In the previous newsletter, I discussed the social media life cycle — an illustrative approach to explaining how social media platforms undergo various phases that can ultimately result in a buyout, closure, or becoming too big to fail. The main objective of the social media life cycle is to provide an overview of the growth and evolution of these platforms. These transformations are closely linked with what I refer to as the social media youth cycle.
The Social Media Life Cycle
In a quick overview of the social media life cycle, a social media platform typically undergoes four distinct phases. These phases include:
1. Launch Phase: During this initial stage, the social media platform is in its infancy, with limited users and features. The focus is on building the foundation, attracting early adopters, raising capital, and refining the core functionalities.
2. Cliff Dive Phase: In this stage, the platform gains more visibility and attention from the public. It experiences significant growth and expands its user base after launch. Marketing efforts and user engagement become crucial factors for success.
3. The Long Play Phase: To sustain its momentum, the platform must continuously innovate and adapt to the evolving market demands. Stagnation during this phase could lead to decline or irrelevance.
4. Critical Mass: As the platform’s user base reaches a massive scale, it becomes a dominant player in the social media landscape. At this point, the platform may face challenges in onboarding new users due to market saturation. To maintain relevance, the platform might diversify its offerings by creating new companies, platforms, or verticals to stay alive as they have hit the top statistical number of new users they can have.
By understanding the social media life cycle, we gain insights into how these platforms mature, evolve, and respond to changing trends, which is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the social media landscape.
The Youth Introduction
The success of most social media companies heavily relies on their adoption by the younger generation, often comprising individuals in Middle School, junior high, or High School when the platform launches. These platforms typically become popular by either providing a space for young users to hang out with their peers or by addressing specific problems faced by that demographic. A prime example is Snapchat, which gained traction by allowing teens to share images and messages discreetly, as the content disappeared forever, making it challenging for parents to monitor their conversations. Solving this problem quickly helped Snapchat amass a significant user base.
Reflecting on my college years in 2005, Myspace was the go-to platform, enabling me to connect swiftly with my peers, share photos, and customize layouts to express myself creatively. However, in a remarkably short period, Facebook replaced Myspace as the dominant platform, and we shifted our focus from self-expression to being where our peers were.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed numerous social media platforms attempting to capture the youth market upon their release. Early on, it becomes apparent whether a platform can survive based on its ability to resonate with this demographic. Many platforms have come and gone, emphasizing the importance of appealing to the younger generation right from the start to establish a strong foundation for sustainable growth.
As time passes, the initial generation of users on any social media platform will naturally age. Additionally, older generations may also join these platforms to reminisce or experience what the younger generation had during their teenage years. However, as users age and their interests evolve, they may no longer find the platform as appealing as they once did during their youth.
This aging-out phenomenon is a common trend in the social media landscape. Unless a platform manages to continually adapt, innovate, and attract new users from younger generations, it will eventually see a decline in its user base and popularity over time.
Becoming “too big to fail” is a crucial turning point for social media platforms in phase 4 of the social media life cycle. If a platform successfully reaches this stage, it may maintain its relevance and dominance in the market even as the original user base ages. Achieving this status often requires diversification, expansion into new markets, or creating verticals to cater to different demographics.
Parents and Grandparents
As social media platforms gain popularity among younger generations, it is common for parents to become curious and interested in what their children are using. This trend typically starts with adults in their 30s or 40s, who want to stay connected with their kids or understand their digital lives better. They may join the same platforms as their children to keep an eye on their activities and engage with them.
Over time, as these parents become more comfortable with social media and recognize its value for staying connected, they might actively use the platforms for their own social interactions. As a result, the adoption of these platforms gradually spans across different age groups, extending upward until even grandparents may join in the effort to keep up to date with their families.
The “cross-generational adoption” of social media platforms is a testament to the platforms’ impact on how families communicate and share moments across different age groups. It also reflects the evolving digital landscape and the increasing importance of digital communication in people’s lives, regardless of their age.
Migration to the Next Platform
Once parents and grandparents join a social media platform, teenagers often feel the need to migrate to other platforms to establish their independence and create a space away from their families. This desire to connect with peers away from parental oversight is a significant driving force behind the continuous emergence of new social media platforms.
As teenagers seek to carve out their own digital spaces, they naturally gravitate toward platforms that are not yet popular among older generations. This dynamic leads to the creation of a new cycle in the social media youth cycle, where new platforms cater specifically to this younger demographic, offering unique features and experiences tailored to their interests and preferences.
The constant influx of new users around the ages of 13 to 17 (subject to public restrictions and parental guidance) creates opportunities for these new social platforms to grow and thrive. This cycle of adoption and migration is a fundamental part of the social media ecosystem, with platforms constantly vying to capture the attention and engagement of the younger generation.
As social media continues to evolve, understanding this youth cycle and adapting to the changing preferences of young users becomes crucial for any platform aspiring to maintain relevance and success in the competitive digital market.