If there’s one thing that can be said in certainty about Gen Z, it’s that we love ourselves a good social media app. With the oldest of our generation having made the transition from begging our parents for Facebook accounts when we were in middle school, to fueling the rise of the once-revolutionary Instagram app (and everything in between– Snapchat, Vine, TikTok, and BeReal to name a few), social media is a natural instinct for Gen Z. With the rise and fall of different social media platforms before our eyes, it leaves us wondering what the future of social media will look like– can we expect these various platforms to keep popping up and gaining popularity? Or will existing major tech companies simply try to mimic the features of the new apps, shutting down any arising competitor (think: the rise and fall of Vine due to Instagram’s adoption of video features)?
We have seen evidence of both these reactions in the past. The decline of one social media platform in particular is crucial to defining Gen Z’s digital footprint: Facebook. The fall of Facebook was a slow burn. It started with older people (rather than just teens) infiltrating the platform. This shifted us towards Instagram– a newer, hipper website that had similar functions to Facebook’s photo-sharing, but was sleeker and trendier. In recent years, we’ve seen the same things that happened to Facebook happen to Instagram, this time with TikTok being the younger, hipper social media form that steals the thunder. TikTok took Instagram’s video aspect and ran with it— eventually creating a platform so powerful and loved that Instagram had to adapt its own practices to mirror TikTok to stay afloat.
On the other hand, we have social media platforms that have explored new methods of connection. There is one platform in particular that stands at the forefront of this movement now: BeReal. BeReal has proved revolutionary in many ways. It embraces our generation’s love for photo sharing, authenticity, and connection, while rejecting the formality and polishedness of other platforms. It is, however, crucial to mention that the rise of authenticity in social media definitely started with TikTok, as people posted more casually and in a less curated fashion. When people post their BeReals, they’re giving their friends insight into the reality of their lives– an unmanicured, brutally honest, glimpse into their everyday routine– and Gen Z responds well to this. Dying is the trend of presenting a perfect, unflawed life on social media. Gen Z is all about being real.
With all this development of new and existing social media apps, it begs the question of where the future of social media is headed if fewer and fewer companies are creating new sharing innovations? Will we be stuck in an endless loop of the same photo and video sharing methods we’re already using? Or will new innovative functions, like that of BeReal, continue to pop up and dominate? It’s also crucial to consider how new technologies (think artificial intelligence, holograms, etc.) could breed new social media forms in the future.
As social media platforms continue to evolve, we also must contemplate what these changes mean in regards to content creation. Right now, the trend that dominates social media is short form video content, but, is it possible that we’ll see a change occur as more people are embracing the still photography necessary to capture BeReals? In the future could there even be new social media apps that require a different kind of content rather than photo, video, or text? What might this look like?
Overall, we’re seeing new innovations in socials left and right. TikTok now has stories. Snapchat has a fully operating news feature. There are whispers of Instagram demoing BeReal’s technology to add a similar feature to their own app. While we can conjecture all we want, only time will tell what the future of social media holds. We’ll just have to wait and see if big tech companies continue to copy competitors’ ideas, or if the free market’s spirit of deviation from the norm will reign supreme.
Jamie Pearl is a 23-year-old photographer and creative from Seattle, Washington. Having recently relocated to NYC, she has focused her efforts on photography, social media marketing, and other various creative pursuits. Jamie has shot imagery for Pinterest, Getty Images, Goldenvoice, and a plethora of musical artists, from Macklemore to Odezsa. Jamie is an avid runner, music and pop culture guru, and lover of anything bright and colorful!