Like so many other sectors in 2021, the social-media space saw changes few could have predicted.
Most prominently, the company formerly known as Facebook is now called Meta Platforms and is focused on a grand vision that many people kinda-sorta understand, called the metaverse. (See the VIP+ special report “Metaverse & Media” for a data-driven look at its impact and implications straight from forward-thinking industry execs.) Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who frequently broke social platforms’ content rules in the past with little consequence, was handed a permanent and two-year suspension by Twitter and Facebook, respectively, for posts related to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that flouted content guidelines.
But while there was a shortage of predictability with respect to social platforms in 2021, there are some educated guesses to be made as to what will happen next. Below are VIP+’s top five predictions for the social media sector in 2022 …
1. Clubhouse Is Acquired by Another Social Platform
The social-audio originator Clubhouse was red hot in early 2021, though much of that star power has appeared to fade since. For example, the number of global downloads in Clubhouse decreased quarter-over-quarter in Q2 and Q3 of this year, per Sensor Tower. The app has made significant changes throughout 2021 — like ditching its invite-only format and allowing native recording — but Sensor Tower numbers suggest the moves haven’t yet significantly boosted Clubhouse. It seems like it will be difficult for Clubhouse to soon get back to where it once was, given the sheer number of copycats by social giants out there, and the app will likely become more open to a sale as the months progress next year. As an acquirer, Meta seems out of the running due to potential antitrust concerns, but perhaps LinkedIn/Microsoft or even Reddit could kick the tires on Clubhouse.
2. TikTok Remains Most Downloaded Social App Throughout 2022
Social platforms in 2022 will continue to try and siphon users away from TikTok with copycat features, which didn’t appear to significantly dent its growth in 2021. Also, the Bytedance-owned app’s continued investment in its creator fund (which is aiming to grow to $1 billion+ by 2024) and monetization features will help it remain the most downloaded social app of next year. More than anything, it seems like TikTok will retain a meaningful competitive moat because many of its biggest stars don’t have the same reach on other social platforms, suggesting that these stars and many of their followers won’t want to leave the Byetdance-owned platform. As of November, the top 5 most followed TikTok accounts didn’t rank in the top 50 of any other social platform, per Axios.
3. Instagram Keeps the Kids' Version of Its App on Hold Until 2023
Meta has had probably the most headache-filled year of any major U.S.-based social-media platform parent, from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who made the WSJ’s damning “Facebook Files” possible, to the FTC’s antitrust lawsuits. So, yes, Facebook’s always facing regulatory heat, but specific PR headaches in 2021 caused Instagram to pause the development of its version of Instagram for under-13-year-olds and landed the app’s top exec, Adam Mosseri, in a hearing on consumer protection with lawmakers in December. At that hearing, Mosseri didn’t commit to completely abandoning the Instagram Kids initiative, but it seems unlikely the company would feel bold enough to release such a product in 2022, considering the Facebook Files revelations will still feel fresh.
4. YouTube Makes Hiding Dislikes Optional Again
The Alphabet-owned video platform in November started gradually hiding dislike counts for YouTube viewers in an effort to shield smaller creators from harassment. And while it’s still early days for that change, it seems possible that it’s caused at least some consumers to use YouTube less often. Some YouTube users likely now feel like they have a harder time sorting between which videos contain misleading information now that the like-dislike ratio is hidden. Meanwhile, some likely engage (i.e., thumbs up or thumbs down) with videos less often because they feel it won’t have as much of an impact. YouTube is likely to notice this trend in usage among certain users and go back to making hidden dislike counts optional on videos in a bid to ratchet up engagement.
5. Meta Lowers Price of Oculus Quest 2
It’s clear now that Meta’s main goal is to capitalize on the metaverse, but the company won’t be able to do that if lots of people aren’t comfortable with or used to socializing in VR worlds — eMarketer in April estimated that just 18% of the U.S. population would use VR monthly in 2021, for example. One way Meta could remedy this is by making its headsets more affordable so they could appeal to more consumers beyond dedicated gamers and VR enthusiasts. Meta’s most popular headset, the Oculus Quest 2 (also one of the market’s most popular VR headsets in general), currently starts at $299. Perhaps Meta could drop that price by, say, $50, which doesn’t seem out of the question given it plans on debuting a pricier and more technologically advanced headset in 2022 codenamed "Project Cambria.”