The Year That Was: Social Media Trends in 2016

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For better or for worse, 2016 happened. What we can say is that it’s been an interesting year, and not just in a political or global event sense. The world of social media has continued to go from strength to strength, and is now so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine what life was like without it just a decade or so ago.

While old firms like Facebook and Instagram continued to collect users at will, others, like Twitter, had a more troublesome time of it, with usership appearing to stall. We had our first major social platform death, with the Twitter-owned Vine shutting up shop after it too found engagement waning. There were also some real up-and-comers that made some serious ground on the big boys in 2016, most notably Snap (formerly Snapchat).

So what were the overriding trends of social media in 2016? And what lessons can we gain from these ebbs and flows? Here are a few things to note about the social media year that was.

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Streamin’ It Live

One of 2016’s lighter moments was the four minutes of pure, unadulterated joy that was uploaded via Facebook Live in May. The Chewbacca Mask Lady took the World Wide Web by storm, and in a lot of ways signalled the arrival of the livestreaming feature on the world’s biggest social network. It was a major turning point for Periscope, the social platform that many had picked to be the big mover in 2016. Periscope is a purely live platform, whose demographic was pillaged almost instantly by a lady laughing hysterically in a Kohl’s parking lot.

The success of Facebook Live shouldn’t be underestimated. With Snapchat showing that there is a huge amount of people that are quite comfortable broadcasting a large chunk of their lives to the masses, live streaming your daily business is the obvious next step. But the fact that Facebook was able to launch into the market so successfully does spell trouble for other social networks looking to do the same.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

In the early days of social media the likes of Facebook and Twitter focussed on text over visual. That prioritisation slowly switched over the years, and has now progressed to the point where text-only posts on Facebook are essentially non-existent (for those that are interested in maximising likes, at least).

With the combination of stunning cameraphone quality, 5G internet speeds and unlimited data packages now the norm, there’s no real need to stick to text. A picture tells a thousand words, and there are 25 pictures in every second of video. The popularity of Snapchat and live streaming services only serves to reinforce this tendency away from text, and perhaps helps to explain Twitter’s recent stagnation.

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Less Is More

While the broad functionality offered by platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn is certainly useful, it appears it’s not exactly the future. The most successful platforms of 2016 – Snapchat and Instagram – have shown that not only does minimalism work, it’s the way forward.

Over and above the simple layouts and basic functionality that these platforms offer, with the introduction of Instagram Stories (in what Snapchat presumably refers to as shameless stealing) these two platforms also go minimal with the content that is produced. Expiring messages and stories mean that there’s never a build-up of content, and the app will forever retain its clean, simple look, no matter how heavily utilised it is.

2016 has indeed been a big year, and one in which the social media landscape has once again indelibly changed. What does 2017 hold for social media? Only a fool would speculate. What we can confidently say is that social media, as a sector, is not going to go backwards any time soon.

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