How Social Media Giants Went Mainstream
Every social media company that emerged since the advent of the internet has experienced a pivotal moment that propelled it into the mainstream, growing from hundreds to thousands and eventually millions of users.
The fact that their friends, family, or colleagues have started using it can influence most individuals to join a new social media platform or switch from an existing one.
The premise of sharing user-generated content alone may not attract users to join. However, the success of social media platforms relies heavily on the momentum created by users sharing their content via this new medium.
Top 3 Reasons Social Media Sites Go Viral
Let's face it; there's nothing quite like receiving an endorsement from a celebrity, sports personality, famous life guru, or an "influencer." When any of these individuals give a new service their proverbial thumbs up, their followers flock to join, providing the service an instant boost.
This surge in popularity attracts even more users as friends and casual observers take notice of its sudden popularity.
Twitter experienced a defining moment when a US Airways plane made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009. A passenger on the plane shared the first picture of this incident on Twitter; this changed how people perceived the platform overnight.
Most social media sites have a pivotal moment where they gain recognition for being the first to publish newsworthy content. When media outlets report about it, they often credit the platform where it was initially seen or heard.
These incidents propel a service into becoming an essential utility in today's digital social world.
Unique Creation Tools
- "140 characters or less" - Twitter
- "Share the moment" - Snapchat
- "Real people, Real videos" - TikTok
While these are tag lines, they convey the content creation essence of the service. At the end of the day, although they are social platforms or apps, each offers a distinct approach to creating and sharing content.
A social site requires more than merely creating a service for posting updates to gain mainstream attention. The updates must be exciting enough to capture attention instantly, be understood quickly, and be easy and fun to share. Advertisers have learned to adapt to all types of content formats regarding social media marketing.
Snapchat introduced disappearing messages, Twitter had a limitation of 140 characters, Vine had 6-second video clips (acquired by Twitter), Twitch enabled users to broadcast their video gameplay, and so on.
How They Became Giants
Let's explore the top social sites today and how they achieved their current status to become giants in their space.
When Twitter first launched, it experienced its initial taste of fame at the 2007 SXSW conference. Screens displaying tweets from attendees gained popularity with the crowd. Eventually, the tech-oriented blogging community propelled this new social site's early years.
Tech bloggers like Michael Arrington, Mashable's Pete Cashmore, and Jason Kottke were some of the most popular users during Twitter's early years. Followers ranged from 25,000 to 100,000 for famous bloggers.
Twitter's breakthrough occurred when Ashton Kutcher, the actor, publicly attempted to become the first user to reach a million Twitter followers against CNN. Despite CNN's worldwide reach, Ashton emerged victorious. The Guinness Book of World Records listed him for achieving this milestone.
Elon Musk bought Twitter in a deal worth $44 Billion in October 2022. It is also undergoing a re-branding, with the platform's name changing to "X."
When platforms like Myspace, Friendster, and Orkut were gaining popularity, Facebook possessed a unique feature: exclusivity.
Initially launched in 2004, it was exclusively available to Harvard students. Over time, Facebook expanded its reach to all universities in the United States and Canada. Only in 2006, after securing significant investment capital, Facebook opened its doors to the public, allowing anyone aged 13 and older to join.
The migration of users from other platforms was swift once this shift happened, as people who weren't in college could finally open a Facebook account. Once on the social site, they invited their friends; the rest, as they say, is history.
At one time, Reddit, known today as the "front page of the internet," was relatively unknown. The platform primarily focused on technology-related news, with technical discussions and users enjoying a service that was still lesser known but unique in its user-generated content.
Then, Digg v4.0 came along. Kevin Rose, the CEO of Digg, made a significant infrastructure change by switching from MySQL to Cassandra, an alternative NoSQL database management system. Rose cited "the increasing difficulty of building a high performance, write intensive, application on a data set that is growing quickly" as the cause of the change. Before this, Digg was one of the most popular social sharing sites. Blogs and websites that hit the site's front page would usually crash from the onslaught of traffic it brought.
The site eventually underwent a significant re-haul, and v4.0 launched on August 25, 2010. However, by August 30, users revolted and organized a Quit Digg Day. They began voting on articles that were auto-submitted, redirecting traffic to Reddit.
Overnight, Reddit gained immense popularity and established itself as the front page of the internet. Some members of Reddit said it brought on a new rival to the original Eternal September.
Services like Flickr, Photobucket, Twitpic, and Dailybooth dominated photo-sharing sites in the mid to late 2000s. Users of these sites uploaded photos, and others usually shared them through the popular social media platforms of the day.
To much fanfare, Apple launched the App Store on the iPhone in July 2008; you could say that the first app to make photo sharing fun and addictive would probably be able to get popular fast, especially with a die-hard base of iPhone users.
The developers behind Instagram had a different idea for it in the beginning. But seeing the possibilities that photo sharing presented, they pivoted the app, built at the time with various check-in features, into Instagram.
Instagram officially launched in 2010 and remained exclusive to the iPhone for at least two years before being released on Android in 2012. Acquired by Facebook in the same year, they have over a billion users today.
As for the future, the next social revolution may already be in development, but only time will reveal whether it will overthrow any of the giants mentioned above.
Meanwhile, please remember to tweet, share on Facebook, and upvote this article on Reddit!
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