Rise of New Platforms
No social network or online platform lasts forever. Take Vine for example, arguably one of 2016’s biggest casualties, which formally shut down on January 17th this year. Once an undisputed leader in “snack-able” online content with over 200 million active users, the service fell upon hard times in the last year or two, largely due to poor integration with parent company Twitter (and the vast bulk of its content creators leaving for the wider audiences and better monetization models of platforms like Instagram and Facebook). The social media world is constantly shifting, so here are a few new social platforms (and old social platforms doing new things) that marketers should know about:
Livestreaming has become quite the phenomenon in recent years, thanks in large part to Twitch. Started in 2011 as a gaming-focused spinoff of general-interest livestreaming network Justin.tv, over the last six years Twitch has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity, largely thanks to the eSports competitive gaming community. Currently, the online livestreaming platform has roughly 9.7 million daily active users, with the average user watching 106 minutes of content per day. The service is so popular that mentions of it online keep pace with those of other major content platforms like Spotify, iTunes, and even Netflix. In 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch for $970 million.
So what exactly is the appeal of Twitch? Users say it’s the sense of a two-way connection with broadcasters. On every livestream there’s a real time chatroom where viewers can comment, and generally broadcasters will make an effort to acknowledge and respond to what’s being said there. It’s very much the antithesis of platforms like Instagram, where little pieces of meticulously edited one-way content are king. The average Twitch broadcast is more analogous to a talk radio show with call-in segments- unfiltered, random, interactive, and usually rather long.
One of the best examples of Twitch as a platform for such content is the in/famous “social experiment” ‘Twitch Plays Pokémon,’ (or TPP) a two week long interactive livestream of the game Pokémon Red that began in February 2014. Viewers of the stream were able to vote on which of the game’s six buttons (a, b, up, down, left and right) should be pressed at any given time, with dozens of players voting every minute. The result was 16 days of round-the-clock unmitigated chaos, with hundreds of viewers from around the world constantly voting on what buttons to press.
The TPP stream began on February 12 2014, and by the 17th had surpassed 6.5 million total views, with roughly 75,000 people watching the stream at any given time. Twitch has gone on to do similar livestreams of most every other Pokémon game, and many of the various inside jokes TPP generated over the course of the inaugural livestream have become fixtures in the online meme community. The bottom line of this- Twitch has an unprecedented capacity to foster incredibly dynamic real-time events online.
So how are marketers using Twitch? Right now, it’s mostly sponsored broadcasts and eSports competitions. In 2015, Totino’s sponsored several eSports championship events broadcast on Twitch. One of these broadcasts, a Call of Duty Black Ops III tournament, averaged 30,000 viewers over the course of a 6-hour livestream. Jack Link’s beef jerky did a similar promotion where they partnered with three “notoriously salty” Twitch streamers with a combined following of roughly 1.7 million users to sponsor six two-hour gaming livestreams. During these livestreams, the broadcasters would take “hangry breaks” to eat jerky and recount stories of their gaming meltdowns, and encouraged viewers to share their stories in the stream’s chat. Being encouraged to share your anecdotes with a brand becomes much more compelling when there’s a chance your story will be shared with hundreds of thousands of like-minded viewers. Twitch is a very unique platform, and there’s a lot to expect from it going forward. For marketers, this is definitely one to watch.
Seen by many as the spiritual successor to Vine, Musical.ly is a video-centric social network launched in 2014 that allows users to record 15-second videos. It’s very similar in look and feel to Vine, with the trending and hashtag functionality of apps like Twitter. The central gimmick of the app is that once you record a video, you can add audio from a selection of popular songs and sound effects. It’s relatively straightforward, although the lack of this sort of audio-importing functionality on similar apps like Snapchat and Instagram affords it a distinct niche.
The app is popular among under-20s/members of Generation Z, and as of December 2016 has 40 million monthly active users. It’s also the #39 most downloaded app overall in the U.S.. In addition to this, the app may have a special significance to members of Generation Z due to their proclivity for audio content. Members of Gen Z average 4 hours a day with their earbuds in, meaning that music and audio are extremely important for promotions targeted at them. Musical.ly might be just the ticket for this.
The most notable brand to use the app recently was Coca-Cola as a part of their #ShareACoke campaign last year. Using sponsored posts created by Musical.ly influencers, Coke promoted a contest that had users upload videos with the hashtag #ShareACoke for a chance to FaceTime with Coke Ambassador Jason Derulo. “Challenge” promotions are common through the app- Flo Rida used Musical.ly to promote his new song “Zillionaire” last year, challenging users to record videos using the song’s audio for a chance to get a shout-out from the rapper himself.
Musical.ly isn’t as much of a phenomenon as Twitch, but it’s definitely a platform to keep an eye on. Active user count on the app peaked last summer around 90 million, although analysts say “high numbers of [Musical.ly] users are creating content themselves, rather than consuming passively on platforms like Reddit and Facebook,” a pattern they say could be self-reinforcing going forward. From a user engagement standpoint, this is definitely noteworthy.
New Things from Old Networks – Facebook Stealing from Snapchat, 360° Live Video Gaining Prominence
When Instagram launched its “stories” feature last year, many marketers had a “wait and see” attitude towards it. A few months after its launch, Instagram is within striking distance of Snapchat. As of January ’17, the Instagram stories feature has 150M daily users (compared to Snapchat’s 158M as of Q416), and Snap Inc.’s daily user growth has slowed since the feature’s launch in Q3 last year. In December 2016, Facebook continued its pilfering of Snapchat’s ideas with the launch of Messenger Camera, a photo and video module that now exists as a part of the Messenger app. Users can now send Snapchat-esque photos and videos through Messenger, which marketers might be able to use in the future to send personalized content to customers. While some initially called out Facebook for its shameless copying of Snapchat, based on the user stats on the new Instagram stories feature it appears as though no one minds that much. Time will tell which platform wins out, but for now they’re of equal importance for marketers.
Another new development from Facebook (and Twitter) is the implementation of 360° video livestreaming for both Facebook Live and Periscope. On both services this requires a 360° video camera. Unfortunately, neither service allows you to watch live 360° videos in VR (using a virtual reality headset), although given that only 6% of Americans currently own a VR headset, that’s not a big problem. As evidenced by the success of things like Twitch, Facebook Live and Periscope, there’s a huge interest in livestreaming content. 360° video may be the next logical step of that.
2017 already looks to be a year rife with disruption; in the world of marketing that will be no different. In order to stay relevant and engaging, platforms like these should be known, understood, and ideally, utilized.