Source: FE News

The social media industry has seen an increase in the release of applications and features over the last few years. However, none of these apps are truly original and most of them are just a copy of others with a tweak in the name.

Social Media’s Innovation Well Runs Dry

Innovation in the social media industry is as good as dead. In earlier years, copying a feature from another platform was done quite subtly and was termed as ‘borrowing’ the feature. Over time, the move has become more open and even touted out loud as was the case with BlueSky and Mastodon, clones of Twitter.

This replication started in 2016 when Facebook copied Snapchat’s star feature, stories. The company implemented the feature in full on Instagram which was doing far much better than Snapchat.

By presenting a feature that was intimate on upcoming Snapchat to billions of users on Instagram, Snapchat was destabilized and could not grow its user base for a while. Since then, companies have been copying features from other platforms and even lately, producing complete clones.

Aside from Snapchat’s stories, Meta also copied TikTok’s short video format and added it to Instagram and Facebook as reels. In return, TikTok has now copied text stories on Instagram which are found under ‘Create’ on Instagram stories.

TikTok has been marketing the feature as “options for content creation, allowing creators to share their stories, poems, recipes, and other written content”, hoping to create a new way of posting content.

Twitter has also been a culprit for copying other apps. What started as a place to post short texts, it later added a feature it called “Fleets” based on Instagram or Snapchat’s stories. The app, now named X, eventually ditched Fleets as it failed to gain traction and picked up special live streams that it calls “Spaces” similar to Clubhouses’ core feature.

On the other hand, Twitter has been subjected to massive copying especially after it failed to keep its customers satisfied. Companies have risen to offer alternatives that offer the same capabilities, with the latest being Meta’s Threads, probably named after Twitter’s thread feature.

Twitter is also looking to be an everything app with payment and video sharing similar to China’s super app, WeChat. The list is endless and there is simply nothing new in social media.

According to Chris Messina, a software product designer who led Twitter in introducing hashtags, “If we evaluate these apps from the legacy technology-innovation lens, then yes—they’re copying each other and there are no new ideas.”

A Game of Engagement and Revenue

However, “The better way to understand it is that social media is now a fashion industry, and so as a product manager, you’re evaluating [success] based on engagement and retention, not innovation,” Messina adds.

Copying has become a competing strategy since users can not be on multiple apps simultaneously. Platforms, therefore, want to reduce the hours spent on another app by attracting users to their app using the same feature.

This is important because the time spent on an app almost directly translates to the amount of revenue earned especially from advertising. If people spend all of their free time scrolling through TikTok, that siphons revenue from Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat.

Now, It now boils down to how well a platform can replicate a feature. Sometimes it works in the app’s favor while other times it backfires. For instance, the introduction of the Stories format on LinkedIn and Skype didn’t significantly increase user interaction on those services. Instead, it resulted in criticism about the relevance of the feature on the platforms.

On the other hand, despite Instagram copying reels from TikTok’s short videos, the feature has risen to become the most successful on the app, according to a report by Emplifi based on social media behaviors and ad trends in Q2 2023.

Source: Emplifi

The report showed that Instagram Reels generated 55% more interactions than single-image posts on the app. The feature also outperformed standard video posts by 29% and was only closely comparable to carousels which hold several photo posts.

Instagram reels have also topped charts surpassing TikTok which was the original creator. The Emplifi report revealed that reels had significantly more median reach, median interactions, and median video views than TikTok.

Creators on the Winning Team

Aside from catering for users, platforms now have to up their game when working with creators as they are the fuel that runs the social media ecosystem. Considering most platforms are offering the same ways of creating and the same tools, the difference now comes in compensation.

The last few months have seen platforms increasing earnings for their creators. TikTok, for instance, has revised its creator rewards program to include all eligible creators in the US. The app has also introduced more programs such as the Augmented Reality (AR) Effects Creators program to cater to creators who develop filters on the platform.

The video app is also working to connect creators to brands through new monetization features that lets creators submit videos to brand challenges and get paid if their videos are chosen.

Twitter has also been paying creators to stay on the platform as a result of the competition from other apps. The app owned by Elon Musk has already lost so many users in the past few months and it began paying creators. sometimes with tens of thousands of dollars, to keep content flowing.

The similarity between apps has created a cut-throat competition between platforms which is benefitting creators but becoming a little boring for users since apps are no longer distinguishable.

Maybe apps will go back to being unique in later years but until then, Twitter is the new WeChat, Bluesky is the new Twitter and Threads is the new Bluesky.

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