September 13, 2021

New Report Looks at Social Media Usage Trends Over the Past Decade, and Where Things are Now Headed

By Andrew Hutchinson, Content and Social Media Manager, Social Media Today.

If you want to understand the latest social media platform updates, and maximize your own efforts in social media marketing, it's worth taking a broader view of consumption trends, and considering how people are looking to use social apps to connect, in various ways, over time.

By understanding such trends, you can get a clearer idea of what people want to see from your brand - which is where app analytics platform App Annie’s latest report comes in.

App Annie’s ‘Evolution of Social Apps’ report looks at how social media usage trends have evolved over the last decade, highlighting the rise of live-streaming, the increasing focus on social commerce, the growth of TikTok and Snapchat, and more.

The report is key reading for those looking to maintain a handle on key shifts, and what’s driving the latest platform updates. You can download the full report here, but in this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key notes of interest.

Probably the biggest highlight of the report is the rise in consumer spending within social apps, with cumulative spend already at $3.2 billion in the first half of 2021 - up 50% year-over-year.

As you can see in this chart, the broader adoption of social media apps in Asian markets - particularly India - has pushed in-app spending to new heights, with App Annie projecting that, for the full year, in-app spend will hit $6.78b this year.

That’s expected to continue to rise at an annual growth rate of around 29% moving forward, which App Annie projects will see social app spending reach a massive $78 billion by 2025.

If you were wondering why every app is looking to move into in-stream commerce, this is it. The data points to significant opportunity for those platforms that can expand user engagement into direct spending and shopping behaviors, facilitating new revenue potential for the platforms, and new opportunities for brands.

If you’ve not considered plugging your product catalog into Facebook or Instagram Shops, or you’re not tracking TikTok’s evolving eCommerce plans, it may be time to pay attention (you can sign up to our newsletter right here).

The report also looks at how, exactly, users are looking to spend in social apps, with live-stream creators leading the way in many respects.

As per the report:

“Total time spent in the top 5 social apps with an emphasis on live streaming are set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone, outside of China in 2021, a 3-year compound annual growth rate of 25% compared to 15% for chat and photo & video apps”

Which is an interesting shift - between 2014 and 2018, the focus moved away from social media platforms, and public broadcasting of your thoughts and opinions, and towards messaging and private groups instead, with Facebook, in particular, making a big push on groups as a means to maximize its in-app engagement.

Now, it seems that live-streaming is gaining traction once again. Which, of course, has been amplified by the pandemic, with live-streaming often providing the best replacement social outlet for those in lockdown. But even with that being the case, it does indeed seem that live-streaming is having a moment. And when you consider the extension of that being VR connection and socializing in digital worlds (i.e. the Metaverse), it seems likely that this trend will hold, even as we move into the post-COVID environment.

But it’s not just viewing live-streams, it’s spending in broadcasts as well:

Social apps that offer live-streaming as a prominent feature account for $3 of every $4 spent in top 25 social apps in H1 2021.”

A large element of this growth has been virtual "gifting", with content creators in Asia, in particular, generating big dollars from in-stream virtual gifts, which essentially act as donations to the creators, subsidizing their output.

FacebookYouTube and TikTok have all created their own variations of the same, and while the trend doesn’t seem to have caught on in western regions with the same veracity as their Asian counterparts, the data again points to significant opportunity, with live-streams providing a sense of immediate connection, helping to build community and facilitate direct transactions in-stream.

Indeed, Facebook is now trialing shopping live-streams in its main app, and on Instagram as well, while TikTok has also hosted a range of live-stream shopping collaborations with big brands and platform stars.

Whether that becomes a bigger trend in western markets remains to be seen, but the opportunity is there, and as noted, it does also align with broader usage shifts.

The report also looks at the growth of TikTok, which, according to App Annie’s data, has now surpassed YouTube in both the US and the UK in terms of average monthly time spent in-app, per user.

TikTok’s growth has been amazing to witness, and it’s now hard to see it not converting that popularity into a sustainable business, both for TikTok itself and for its top stars. The main risk for TikTok remains effective monetization, with short-form video offering less potential for ads, and thus, lower income potential for creators. In this sense, YouTube and Facebook can offer better revenue opportunities, but TikTok is working to establish more direct linkage between brands and creators, while it’s also experimenting with longer form videos to facilitate more ad opportunities.

There is also the ever-present risk that the US Government, and potentially others, could move to ban TikTok due to its Chinese Government links. That element has gone quiet of late, but it’s a lingering concern among security analysts, and could still become a major impediment for the app, if it were to brought to a head once again.

For this reason, it also seems likely that top creators will be looking to keep their options open, rather than relying on the app – which, in itself could also be an impediment to TikTok maximizing its growth potential.

Either way, from a general usage standpoint, TikTok is clearly a big winner, and it continues to gain traction in the social space.

Which is also reflected in this chart, looking at app download rankings over the past decade.

Facebook’s dominance is absolutely clear, but it’s also interesting to note the other trends, like the rise of TikTok, the fall of Twitter and the resurgence of Snapchat.

Which is another element highlighted in the report – according to App Annie’s data, Snapchat's overseas downloads have grown by 45% in the last 12 months, in comparison to the 2 years prior.

App Annie Snapchat downloads chart

That can largely be attributed to India, where Snapchat has seen huge take-up since launching its updated Android version back in 2019. Earlier this year, Snapchat reported that it’s seen 150% growth in active users in the region.

Which is really where most social apps are now looking – with Indian smartphone adoption rising, the opportunity exists to connect with billions more users, and the apps that can gain the most traction in India stand to see huge benefit, especially in regard to in-app purchases and revenue potential.

So in many respects, the latest features and updates you’re seeing aren’t even focused on you. Live-stream commerce, in-app shopping and other additions are really aimed at the Asian market, where there’s much larger growth potential for social apps than in western regions, where adoption is already high, and spending is not increasing at the same rates.

So even if you don’t think that these new elements will work out, maybe they will in other regions, and if they see adoption in the US and Europe as well, that’s just a bonus.

As such, if you really want to gauge where things are headed in the social media landscape, and what the platforms will be looking to focus on in future, it may be worth looking to Asian adoption trends instead, or considering what’s gaining traction in China, within its own web bubble.

And what’s gaining traction in China right now? Live-stream commerce and Douyin, the local version of TikTok.

It’s not hard to see either of these elements becoming much bigger considerations in western markets as well.

You can download App Annie's 'Evolution of Social Media' report here.

Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter


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