A Year in Review: What Happened on Social Media in 2020

A Walk Through the Highs and Lows of the Year

This year has undoubtedly been a surreal one. Following the disquieting and isolating outbreak of the pandemic we were sent into our homes, where we’ve since baked bread, Zoomed our loved ones and often been left feeling a little bewildered.

However, whilst the outside world has, for the majority of 2020, slowed into a lockdown lull, social media has seen many twists and turns – the online world is continuously evolving and has, amid the quiet, been a dynamic and powerful force.

As we return once again into our homes for the festive period, let’s reminisce on some of the revisions and innovations, the highs and lows that social media has seen this year…

Commercialisation of Apps and E-Commerce

This year has brought with it the commercialisation and monetisation of many social media apps, which have, as if by a domino-effect, began to maximise their e-Commerce potential.

  • This year, Instagram introduced ads, a ‘Shop’ function, and later expanded their ‘Guides’ feature to all, giving users the opportunity to showcase their favourite products.
  • WhatsApp made its ‘Business App’ available on iOS in more regions, introduced in-app payments in Brazil and launched a shopping button for business chats, creating an array of opportunities for businesses within the app.
  • In the early summer, TikTok introduced its ‘TikTok For Business’ platform to offer marketing solutions for brands. The video-sharing app later partnered with Shopify to create shoppable videos and now are collaborating with specific retailers, such as Walmart, to test shoppable product experiences hosted by some of the most revered TikTok creators.
  • Our Black Friday purchases were all, for the first time, made in lockdown and therefore from the comfort of our sofa. The commercialisation of social media apps has facilitated an e-Commerce shift in a way that became particularly apparent on this day.

[Image Creds: Better Than Sure]


Stopping the Spread of Dis/Misinformation

Social media giants have fine-tuned their applications to try and stop the spread of mis/disinformation, notably in response to the dangerous circulation of falsehoods surrounding COVID-19 and the US Presidential election.

  • Twitter, Facebook and Instagram began directing users to authoritative news sites, flagging posts deemed misleading and even recently refined these alerts so that they are as lucid and informative as possible.
  • Facebook even has plans to, come January, launch its dedicated News tab in the UK, characterised by “informative, reliable and relevant news.”
  • Early in the year, Twitter introduced the ‘Read before you Retweet’ prompt to promote “informed discussion” and, in September, replaced the ‘Retweet’ function with ‘Quote Tweet’ for a similar effect. Although this change has recently been reversed, it is evident that Twitter is taking steps to “encourage more thoughtful amplification.”

[Image Creds: Business Insider]


The Gradual Slide Towards Homogeneity

Whilst Social media apps retain some of their own distinctive characteristics, they have, to a far extent, converged this year. Many apps have adopted one another’s features and TikTok, the hot-shot video sharing app, is arguably the most obvious victim.

  • In August, Instagram launched ‘Reels,’ which are a pale echo of TikTok’s short-form videos.
  • Snapchat first added TikTok inspired lenses in August, then ‘Sounds’ to their posts and, in November, acquired rising music creation app ‘Voisey,’ described as “TikTok for music creation.” Within the same month, Snapchat created a TikTok-esque feature called ‘Spotlight,’ which emulates TikTok’s vertically scrollable stream of short-form videos.


Ephemeral Posts and Messaging

Everything seems to have got a little more secretive…

[Image Creds: Tech Crunch]


Tensions and Disputes

It is a given that 2020 hasn’t been plain sailing, and things haven’t always been rosy in the world of social media either. Here are a few of the times that tensions have run high…

  • TikTok has been banned in Pakistan, Indonesia, India, and has also consistently skated on thin ice with the US Government. However, the app, which is so immensely popular worldwide, has managed to spare a ban in the United States, and American users will continue to use it as we roll over into 2021.
  • This month, Facebook accused Apple of using monopoly power and evolving “at the expense of small businesses” (referring to Apple’s new feature ‘App Tracking Transparency’), whilst Apple argues that Facebook shows a “disregard for user privacy.
  • Facebook is currently facing twin antitrust lawsuits accusing the company of using monopoly money to squash and intimidate competitors.

[Image Creds: Yahoo!Finance]


2020 Social Media Highlights

This year, social media has been used as a powerful force for good and social change, as users have turned to its platforms to celebrate diversity and unite against prejudices.

  • In February, Instagram launched #ShareBlackStories series on their official page for #BlackHistoryMonth to honour the Black community on its platform. It featured a range of stories from the Black community and short films produced by Black artists on IGTV.
  • At the end of May people expressed their solidarity on social media (through peaceful marches, signing petitions and supporting black-owned businesses), after the video of George Floyd went viral. Major music labels and artists also pledged to cease business activity on ‘Black Out Tuesday’ whilst promoting the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused to “provoke accountability” in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
  • A dark side of Twitter surfaced when Sainsbury’s Christmas advert received a racist backlash on the platform. However, an army of users defended the campaign and stood up to racism by calling out Twitter trolls for their racist remarks. Sainsbury’s voiced, “At Sainsbury’s, we want to be the most inclusive retailer. That’s why, throughout all our advertising we aim to represent a modern Britain, which has a diverse range of communities. We have three stories of three different families in our advertising.

[Image Creds: Instagram]

In a time where all live events and artists’ mega-tours have been cancelled, social media has helped to keep the music and entertainment industry alive.

  • 2020 saw the rise of online music events, held to keep us all singing and dancing, albeit in our bedrooms. For example, on April 25, in the midst of lockdown, American rapper Travis Scott virtually performed within popular video game Fortnite in front of 27.7 million viewers.
  • In May, the Music Venue Trust (MVT) launched the #saveourvenues campaign and raised over £1.5 million in donations that resulted in the removal of 140 grass-root venues from the ‘critical’ list, alleviating the financial damage done by the pandemic.
  • TikTok has maximised its musical potential this year as it partnered with AIM (Association of Independent Music). Therefore, whilst concerts and festivals have been put on pause, the app is still continuously unearthing new talent and allowing aspiring performers to get their foot in the door of the music industry.

[Image Creds: Campaign]

Forced into isolation, people have turned to social media as a place of a solace, a means of staying sane and a way to stay in contact with their nearest and dearest.

  • In May, music streaming giant Spotify launched the first hybrid music/podcast playlist ‘Daily Wellness’, meant to offer meditation sessions mixed with 15 to 20 minute of personalised music every day. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, 40% of people surveyed in the US admitted they listened to music to manage stress more than they usually do, particularly ‘chill’ and ‘instrumental’ playlists and artist-sponsored mindfulness podcasts.
  • Social media trends, such as the one where users recreated famous paintings using objects from their homes, kept everyone entertained in the lockdown periods.
  • In May, Whatsapp expanded video calls from 4 to 8 people and Facebook dating users were encouraged to invite a potential match to a video chat. A Zoom-inspired functionality called ‘Messenger Rooms’ was also made available across all apps of the Facebook family, meaning that even when we haven’t been together, we haven’t felt so far apart.

[Image Creds: BBC News]

This year has been a distinctive one – sometimes bemusing, often difficult, always strange. However, social media has, above all, provided a way for us to stay connected to our loved ones, keep our spirits lifted and feel united in these unprecedented times.

Let’s wait and see what exciting social media innovations and developments 2021 holds.

Finally, for our previous #SocialShort, click here.

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