The Evolution of Social Media

By Rana Irfan · Published September 23, 2022

As Aristotle argued, humans are essentially social creatures who need to interact with others to satisfy their needs. The interaction may take various forms, and as technology advances, so do the ways of being social. Social media's evolution has only been made possible by the advances in information technology, the human intellect, and our hunger for interpersonal interactions.

So, How did social media begin, and how has it impacted the lives of billions? How have businesses adjusted to the digital lifestyle of consumers, and how do marketing pros utilize social media? Let's take a look at the answers to those questions and see if we can figure out the beast that is social media.

What Is Social Media

Social media refers to computer-based technology that enables the exchange of ideas, opinions, and information via community-based virtual networks. Internet-based social media facilitate rapid electronic sharing of content such as personal data, documents, videos, and photos. Social media platforms usually contain user-generated content and personalized accounts.

While social media is pervasive in the United States and Europe, Middle Eastern countries UAE rank first in terms of social media usage. As of July 2022, statistics indicate that more than 4.5 billion individuals use social media worldwide. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter are the most popular social media platforms.

Social Media: A Brief History

Social media has rapidly progressed from direct electronic information sharing to virtual reality, from fostering social interactions to a digital marketing platform. It has become the most popular option for marketers, entrepreneurs, artists, and other professionals.

Today, everyone is familiar with social media and is aware of its significance and influence. Even the most remote regions have access to major social media sites like Facebook and TikTok. Statistics show people spend around 2.5 hours daily on social networking sites.

The hype and impact of social media weren't always so widespread. In truth, social media did not always exist in its current form.

Pre Internet Roots

The origins of social networking go far deeper than you may imagine. Although it appears to be a recent phenomenon, websites like Facebook are the inevitable result of centuries of social media evolution.

In a way, social media emerged on May 24, 1844, with the transmission of electrical dots and dashes through a telegraph. Electrical signals had to be sent through a wire from one station to the next for the telegraph to work. The Morse code allocated a series of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet and facilitated the transmission of complicated messages via telegraph wires.

In his book The Victorian Internet, author Tom Standage tells a story about a marriage ceremony that took place over the telegraph. The story seems to have come from the 1848 book Anecdotes of the Telegraph.

Telegraph operators sent the couple's vows and the magistrate's comments officiating the wedding over the wires while the bride was in Boston and the groom was in New York. As a result, the world's first electronic communications network was called into action to link individuals in a personal way.

Although the telegraph doesn't fully fit into the definition of modern social media sites, it did pave the way for internet-based digital communication.

Post Internet Roots of Social Media

In the 20th century, technology began to evolve at an accelerated rate. After the invention of the first supercomputers in the 1940s, scientists and engineers began to research methods for establishing networks between these computers. This would eventually result in the birth of the internet.

  • The internet's earliest forms, such as CompuServe, were created in the 1960s.
  • Most recent accounts of the origins of the modern Internet and social media trace to the Advance Research Projects Agency Network's (ARPANET) creation in 1969. This early digital network allowed scientists from four universities to share software, hardware, and data.
  • Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) was the first type of internet site that enabled users to log in and communicate. It was introduced in the late 1970s and remained popular until the late 1990s.
  • During this period, primitive kinds of the email were also created.
  • In 1979, UseNet enabled users to interact via a virtual newsletter.
  • In the 1980s, personal computers became more prevalent, and social media became increasingly sophisticated.
  • In 1986, the National Science Foundation created the NSFNET, a more powerful, countrywide digital network that served as the internet's primary ancestor.
  • IRCs, or Internet relay chats, were introduced in 1988 and were popular long into the 1990s.
  • The first true social media platform was introduced in 1997.

The Emergence of Social Media Platforms

As with every other phenomenon, social media as we know it has a beginning. Here are some early social networking platforms pertaining to how it all started.

SixDegrees.Com (1997)

SixDegrees.Com (1997)

It probably wouldn't be too inaccurate to suggest that modern social media began with SixDegrees. SixDegrees, officially launched in 1997 by Andrew Weinreich, is generally recognized as the first social media site. The website enabled users to establish a profile page, build friends list, and exchange messages within networks.

Before being acquired for $125 million, the service had attracted around one million users. Even though SixDegrees closed in 2001, it made a modest comeback and is still around today.

Hot or Not (2000)

Hot or Not (2000)

A profoundly controversial website that probably wouldn't be allowed today, Hot or Not, was a platform that allowed users to post images of themselves so that others may appraise their attractiveness. It is said that the site inspired the developers of YouTube and Facebook whilst simultaneously fostering the insecurities of millions of people.

After going through many ownership changes, its current owners attempted in 2014 to resurrect it as a "game." But, this attempt was not fruitful, and the site has now been lost to the cannons of an internet age best forgotten about.

Friendster (2002)

Friendster (2002)

Friendster, like Six Degrees, enabled users to log in with their email addresses, make new friends, and create personal connections. People were also allowed to share videos, photos, and messages with each other. It also allowed comments on other users' profiles, as long as they were part of the same personal network.

A few months after its introduction, Friendster had more than 3 million users, which eventually surpassed one hundred million. Friendster terminated its operations on June 14, 2015, due to a lack of participation by the online community. Three years later, on June 30, 2018, the company ceased operations and ultimately liquidated.

Myspace (2003)

Myspace (2003)

MySpace, after its launch on August 1, 2003, swiftly grew to become the largest social networking site in the world, linking millions of active members worldwide. It began as a platform for file storage but swiftly converted into a social network, which led to its spectacular increase in popularity.

Its user-customizable public profiles (which frequently included music, videos, and half-naked selfies) were accessible to anybody, providing a welcome contrast to Friendster's private profiles, which were solely accessible to registered members.

Myspace peaked in 2005 with 25 million users as the 5th most popular website in the United States. It was later sold to NewsCorp, and this was when its decline started from ultra-trendy to ultra-cheap.

Modern Social Media Outlets

Facebook

Background

Facebook is a social media giant owned by Meta. Facebook was launched in 2004 by Harvard University students Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes. The original purpose of Facebook was to allow Harvard students to interact using their ".edu" email addresses and images. More than 50% of the student body at Harvard had accounts within a month of its inception, and 1,200 students had established profiles in the first 24 hours.

Initially, only Harvard University students were able to join the social network. However, as time passed, membership expanded to include the Ivy League, the Boston area, and other colleges in Canada and the United States. By September 2006, Facebook allowed users to register if they are least 13 years old and had a valid email address.

Active Since

  • Active since February 4, 2004

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

Target Audience

  • Facebook's key target audience comprises individuals between the ages of 24 and 44.
  • Facebook's primary audience mainly consists of the male population.

Annual Revenue

  • Facebook's annual revenue amounted to roughly 117 billion US dollars in 2021.
Twitter

Background

Twitter dates back to early 2006, when NYU student Jack Dorsey introduced a unique online communication concept with his colleagues at the podcasting company Odeo. Like sending text messages, Dorsey envisioned a platform that would allow users to communicate brief messages with groups of people. The initial version of this platform was known as "twttr" and was used exclusively by Odeo employees.

Twitter was made available to the public on July 15, 2006, with around 20,000 tweets per day in the first few months. In 2007, when Twitter was a hot topic at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, this number grew to 60,000. In 2008, Evan Williams deposed Dorsey as chief executive officer, and two years later, Williams was succeeded as CEO by then chief operating officer Dick Costolo. Right now, Parag Agrawal is the CEO of Twitter.

Active Since

  • Active since July 15, 2006

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

  • Twitter has 237.8 million monetizable daily active users (mDAU) globally.

Target Audience

  • The United States, Japan, India, Brazil, and Indonesia have the highest Twitter advertising audiences.
  • Almost 60% of Twitter users are between 25 and 49 years old.
  • Twitter has one of the most educated social media users, with 42% of its users possessing a bachelor's degree or above.
  • 56.4% of the Twitter audience are male.

Annual Revenue

  • Twitter's total revenue in FY 2021 was around 5.8 billion dollars.
Reddit

Background

Reddit is among the most visited websites and one of the biggest online forums. It is a place for learning, sharing, debating, and a community-building platform. Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian launched Reddit on June 23, 2005, in Medford, Massachusetts.

Y Combinator (YC), an American startup financier, granted Reddit $100,000. Later that year, Reddit joined with Infogami (now inactive) and began to collaborate with Aaron Swartz. In 2006, Huffman and Ohanian sold Reddit to Condé Nast Publications for about $10 million. In 2013, Reddit started working with Bitcoin and let people pay for Gold subscriptions with Bitcoin.

Active Since

  • Active since June 23, 2005

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

  • Approximately 1.7 billion monthly active users as of May 2022.

Target Audience

  • About 36% of Reddit users are between the ages of 18 and 29.
  • Approximately 63.8% of Reddit users are male.

Annual Revenue

  • In 2021, Reddit generated around $439 million in revenues from its online advertising business.
Instagram

Background

Kevin Systrom introduced Instagram in 2010 as a video and photo-sharing social media app. Instagram was introduced on October 6, 2010, and 25,000 users downloaded it within 24 hours. In February 2011, Instagram secured $7 million in Series A investment. Benchmark Capital, one of its investors, valued the company at about $25 million.

Facebook (now Meta) made a bid to acquire Instagram in April 2012 for around $1 billion in cash and shares on the condition that the firm stays independently managed. Soon after, just before its initial public offering (IPO), Facebook bought the company for $1 billion in cash and stock.

Active Since

  • Active since October 6, 2010

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

  • In 2021, Instagram had 1.21 billion monthly active users, which is estimated to reach 1.28 billion by the end of 2022.

Target Audience

  • Almost 62% of Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 34.
  • 50.7% of users are male audience whereas 49.3% are female.

Annual Revenue

Note: Facebook does not publish Instagram's income; thus, all values mentioned are estimates.

TikTok

TikTok

Background

TikTok is a video-sharing platform dedicated to creating and consuming short videos by users. The duration of the videos ranges between 15 and 60 seconds. TikTok's history is a little different from other social media platforms, initially beginning as three main apps.

  • The first of them was a well-known application known as Musical.ly, which was initially emerged in Shanghai in the year 2014.
  • In 2016, the Chinese tech giant ByteDance introduced a similar app named Douyin. Within a year, it gained 100 million users in China and Thailand.
  • ByteDance believed that it was onto something and planned to grow under a new brand name: TikTok. In 2018, it acquired Musical.ly, integrated it with Douyin, and started TikTok's global expansion.

TikTok is currently available in over 150 regions and has offices in Beijing, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, Los Angeles, and Seoul. TikTok was globally the most downloaded app of 2021.

Active Since

  • Active since September 2016.

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

  • As of September 2021, TikTok had about 1 billion active monthly users and is expected to reach 1.5 billion by the end of 2022.

Target Audience

  • Around 43.7% of all TikTok users are between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • 56.2% of TikTok's global users are female, and 43.8% are male.

Annual Revenue

  • TikTok generated $4 billion in annual revenue in 2021 and is expected to make it $12 billion in FY 2022.
LinkedIn

Background

Reid Hoffman and several other co-founders established LinkedIn in 2002 before formally launching it on May 5, 2003. In August of 2004, LinkedIn reached the milestone of one million users - a considerable amount for the time - and by March of 2006, it had officially become profitable. In 2008, LinkedIn surpassed 10 million users and introduced a mobile app to enable smartphone users to access the platform directly.

Silicon Valley Insider named LinkedIn as the tenth most valuable startup in America in October 2010. In December 2010, LinkedIn was valued at $1.57 billion US Dollars. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 and subsequently declared it a subsidiary. To this day, Microsoft still owns LinkedIn but primarily lets the platform to operate independently.

Today, under the supervision of Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn operates a diversified company that generates revenue through membership subscriptions, advertising sales, and recruiting solutions. Unlike Facebook and Myspace, LinkedIn is mostly used for building professional relationships. Users may create profiles with information about themselves that is akin to a resume. LinkedIn allows individuals to look for opportunities, establish connections (even third-hand), and take suggestions from other users.

Active Since

  • Active since May 5, 2003

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

  • Roughly 89.73 million active users in the US. Worldwide monthly active users of LinkedIn are not known.

Target Audience

  • About 57.2% of LinkedIn's global users are males
  • Over 77% of users are from outside the United States.
  • Nearly 60% of LinkedIn's users are between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • #India is the most popular hashtag on LinkedIn, with 67.7 million followers.

Annual Revenue

  • LinkedIn's total annual revenue surpassed $10 billion in FY 2021.
Snapchat

Background

Snapchat is a one-on-one and group messaging application that allows users to send photos, videos, and text messages that vanish after a few seconds. Evan Spiegel, Reggie Brown, and Bobby Murphy, who were all students at Stanford University when they founded Snapchat in 2011. Initially, it was known as Picaboo and was exclusive to iOS users.

Snapchat introduced two new features in 2013: "Stories" and "Chat." The story feature allowed Snapchat users to submit a sequence of snaps that were available for 24 hours. Introduced in May 2014, the Chat feature enabled users to engage in live video chat within the chat window. Later that year, Snapchat released Geo filters that enabled users to personalize content and share their location at the moment of posting.

Active Since

  • Active since September 16, 2011

Monthly Active Users (MAU)

  • In 2021, Snapchat had over 428 million monthly active users globally. Over 500 million monthly active users are expected by 2024.

Target Audience

  • 39% of Snapchat's advertising audience consists of those aged 18 to 24.
  • People over 50 are Snapchat's fastest-growing demographics.
  • 54% of Gen Z snappers use the app at least once a week.
  • 52.9% of Snapchat users worldwide identify as female.
  • India has the largest Snapchat advertising audience, with 126 million snap users.

Annual Revenue

  • In 2021, Snap Inc. generated approximately 4.11 billion US dollars in global annual revenue.

Failed Social Media Platforms

Due to the rapid evolution of the internet and the constant emergence of new players, not all social media apps lasted in the competitive social media landscape. MySpace, for instance, was the most frequented website in the world in 2006, but in 2011 it lost 10 million unique visitors in a single month. Here are some social media sites that didn't work out so well, so you can see the other side of the coin.

Google Wave and Google Buzz

No matter what form it took (Google Wave, Google Buzz, or Google+), none of Google's attempts to challenge Facebook's market dominance were effective. Wave lasted only one year before being replaced by Buzz, which soon met the same fate. Even FriendFeed, which was started in 2007 by former Google executives, was acquired by Facebook and shut down permanently in 2015.

Bebo

Bebo, which debuted in 2005 in the US, briefly surpassed MySpace as the most popular social network. However, it rapidly began losing members to Facebook, and in 2013 the firm declared bankruptcy. There have been many ownership transitions since then, and while it was expected to return in 2021, the re-launch is still in beta.

Itunes Ping

Ping, which debuted in 2010, was Apple's effort to enter the social networking market by linking people with artists. The site, which initially had 1 million subscribers, was shut down in 2012 and replaced with Twitter and Facebook social network integration.

Dailybooth

DailyBooth, a photo-blogging website that emerged more than a year before Instagram, urged its users to snap a photo every day and caption it. After its introduction in early 2009, the site gained widespread popularity among celebrities and social media influencers. Within a year, three million photos were uploaded, and ten million comments were made. However, in 2012 AirBnB acquired DailyBooth in an attempt to modernize the tourism industry. After a few months, nobody remembered the website.

What Is SMM (Social Media Marketing)

Social media marketing (SMM), sometimes referred to as digital marketing and e-marketing, is the use of social media to grow a company's brand, improve sales, and increase website traffic.
Social media marketing (SMM) features purpose-built data analytics that enables marketers to monitor the effectiveness of their efforts and uncover further engagement opportunities.

Benefits of Social Media Marketing

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Enhance website traffic
  • Accelerated and simplified content distribution
  • Consistent engagement with the target audience
  • Industry, market, and competitor assessments

How Do Marketing Pros Use Social Media?

The evolution of social media assessment tools has provided marketing professionals with complete access to valuable, actionable insights regarding consumer demographics, purchasing habits, and other factors.

The question is how marketing experts utilize social media to get the desired results. Below are some of the most helpful tips for planning your social media marketing strategy like a pro marketer.

Choose Your Social Media Platform Wisley

Choose your social media websites based on your target audience, the platforms that are prevalent in your business, and your bandwidth. Only adopt as many platforms as you can actively maintain. You may always begin with one and gradually add more as you gain proficiency.

Set Your Goals and Objectives

Your goals should be short and task-oriented to begin with, such as posting once every day for a month, setting up your profiles, or conducting a competitive analysis. After adopting a routine and gathering data, you will be able to set more precise and strategic goals, such as increasing your following by X% or publishing X [kind of material you've discovered your audience like] every month.

Use Content Creation Tools

If you wish to stand out in a user's feed, you must combine your social media posts with appealing graphics, such as images, drawings, and artfully rendered text. Content creation platforms like Canva include templates and functionality that let you generate professional visuals with your branding.

Measure Success With Analytics

Put tracking tags in your social media marketing campaigns to monitor them effectively. And be sure to utilize the analytics provided by each social site to have a deeper understanding of which of your social media performs best with your audience.

Wrap Up

Humans are social beings, and human interaction is what drives commerce. These two elements will continue to shape the evolution of social media long into the foreseeable future.

How will social media evolve? Well, we can only speculate what the future will bring, but change is certain in this rapidly evolving sector. And most important of all: it will continue to be an integral part of our lives.

How do you envision the future of social media? Let us know in the comment box. We love reading your feedback.

Thank you!

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