Reddit (430 million), and Quora (300 million). (Note: User counts fluctuate month by month and may be different by the time you read this article).

Whither global domination?

Now by their very nature Pinterest, Reddit and Quora are quite niche and may never achieve global domination. That is not the case for the others, where the sky’s the limit.

Let’s take Facebook first. It’s aiming to be the first company with a whopping 3 billion users worldwide in 100+ languages. But despite its size, the influence and revenue of Meta is probably not as much as it should have been. Add Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and Meta boasts of nearly 8 billion users (of course there’s an overlap). That’s why a $100+ billion annual revenue is an underachievement.

Facebook’s biggest hit has been its News Feed which took the focus away from personal pages to severely polarised politics. While rage click bait worked for years, it is really getting toxic now. What’s the way forward? There are many controversies and long-time COO Sherly Sandberg quit. Ever since it changed its name to Meta, its stock price has crashed.

Instagram initially was a hit and became the number one photo social media site in the world. Celebrities loved it. But that’s another site which is being dubbed “toxic” by many.

Twitter was toxic very early on, but it is arguably the most politically powerful social media site in history. Compared to that its user count is nothing and peanuts when compared to even Facebook. While the A3M3 companies (Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, Meta, (Elon) Musk’s companies) have been valued at least at $1 trillion each, Twitter could not even achieve a valuation of $50 billion in the Musk deal.

The Musk deal may make or break Twitter. If it doesn’t go through, then it seems difficult to see how Twitter will come out of it. With a stagnant revenue and user base, all the skeletons will tumble out of the closet during the upcoming court case.

LinkedIn was one place which was thoroughly professional when I joined more than a decade back. There were some apps by which you could post your Twitter feed directly on LinkedIn and that diluted it a bit. But if you notice in the last couple of years, LinkedIn is degenerating into a normal social media site where anyone and everyone posts anything and everything. It’s no longer a professional zone.

Then there are the Chinese social media giants, but they are behind the Chinese firewall and their fate remains uncertain, with the latest Big Tech crackdown and the government threat to tech billionaires. What happens if the CCCP falls like the USSR? India is also nowhere in the picture.

The TikTokification of social media

Which brings us to the biggest impact on all social media in recent times: TikTok. In the last few years its rise has been meteoric. In terms of traffic it finally displaced Google Search and YouTube in certain global traffic metrics. Alas it saw a setback when it was targeted by both the US (under Donald Trump) and India. Had that not happened, then who knows where it would have been.

But more than mere user count and revenue has been its impact on the youth and other social media companies. TikTok probably has the best social media AI in town and has got a pulse on global youth like no other. Since all companies want to look to the future, everyone is trying to ape TikTok.

Instagram came out with reels, YouTube with shorts, Facebook started promoting its videos and you may have noticed a proliferation of short videos on LinkedIn too. The process started before TikTok but has been completed because of it: All social media sites now look like each other. Nothing is unique.

Before there was a clear demarcation. Political posts for Twitter. Personal posts and pictures for Facebook. Professional growth for LinkedIn. Beautiful and unique images on Instagram. But now on every social media site you post statuses, pictures, videos, news links and polls, both personal and professional. You no longer need multiple accounts. Just randomly pick any one and do what you want with it.

Not only have all of them become uniform, but they all see TikTok as their role model wanting to capture the youth. Short mindless videos seem to be a central part of their strategy. Everyone wants the TikTok AI.

The decline started years back but now the TikTokification of the Social Media Empire is complete. Who knows when all of them will fall like dominoes from hereon!

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