Social media isn’t social anymore.

I don’t yet know if this is true, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about and feeling recently. These are some of my early thoughts on the changing nature of social media…

TikTok changed everything.

Instagram, Facebook and Twitter used to be social media platforms.

They’re social media platforms now.

In the past

Platforms used to be centered around showing you stuff your friends are doing, or stuff you like. Give or take a few degrees of separation.

Because of this, your feed used to be in your control, it used to be something personal and curated. When you came across a new creator or post, you’d carefully consider if it should be a part of your feed. The social in social media meant that you mainly looked at posts made by your friends and creators you were interested in.

Here’s how it used to work:

  1. You follow your friends.
  2. Based on that, friends-of-friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends would get surfaced to you by the platform.
  3. Over time, you follow them and they follow you and you build your very own social network.
  4. As a result, your feed is full of people a few degrees of separation from you.
  5. Big picture: Social media helped you keep in touch with your friends and extend your friend circle.

In parallel, it also used to work like this:

  1. You search for something you’re interested in, like cafes, gymming, or cats.
  2. Over time, more creators based on your interests get surfaced to you.
  3. You follow them, see their stuff, and get shown more and more content based on those interests.
  4. As a result, your feed is full of creators with similar interests as you.
  5. Big picture: Social media helped you build new connections with new creators all across the world.

This no longer seems to be the case.

What it’s like now

TikTok is not social. It doesn’t particularly care about who you follow or your interests. It only cares about the time you spend on the app.

Your feed is out of your hands, and in TikTok’s.

Posts are now divorced from their creators. And users are drinking from a firehose of content which has the sole purpose of numbing you into submissive scrolling.

Because of its breakthrough success, all the other apps have had to follow suit.

Instagram finds ways to take you to the Explore page, to encourage you to mindlessly scroll.

X has started surfacing viral posts that are completely unconnected to you or your interests. Their only relevance to you is that the app thinks it will make you stay on Twitter longer.

How can you tell things are different now?

Evidence 1: Your feed has fewer and fewer posts from people you actually follow.

Evidence 2: Your attempts at curation don’t seem to have much of an impact on your feed.

Evidence 3: It’s hard to find a post (from TikTok or Instagram or X) once you’ve scrolled past it. The posts are so disconnected from your “network”, there are no digital breadcrumbs to lead you back to it.

The implications for creators

If it feels like your reach is dead, it’s because it is. Your follower count doesn’t matter anymore. You, as a creator, don’t matter any more.

You’re only as popular as your last viral post. In the past, you might make 90% of your content for followers and 10% to go viral to get new followers. Now, you might have to significantly adjust this ratio. Even the content for followers needs an element of virality to it if you want it to have a hope of appearing in front of them.

If all of this sounds miserable, it’s because it is. I’ve seen so many twitter friends leave the platform. I’ve also seen my feed turn to trash over time. All of which makes me less inclined to post as well.

Many will advise you to draw your existing fans closer via things like memberships, newsletters or Patreon.

While I love those things, I feel like they are complementary to social media, not substitutes. So doubling down on them doesn’t exactly plug the gaping hole that social media is leaving.

YouTube right now remains surprisingly social (your feed still shows videos from the creators you subscribe to).

It’s no wonder lots of TikTokers are flocking over to YouTube to build their following there.

However, it’s worth mentioning that YouTube isn’t exactly an oasis amidst a social media dystopia. Just like the rest of the platforms, YouTube is also a hellhole of ads.

In any case, YouTube only works for video content and not everyone wants to make videos. A good alternative still doesn’t exist for writing-based creators who used to crush it on Twitter.

The implications for consumers

Social media is dead. It’s just media now. Drink from the content firehose if that’s what you want.

But if you’re looking for the social aspect, you’ll have to put in extra effort to get it.

The implications for social media platforms

If you’re a platform that depends on user-generated content, and you’re screwing over the users who are generating content…

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to see that isn’t going to end well.

Look, I’m not saying these companies will die. It’s likely some of them will reinvent themselves – it’s possible that kids born in 2024 might only know Meta as a VR company.

However, I do think these platforms, in their original socially-oriented forms, will cease to exist.

The future

People love being social on the internet. I know I do.

So I imagine a new way to be social on the internet is going to emerge. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’m looking forward to it.