Major Social Media Changes and Their Impact on Media Consumption Today

With Facebook’s impending design change and countless major social media changes in the past 12 months, people wonder why these massive platforms are changing something that seemingly is not broken.

In reality, all of the major social networks have undergone substantial changes over the years. When the UI change hits, everybody freaks out and then within a few weeks it all stops. It becomes the norm.

Here are some of the biggest changes and their impact on how we consume media today:

Facebook: The Launch of the ‘Like’ Button (2009)

A world without a way to “like” a post? How novel! Facebook existed for five years without a way to easily engage with a status update. As far as major social media changes go, this was monumental.

When Facebook launched the Like button, critics considered it a copycat of Twitter’s simple “Favorite” engagement. But back then, those were the only two major players in the social media game. MySpace was dying, LinkedIn was in its infancy, and the other platforms did not exist.

In essence, the “like” was the start of true social media engagement, allowing users to share emotions with the click of a button. Now, people share posts expecting hundreds of likes and other engagements. Whether it is Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or any other social network, the “like” has become the baseline measure of engagement and success.

Plus, as Wired notes, the “Like” button may be the biggest change of all time because it led to the inception of the influencer industry. Despite influencers having a greater impact on Instagram and Twitter, Facebook was the root cause for this multi-million dollar industry.

Instagram: Adding Video Functionality (2013)

Within one year of Facebook acquiring Instagram, the popular filter photo app launched 15-second video capabilities. It was a new world for Instagram, eventually expanding to 60-second videos, then the long-form IGTV app. Then IGTV merged with Instagram, allowing users to view longer videos within one user interface.

Instagram was not the first app to provide video capabilities, but it was the first non-Facebook app to do so. (Twitter had launched Vine but they were still separate apps). As TechCrunch announced when the 15-second news hit, video was the biggest change to Instagram’s functionality since the app’s inception. This would lead to a massive spiral of new video functionality across the board, and some even blamed it for the end of Vine’s short yet impressive run.

When Facebook said it would be all video within five years, it may not have been correct, but in a sense video has become the most dominant force in social media, with internet users viewing an average of nearly seven hours of video per week. Had Facebook pursued the video endeavor alone, it may have been nearly a fad. However, Instagram changed the video game and has made it arguably the most popular form of media.

Snapchat: The Advent of ‘Stories’ (2013)

As Gary V pointed out, the stories functionality was Snapchat’s first move toward becoming one of the major social platforms. The app skyrocketed in popularity and stories soon became the mantle for the app, with various design changes focusing on stories. And then Facebook showed up.

Once Facebook launched the stories functionality on Instagram, Snapchat’s slow fade began, their crown achievement now successfully duplicated. Users across three social networks can now post their short, personal ephemeral marketing narratives. Stories are often viewed more than static posts, and provide an authenticity that lacks in original posts. In reality, stories are the antithesis to Twitter’s algorithm update, offering an authentic outlet without the possibility (or desire) to go viral.

LinkedIn: Redesign to Look More Like Mainstream Social Media (2017)

The social media platform for professional network, LinkedIn always had a certain business feel to its UI, with a standard menu across the top and minimal iconography. But in 2017, a new design suddenly showed LinkedIn in a new light… looking oddly similar to Facebook.

Among the five major social media changes in this article, this is the simplest because it did not introduce functionality. However, it may have had the greatest business impact, as it blurred the line between business and personal social media. It was the final stitch in a social quilt that displays all platforms equally, with users blending work and play every day in their social interactions.

LinkedIn is a different beast than the other social networks. There is an unwritten code of professional conduct, and less obsession with going viral than the other social sites. But when the 2017 design update published, it confounded the consumption of business news and personal news – a tangled web that will continue to intertwine.

Users can post stories on Facebook and Instagram, while both Twitter and LinkedIn are considering adding it as well. But Snapchat was where stories started, an ability to string short posts together which would remain available for 24 hours before disappearing into oblivion.

Twitter: The “In Case You Missed It” Algorithm (2017)

What is commonplace in 2020 was extremely controversial in 2017. Twitter had always shown users the most recent tweets first, giving more incentive to tweet as often as possible so more users would see them. However, the 2017 algorithm change led to Twitter showing the most relevant tweets to users. Of course, “most relevant” was completely based on an ever-changing algorithm that still works today.

This is now the standard for social media feeds, as all four major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) all show you the most relevant posts first. These are computed by a variety of factors, including engagements such as likes, comments, and shares. The algorithm is hard to really predict, and many blogs try to rationalize it for users.

For social media consumption, this now means many of us see the same subset of viral posts, with the rich getting richer in social currency terms. It has, in a sense, diluted the authenticity and created a fake sense or originality of posts. Many users will say anything to go viral, even if it means posting something that they wholly do not believe.

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