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Hooked on the Socials – 2022 Was a Record Year for Social Apps, But Platforms Are Struggling to Monetise This

It makes sense that 2020 and 2021 would be big years for social media apps. As Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns made themselves known across the world, this technology helped us to stay in touch with one another, keeping us connected through the worst. But it seems this trend has continued, even as lockdowns ease. A report released by data.ai found that the total time spent on social apps rose by 17%, year on year, in 2022. This includes more than 2 trillion hours on Android phones alone.

This kind of exposure is a valuable resource for marketers, and many organisations are already seeking to monetise interest in social media channels. TikTok – which originated in The People’s Republic of China but has achieved worldwide dominance in the past few years – has shown itself to be particularly ripe for monetisation. The platform sells in-app coins to its users, not only generating income for TikTok’s shareholders but also enabling creators themselves to receive revenue from viewers. TikTok’s coins are used to pay for content subscriptions, buy items from within the app, or simply as a gift or donation for creators.

Monetisation – a Key Priority Across the Global Social Landscape

Traditionally, it’s been TikTok’s vast domestic audience in China itself that has driven these in-app purchases. Other worldwide markets have been slower to jump on the ‘premium social channel’ bandwagon, but this is changing. The data.ai report suggested that the USA has now surpassed China, and its fellow Asia-Pacific nation, Japan, in the in-app spending stakes.

What’s more, other global markets are getting in on the act. In 2019, the US, China, and Japan accounted for 70% of global consumer social spending. By 2022, this had fallen to 60%, while spending around the globe grew threefold. The appetite for consumer spending on social apps is well and truly there. Creators and developers must strike the right balance between free, accessible content and premium, monetised offerings.

While TikTok seems to be the closest to striking this balance, other big players in the social market are a little off the pace. Twitter, for example, was the subject of immense intrigue and speculation in 2022 after the takeover by Elon Musk. However, the new ownership’s premium verification schemes proved controversial. Neither the scrapped Twitter Blue nor the $8 verification subscription that followed it were particularly well received, and the social giants may need to try a different tack if they are to monetise their platform in the way TikTok has.

Other social platforms have fared a little better with their own programs. Snapchat, for instance, offers its own premium subscription version, Snapchat+. This version of the channel has proved fairly popular and provides the company with a substantial chunk of its revenue. Instagram has also done reasonably well out of its Livestream Badge programs, while Facebook is now generating quite a bit of its annual revenue through its Supporter subscription offering.

But it’s difficult to compare and contrast these numbers. The report outlines the success of the programs according to uptake volume and percentage of total company revenue – rather than raw sales data. It’s likely that all the big social media players still need to iron out their strategy and their business model in the coming years.

New Players Entering the Market — But Slowly

data.ai’s report shows that the big hitters are still top of the tree in terms of app hodownloads. Meta’s social properties – Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp – are dominating the app downloads field, sitting first, third and fourth, respectively, in the global table. Messenger, an off-shoot of Meta’s Facebook, also scores highly in regional markets.

But the report suggests that other players may be entering the space, slowly but surely. The report singled out BeReal as something of a breakout star, adding 5.3 million users in the United States in August 2022 alone. The simplified, streamlined version of a modern social platform achieved the biggest monthly growth of any social platform in the last five years. However, BeReal is still struggling to turn this popularity into direct revenue and seems unsure of its future direction regarding ads and subscriptions.

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