8 of the Biggest Social Media Moments in 2019: A Retrospective

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As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the biggest social media moments of the year.

We’re not talking World Record Breaking eggs, Facebook’s all-caps rebrand, or Rihanna following Jagmeet Singh on Instagram. We’re talking about the big, social media landscape altering moments of 2019.

We simply can’t help ourselves if other trivial moments, like Jennifer Aniston breaking the Guinness World Record for fastest Instagram account to reach one million followers, slip in there. For the record, it happened in five hours and 15 minutes.

These are the moments that changed the game. That changed the rules of social media marketing, either explicitly or subtly. And that will change the way things are done in 2020.

8 of the biggest moments that changed social media in 2019

1. Fyre Festival docs reveal our fatigue with social scammers

The year began with dueling documentaries from Hulu and Netflix about the spectacular faceplant that was the Fyre Festival.

The styrofoam cheese sandwich and lord-of-the-flies influencer island antics were good for a laugh. But whatever schadenfreude we felt was symptomatic of broader cultural undercurrents. In addition to highlighting the outsized privilege enjoyed by some influencers, the documentaries raised questions about how accountable they should be for the brands they partner with.

From Billy McFarland to Elizabeth Holmes to Caroline Calloway, to Jeremy Renner, 2019 has been a year of comeuppance for social scammers. Yes, THAT Jeremy Renner. And it’s felt righteous compared with the ongoing political racket. As New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino put it in the Hulu doc, “There is essentially a Fyre Fest happening right now in the White House.”

Or

Fyre Fest is just the tip of the iceberg, but it expresses a growing public distrust of the influencer business model. And a shift towards emphasizing engagement metrics over follower counts (which can be easily faked).

Here are the best scam-free ways to become Instagram famous.

2. Pivots to privacy made by Facebook, Instagram

Ahead of its annual F8 Developers Conference in April, Facebook unveiled what it calls “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.” According to Zuckerberg, when it comes to social media, “the future is private.” Why? Because “privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves,” he says.

For Facebook, the shift includes a focus on closed and private groups, direct messaging, and ephemeral content like stories. More than 1.4 billion people are active in groups each month—and there more than 10 million groups on the platform to choose from. This year, Facebook made it easier for business pages to participate in groups.

In October, Facebook launched “Threads from Instagram,” a standalone messaging app for private, camera-first conversations with close friends. The app happens to look a lot like Snapchat—and investors noticed the resemblance, too. Snap’s stock fell up to 7% when Threads launched.

Stories continue to be a hit on Instagram, and Facebook thinks their impermanence has something to do with it. Half a billion people are now using Instagram Stories every day. And advertisers are catching on. Ad spend on the ephemeral format now accounts for nearly 10% of all Facebook’s ad revenue.

“Messaging and Stories are much more intimate and private in nature,” said Adam Mosseri at the 2019 Facebook Developers Conference (F8). “What we’ve learned from how people use Instagram, is these are much more natural ways of expressing yourself.”

3. Social shopping gets easier

The number of taps between a social post and a sale continues to decrease. This year saw the roll-out of several new shopping features from Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and others.

Social media users continue to show interest in moving their window shopping to the digital realm. More than half of Pinners use Pinterest to look for products. According to Instagram, more than 130 million Instagrammers tap to reveal the product tags on shoppable posts every month. That’s up from 90 million the previous year.

Here’s a platform-by-platform summary of some of the shopping tools that were introduced this year:

Instagram:

Facebook:

WhatsApp:

Pinterest:

TikTok:

Snapchat:

WeChat:

4. Instagram hides Like counts, and Facebook might too

In May, Instagram started hiding Like counts in Canada. Soon after, the company expanded the trial to six additional markets. Results from these tests were positive enough that by November, Instagram began testing the removal of heart tallies worldwide. Now Facebook has started hiding its thumbs counts, too.

Not everyone, Nicki Minaj included, supports the switch. Some influencers have argued that they’ve lost a form of social currency. Supporters feel the change has made the platform more chill. Others have pointed out that brands and agencies will have to rely on influencers to accurately report metrics.

Instagram also altered profiles to make follower counts less prominent. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition,” explained Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, at F8 in April. “We want to make it a less pressurized environment.”

The change comes as conversations about social media addiction and anxiety mount. In May, YouTube started rolling out a similar change to the way to show subscriber counts. Any channel that passes the 1,000 subscriber milestone switches to an abbreviated 1K.

In a TED Talk, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey opined that were he to start fresh, he would rethink or even abolish follower and like counts.

5. Instagram doubles down on creators

Many have interpreted Instagram’s algorithm changes and removal of like counts as strikes against its influencer community.

But the introduction of Instagram creator accounts suggests otherwise. According to Instagram, creator accounts are “Best for public figures, content producers, artists, and influencers.” They offer account holders access to special features that include detailed dashboards, audience metrics, and messaging tabs.

The death knell keeps ringing on influencer marketing, but it remains a multibillion dollar industry. And Instagram remains the preferred social channel among brands and social stars. By 2022, marketers are set to spend a projected $15 billion on influencer marketing. That’s up from an estimated $9 billion in 2019.

6. YouTube amends verification criteria and policies, vexes stars

In September, YouTube introduced new eligibility requirements for verified accounts. In doing so, it also stripped the checkmark from several creator accounts.

But backlash in response to the decision resulted in an immediate reversal. Creators will get to keep their checkmarks, for now. Meanwhile YouTube plans to roll out a separate music-note badge for artists next year.

YouTube’s rationale for the change came from the fact that nearly one-third of its users associate the checkmark with endorsement—not as a confirmation of identity. The move would have helped the company distance itself from its problematic creators. Like those who have gamed the 100K subscriber criterion with fake followers, for example. Or those who have risen to prominence with hateful content.

Creators have complained that YouTube is abandoning them for more traditional content. They’ve also grown increasingly frustrated over its changing monetization policies. In July, the company added new monetization options, including SuperChat, Super Stickers, Channel Membership packages, and Merch options.

A recent update to its Terms of Service has ruffled more feathers. Many have taken issue with the provision: “YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account’s access to all or part of the service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the service to you is no longer commercially viable.”

For its part, Facebook has tried to lure YouTube influencers with more monetization options in its Fan Subscriptions vertical, including a digital tip jar.

7. Necessary safeguards put in place for teens on TikTok, and elsewhere

TikTok continues to be a craze among teens—and its adoption by traditional outlets like the Washington Post and other brands are an indicator of its potential staying power.

But a $5.7 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shed light on the growing need to address children’s privacy on social media. The record settlement—the largest ever in a FTC children’s privacy case—alleged that ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) had illegally collected information on users under the age of 13.

In response to the charges, TikTok has created a separate app experience for younger audiences with enhanced security. The platform also forged partnerships with Internet Matters, Family Online Safety Institute, and released parental guidelines.

In December, Instagram started asking users to share their birthdays with a similar aim of building safer experiences for young users. Pinterest, meanwhile, has set out to help users manage difficult emotions by creating tools with the assistance of Vibrant Emotional Health and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Targeting teens also received legal attention this year. Vaping brand Juul has been in and out of court in several U.S. states for marketing its products to teens on social media and elsewhere.

Juul deleted its Facebook and Instagram accounts in 2018 amid allegations, and called on social media companies to help it police youth-oriented content.

In July, Facebook and Instagram instituted a new policy banning the promotion of alcohol and tobacco products. Users over the age of 18, however, are still free to post related content, leaving influencer marketing in a bit of a grey zone. Juul, for example, says that it has never used paid social media marketing. In July, four other e-cigarette companies that have paid influencers were issued a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

YouTube also plans to enforce new rules around kid-friendly content, following a $170 million settlement with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Starting next year, content directed at children will no longer feature personalized ads and will offer limited data collection. This policy will result in lower ad revenue for creators, and will significantly affect active communities, such as gamers.

Still not sure what TikTok is? It’s time to find out.

8. Facebook faces fines, congress, and political backlash

Facebook officials spent a fair share of time in courtrooms over the course of 2019.

In July, the Cambridge Analytica scandal closed in court with Facebook agreeing to pay a $5 billion fine levied by the FTC for privacy agreement violations. While the record-breaking settlement is 200 times greater than the largest penalty previously imposed by the FTC, critics have called it a slap on the wrist.

In another settlement, Facebook agreed to pay $40 million to advertisers who sued the company for inflating its video metrics. For the record, Facebook holds that the suit is “without merit.”

In October, audio leaked to The Verge revealed Mark Zuckerberg’s candid remarks on a number of subjects, including Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up big tech. “If she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge,” he said.

Facebook may face the challenge either way. The FTC is reportedly considering blocking Facebook from merging with Messenger, Instagram, and Whatsapp.

Warren has also taken Facebook to task for its unwillingness to fact check political ads. To make her point, she created campaign ads with obvious lies. A viral congressional faceoff between Zuckerberg and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threw more flames on the fire.

Twitter and Google have since announced plans to ban political ads. Facebook has not budged, but it has added “paid for by” disclaimers. The company also released a bot named Liam to help employees deal with grillings from family members over the holidays.



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