Every year we're reminded just how powerful social media is. It's a phenomenal a tool for building brands and businesses and connecting people across the globe in new ways. And every year we're also reminded just how fragile social media apps are.
From staggering rises in popularity to sharp declines, new features to new controversies, social media apps had quite the whirlwind year in 2023. Let's look at some of the biggest moments from the last 12 months.
Twitter (Or, Uh, "X") Becomes Social Media App Non Gratis In Advertiser Eyes
In a year of some truly big moves, it's hard to pick a top moment for social media apps. It's even hard to pick a top moment for probably the most-talked about app of the year: Twitter. Or, uh, "X."
But without question, the overall brand nosedive that one of the earliest and most culturally impactful social media apps took takes the cake for the biggest social media app moment in 2023. Though Elon Musk officially took over the app in late 2022, it wasn't until this year that he truly wreaked havoc on the company's business.
For starters, Musk's seemingly sudden and still very incomplete branding switch from Twitter to X became a punchline across the tech world. But then in a very dark and unfunny twist, Musk also personally started reinstating some of the most dangerous and harmful accounts previously banned on the app.
As a result, advertisers started learning of their products being shown next to all kinds of terrible content, including white nationalist and Nazi propaganda. Naturally, many of the biggest companies stopped advertising on the platform. In late October (before the advertiser exodus), the platform was valued at $19 billion, meaning Musk's leadership had tanked the company's value from the $44 billion he bought it for a year prior. We don't know what it's worth now with even less advertiser support, but we doubt that number has gone up.
BeReal Tumbles From The Public Consciousness
Most of you are probably just now remembering that BeReal is technically still a thing. Most of the rest of you still don't know what it is. But maybe a small percentage still use it? At least those are the odds after the app made headlines in Spring 2023 for suffering huge declines in membership only a few months after it was christened the "next big thing" in social media.
It's not fair to say BeReal is "over" by any stretch of the imagination — the app just announced some big new features and technically still commands 25 million daily users. Those are numbers plenty of fledgeling social media apps would absolutely love to see.
But after such massive public growth, the equally rapid descent is a reminder that you have to be built for the long haul, not simply built for the moment. And considering popular apps like TikTok introduced — and then removed — functionality similar to BeReal's core feature, it's plenty likely that BeReal won't rebound to be a household name, but will settle into a nice, niche app for certain communities.
Hover Shuts The Door While Pulling The Rug
On January 5, 2023, promising new app Hover officially shut down. Bummer. But the way they did it — with nary a peep and plenty of people wondering what the heck was going on — was even more of a bummer.
It was a bummer, because Hover was a really good idea. Basically, create an app that introduces the discovery functionality completely missing on Twitch. We won't really know why the app ultimately shut down (other than making some pretty decent guesses about funding). There's a chance that the user base was still way too much focused on streamers instead of fans of streams.
Whatever the reason, it was the first major social media app casualty of the year. Womp.
Twitch Pulls A "JK, LOL" On Its Nudity Policy
Twitch isn't technically a social media app, but up until a few weeks ago the biggest story of the year for the platform was going to be how it added social media-esque features. That's because the platform has heard user complaints about the lack of discoverability and introduced some pretty cool new features aimed at tackling this issue. Things like a clips-based discovery feed and "stories" that can go out to followers.
You know, social media stuff.
But then Twitch had to go and pull a truly bizarre (or simply very undercooked) move and make major updates to its nudity policy only to rescind them days later. It's a perplexing move at the end of a year where the platform made some genuinely good strides towards repairing some waning user confidence.
Kick Comes Onto The Scene With A...Well, Kick
Speaking of that waning user confidence in Twitch...well, 2023 brought forth potentially the biggest direct Twitch competitor since Mixer: Kick. And that's only partially because the platform is essentially a direct ripoff of Twitch. (Seriously, pull up the platforms side-by-side in your monitory. Yikes).
It's also because a lot of streamers very vocally made the switch over to Kick, since they immediately started earning nearly twice the revenue from their subscriptions. But if you wondered what the catch is, well, it looks like Kick has already accumulated quite the baggage.
Threads And The Year Of The Twitter Alternatives
Let's see, let's see...what else happened in the world of social media apps in 20-OH YEAH THERE WAS AN ENTIRELY NEW PLATFORM LAUNCHED BY META TO DIRECTLY COMPETE WITH TWITTER. Sorry for yelling. It's just a little hilarious how much has happened in 2023. So much that an entirely new app from the largest social media company in the world only appeared like, past the halfway point of this article.
Threads is an intriguing app. First of all, it's funny that Meta decided to attach it so closely to Instagram that Instagram is "technically" even in the name of the app when you download it. But kudos to them for recognizing most people don't have a positive brand association with "Meta," but do with "Instagram."
It's not all just psychological, though. Threads did some really interesting things very well right off the bat, including making it very easy to bring your community from Instagram over. Of all the Twitter (ugh, "X") competitors out there, Threads is probably the most compelling.
But that brings us to the real point. This was clearly the year of throwing any potential microblogging site to the wall and seeing if it stuck. From Post to Spoutible to Mastodon to Bluesky Social to Threads, a whole array of new Twitter alternatives flooded the market as users began leaving Musk's mess behind.
Will any of them truly carve out a space as influential as Twitter? Only time will tell.
Patreon Completes A Years-Long Update
In more "not really a social media app but now embracing social media app features" news, Patreon completed a huge overhaul of its platform and brand. Years of work in the making, the new Patreon does several interesting things to bridge the gap between fan clubs and social media.
Probably the most interesting is that it introduced a free "following" feed that allows you to get chronological updates directly from creators you follow (without necessarily having to pay money to be part of their Patreon). It harkens back to the early days of most apps, which originally showed chronological feeds long before algorithms started suggesting new ways to retain eyes.
OnlyFans Goes To The Next Level
OnlyFans continued its (probably unsustainable) growth in 2023, showing a nearly 175% increase in revenue over the last few years and onboarding new creators and users at a healthy clip. The app has more than 3 million registered creators and 420 million monthly active users.
The app has also made big strides to attract more creators outside of adult content, including a major tennis star. It's a little baffling that more non-adult entertainment creators aren't looking at the app as a serious option when it comes to creator monetization. But if the app continues to grow at the pace it is and onboards a variety of more users from different fields, it has a legitimate shot at being the go-to mobile app for paywalled content.
AI Aye Aye
And of course, what would 2023 be without the onslaught of AI-based apps and features? Though the temperature may already be cooling on all this "AI-powered" tech buzz, social media apps rushed to both introduce new features and safeguard users against the many potential implications of AI.
At the heart of the matter is generative AI, which depending on who you ask is the biggest threat to creators since digital piracy, a useful toolset to bolster creativity, a waning fad, or maybe a little bit of all of it. As the government introduces new steps to address AI, apps start to require users to identify content using AI, and more companies pop up to try to help creators monetize different AI-based opportunities, one thing is clear: nothing about AI is that clear.
So what will 2024 bring? Potentially some slightly calmer seas in the world of social media. Or maybe even more chaos, death, life, and rebirth. If it's anything like 2023, we're in for quite the year.