Visualization of the world’s best social media and messaging apps
The social media universe in 2022
For a time, life in the social media universe was largely uneventful. Consider these spicy (at the time) headlines:
In retrospect, the years up to 2016 were downright sleepy compared to what was to follow. Donald Trump’s meteoric, tweet-fueled rise to the presidency. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. Congressional hearings on privacy and bias. TikTok at the center to sour relations between the US and China. Each new day brought a new wave of controversy at the shores of once infallible social media platforms.
Today, the honeymoon phase is long over, and the messiness of running a global social platform is now on full display. Nowhere is this more evident than on Twitter during the current transition period for Elon Musk – but more details on that later.
For now, let’s explore the social media universe in 2022.
Mapping social media and the messaging universe
In 2022, the social universe looks more crowded than in previous years.
The scale of Meta’s platforms still dominates thanks to their global reach, but there are a number of smaller networks vying for market share. Here’s a look at popular platforms, organized from largest to smallest active user base:
In the meantime, here are the top 10 social media and messaging platforms by publicly available monthly active users:
|Rank||Platform name||Parent company||Primary function||Monthly active users|
|#1||Meta platforms||Social network||2.9 billion|
|#2||YouTube||Alphabet||Video content||2.3 billion|
|#3||What’s up||Meta platforms||Messages||2.0 billion|
|#4||messenger||Meta platforms||Messages||1.3 billion|
|#5||Meta platforms||Video content||1.2 billion|
|#7||TikTok||ByteDance||Video content||732 million|
|#9||Douyin||ByteDance||Video content||600 million|
YouTube is the only true competition for Meta’s scale and reach. Alphabet’s video content hub with social features has more than two billion monthly active users. YouTube’s embrace of the creator economy pushes the platform further into pure social media territory with the introduction of “handles”.
As seen in the visualization above, China has its own ecosystem of major social and messaging platforms – the largest of which is WeChat.
The only platform in the top 20 that is not based in either the US or China is the privacy-focused messaging app, Telegram. The Dubai-based company has a unique background. It was created after the founders of the Russian social network VK left the country after resisting pressure from the authorities to release data about the social network’s users in Ukraine.
Today there are also a number of smaller platforms of special interest. OnlyFans, for example, is focused on adult content creators. Parler and Truth Social appeal to users who want fewer restrictions on the content they post and consume. BeReal aims to create more authentic moments by asking users to post a photo at a random time each day.
Below we take a closer look at some of these platforms.
Big problems in the Little Metaverse
Having a figurehead is a double-edged sword. When things go well, the market rallies around the successful leader. Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2010. Even as recently as 2016, Glassdoor named the Facebook founder the “most admired technology executive.”
On the flip side, when the tide turns, it turns quickly. After a series of controversies, Zuckerberg took a multi-billion dollar gamble by renaming his entire company Meta and turns the focus to the burgeoning idea of a metaverse. Meta’s New Horizons platform is rumored to have plateaued at around 200,000 active users, which is underwhelming for a company that still reaches a significant portion of humanity with its other services.
Part of Meta’s short-term success depends on VR headsets being a hot gift this holiday season. Meta’s cheapest headset is $400, which can be a tough sell in today’s economic environment.
It is, of course, too early to know whether Zuckerberg’s venture will pay off. As always, all is forgiven when a business unit takes off and becomes profitable.
Microblogging with macro expectations
Twitter has a complicated history.
The company was launched in the shadow of Facebook’s massive growth, and was saddled with expectations that were difficult to meet. While Twitter has an engaged and influential audience, it hasn’t been able to monetize them to the level of Meta’s platforms (for better or for worse). The introduction of Twitter Blue in 2021 did not resonate with users on the scale the company hoped, and “fleets” were essentially written off as a failed experiment.
In addition, Twitter is a magnet for criticism and debate around freedom of expression, partly because of its central place in the political discourse.
These issues are directly related to the company’s recent sale to Elon Musk. At the time of this article, Twitter is in the midst of a painful, and very public, internal restructuring.
If reports of an exodus of talent and advertising dollars are to be believed, the future of one of the world’s most influential social media platforms may be in jeopardy.
Social media has always been dominated by Facebook and associated apps. When a new challenger came along, Facebook either bought it (Instagram, WhatsApp), or “acquired” their features (Snapchat). TikTok is the first challenger to maintain its momentum and growth even as Instagram launched very similar features.
TikTok is also a rare case of a Chinese technology product crossing over to Western markets. However, the transition to TikTok was not without controversy. Suspicion of Chinese access to user data continues to be a problem both in the US and in other major markets around the world. TikTok has been banned in India since 2020.
Despite these headwinds, TikTok remains very popular. The short-form video platform was the most downloaded app on the planet and remains a favorite among the key Gen Z demographic.
We will monitor
In recent years, neighborhood-based social networks have emerged and gained traction. Next door used physical letters sent to adjacent addresses to boost growth, while Neighbors piggybacked on the popularity of Ring’s doorbell cameras. Although members post about more benign topics such as missing cats and where to find a good plumber, crime is also an increasingly common topic.
Apps like Neighbours and Citizen have a more overt focus on crime and security. While the growth of these apps reflects an obvious interest in preventing crime, critics point out that the ubiquity of personal surveillance equipment and forums built solely around public safety foster a culture of suspicion in communities.
This type of social network is still fairly new, so it remains to be seen if they remain niche communities, or grow into something bigger.
Chaos and possibilities
It was Sun Tzu who famously said: “In the midst of chaos there is also opportunity”.
This is the risk and opportunity in today’s social media universe. With their massive networks and high switching costs (eg personalization, library of existing posts), the biggest platforms have created moats that make life difficult for emerging brands looking to replace established platforms. On the other hand, controversies on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook may lead some users to consider new options.
The multi-billion dollar question – is dissatisfaction with large platforms temporary, or will new networks like Mastodon or BeReal hit critical mass and become new staples for people connecting online. Time will tell.