The world of social media recently held its eleventh annual Shorty Awards, an Oscars-type celebration that honors the best content creators and producers on social media. As I have noted many times in the past, social media is big business – and understanding how it is evolving can be extremely valuable for businesses and individuals alike. I have attended the Shorty Awards for four years, and, each year, seek to learn about the latest social media trends from the folks who are best capitalizing on them.
At this years Shortys I was able to speak with many social media stars – including Katja Glieson, Dan Clay (AKA Carrie Dragshaw), Mikaela Long, and numerous others, as well as with various mainstream celebrities including Kevin Love, Terry Crews, Marsai Martin, and Kathy Griffin. I asked each of them what he or she found notable about social media over the last year, and if there were any specific trends that deserved special attention.
By the end of the evening, two specific trends stood out – both because they represent significant, notable changes from past years, and because they were mentioned by nearly every one of the many folks with whom I spoke:
1) Instagram is Emerging as the New King
Three years ago, I reported from the Shorty Awards that “Despite the availability of new platforms, Facebook is still king, Twitter still reigns when it comes to news and quick communication, and Instagram rules the photo sharing world.”
Pretty much every influencer with whom I spoke in 2019, however, seemed to indicate that while Twitter may still reign vis-à-vis news, Instagram has dethroned Facebook as his or her primary platform of choice for social media engagement. Facebook may still have the largest user base, but, moving forward, Instagram seems to be where many of the folks who know best are directing their time, energy, and money. (Of course, Facebook owns Instagram, so the success of either platform is a win for Facebook.)
Such a development is hardly surprising: Instagram now offers far more than just the photo editing and sharing capabilities that it sported in 2016 – with Stories, video capabilities, livestreaming, business and creator accounts, etc. – it has been able to usurp much of the audience (especially among younger people) who previously looked to Facebook and Snap for those capabilities. Additionally, with the passage of time, many of the people who comprised Instagram’s early user base when they were students are now adults with expendable money.
One aspect of the migration towards Instagram did, however, seem a bit surprising: some of the influencers with whom I spoke mentioned that they recently stopped using Facebook altogether.
While I would personally not discount the value of Facebook, I have also noticed a tremendous refocusing towards Instagram, especially since the launch of Stories in August of 2016. As a result, I have personally been advising businesses – even those that deliver offerings not typically associated with a highly visual experience – to make sure that they have a strong Instagram presence. My experience at the 2019 Shorty Awards only serves to reinforce such a notion.
(BTW: I am @JosephSteinberg on Instagram)
2) People are being more “real” on social media
For years, many (if not most) people shared only the positive aspects of their lives on social media – such a practice was especially common among social media stars. Feeds were filed with perfectly posed (and photoshopped ) photos that appeared to grant viewers a glimpse into the “perfect lives” of social media celebrities. Few folks with significant social followings were willing to discuss their failures, problems, or weaknesses, or to show any significant visual imperfections.
Today, the world has changed. Social media influencers are increasingly connecting with their fans not by becoming a vehicle for vicariously enjoying a utopian existence, but by detailing their own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and challenges, and, allowing fans – many of whom may suffer from similar difficulties – to relate to them as real people.
This new level of openness has helped facilitate previously impossible discussions about mental health issues, eating disorders, the trauma faced by survivors of sexual assault, and the fact that nobody has a “perfect body.”
The trend towards realism, and away from portraying an unachievable level of perfection, may reflect more than just a shift in the realm of social media; it may be the sign of an in-progress cultural transformation taking place as members of the post-Millennial Generation Z come of age and assume a greater role on the world stage; Generation Zers tend to assign far greater weight to authenticity than do their older Millennial counterparts.
In any case, while neither of the aforementioned trends is absolute – there is still plenty of activity going on on social media platforms than Instagram, and there are plenty of people sharing only “perfect photos” – they are reflective of the thinking of some of the most successful people in the world of social media, making them something that anyone developing a social media strategy might want to keep in mind.
(Here is a complete list of the 2019 Shorty Award winners.)