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Why authenticity was 2022’s social media buzzword

2022 saw social media change with dominant “legacy” players, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter giving way to platforms that prioritise simplicity and authenticity. 

This year many of us, especially the Gen Z youths among us, became disillusioned, feeling that the original power and purpose of social media platforms—staying connected with friends online—has been lost.

A research paper from Piper Sandler, in 2021 Gen Z social media usage fell across every major app, bar TikTok, and just 28 percent of US teens now use Facebook as their primary platform (to be fully honest, this statistic is far higher than I expected. I would have guessed 15% as a British Gen Z creator myself). 

A new wave of platforms is starting to gain both mindshare and market share, fueled by a desire for more authentic, meaningful online interactions with the people users choose to stay close to. The rise in popularity of Discord which now has more than 140 million users is an insightful example.

The popularity of 2022’s “miss congeniality” app, if it were, was BeReal. The hook is that you can’t view your friends’ posts unless you post yourself, encouraging usage in much more candid environments. With no likes, followers, ads, or filters, BeReal is already winning over Gen Z, amassing more than 2.9 million users and 20 million downloads worldwide. 

Poparazzi is another sign of what’s to come. Its “anti-Instagram” approach discourages edited or staged photos by only allowing users to post on each other’s profiles, not their own. Ninety-five percent of Poparazzi’s users are aged 14 to 21. These platforms offer a stripped-back experience tied to genuine connections and don’t encourage users to incessantly post stories or engage with a deluge of irrelevant content.

This desire for an ad-free, uncurated experience has set the tone for what to expect from social media in 2023. Naturally, we can expect to see the social giants (Meta and Twitter, namely) expand their product features and reshape themselves in these new players’ image, with varying success (Instagram has already launched a BeReal-style “Dual Camera” feature). There is speculation around the prospect of market consolidation, but it’s not clear whether the current regulatory landscape will allow this—perhaps encouraging these startups to work even harder and smarter at constructing innovative models of monetization over time.

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