What Drives Massive Social Media User Shifts? Part 2 of 2

Alex Li

Alex Li

Founder / CEO

March 31, 2022

In our earlier blog about social media user shifts and behavior, we looked at why people love and leave one platform for another. Friendster lost to MySpace, and MySpace lost to Facebook. And while Facebook hasn’t necessarily fallen into Instagram’s shadow, the data illustrates a shift.

Facebook->-Instagram (continued). The user shift between Facebook and Instagram is complicated. Compared to Facebook, Instagram was generally more mobile-friendly–an important factor considering 80% of social media activity occurred on mobile. For the average person, a presence on Instagram required less effort than one on Facebook (posting a picture vs. crafting a paragraph-long post or what goes into maintaining an active presence within FB groups).

After Facebook’s purchasing of rival Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, the distrust from the former translated to the latter. Two years later, media speculated that Facebook would become the next MySpace, losing 80 million users. And eventually, people left Instagram for the same reason, including the founders of Instagram themselves.

From 2016 to 2018, the data says more people regularly used Instagram than Facebook. But the influencer wave was losing its luster; one agent said, “60% of [them] with more than 100,000 followers [were] actually losing followers month over month.” And while Instagram offered live video streams and editing capabilities, the functionalities were limited.

Then came Snapchat.

Instagram → Snapchat

At the tail end of 2019, the Snapchat app ranks 2nd worldwide based on overall mobile usage statistics; users generate 2,083,333 Snaps per minute. And while no available data would support the argument that users swapped Instagram for Snapchat, it does show that users split their time relatively equally between the two.

But what gave Snapchat its edge over other social media outlets? Data shows us history repeats itself, so its no surprise that generational distancing was a factor. Snapchat succeeded at winning over a younger demographic–90% of its users are between 13-24 years old.  And, much like Facebook’s ad oversaturation, Instagram users fell prey to digital marketing’s ambitions. Users are now seeing sponsored posts in their feeds, regardless of whether they follow the influencer or not. With a sense of spamming products ruining the experience, it was easier for Snapchat to look shinier. Remember the herd mentality, mentioned in our previous blog? Cue the media, which started running articles about why users should quit Instagram.

But remember–historical data (feeding into what we call “benchmark analytics”) shows our love of patterns. And almost overnight, TikTok seemed to offer something better.

Cause of shift: A competitors’ increased interactivity offerings, media hype, marketing overload, corporate buyout.


First, there was Vine and Musical.ly, but a more evolved option–TikTok–seemed to hit the sweet spot. Newer data says that TikTok has eclipsed Snapchat in worldwide downloads–surpassing Facebook and Instagram.  Like previous user shifts, people prefer TikTok’s more interactive capabilities, the creative factor, and the lack of digital marketing in their feeds.

Like other social media channels before it, Snapchat’s strengths and weaknesses eventually revealed themselves. The newest platform was popular for the youngest demographic of users; in 2017, it was the “network of choice” for teen users.

But people realized they could screenshot private messages set to disappear, taking away the control users had over what they published. Additionally, Snapchat’s financial security remained unclear, leaving invested users to wonder if they should search for the next big thing.

As we enter peak TikTok, marketers can benefit from a reminder that not all data is worth the attention, depending on the market they want to reach. For example, one key KPI for regional benchmarks shows that Asian countries dominate TikTok’s popularity–and the medium doesn’t always allow for easy translation of culturally-based memes or ideals. And, influencer engagement is now higher on TikTok than on Instagram or Twitter–which, if historical data hold consistent, does not spell great things for the hottest new social media platform.

Cause of shift: Platform uncertainty, competitor immaturity, grassroots appeal

The Anomalies: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest

One of Facebook’s weaknesses is that it tried to be everything–news distributor, clubhouse, data farm, sales channel. The social media survivors are those who have a clear and specific focus, understood what their users wanted–and left it at that.

If it’s one thing we can learn from all this data, its that originality and a specialized market focus accounts for a lot. Most user engagement on social media platforms is a result of competitors offering similar features in a more user-friendly way, or corporate abuse of user activity data. And in what seems like an industry anomaly, three social media platforms that have managed to avoid those death knells: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

No competitor has tried to replicate the uniqueness of these three outlets, which has helped them secure market share even as Daily Active Users (DAU) has fluctuated. (In fact, the hashtag  started with Twitter and grew into other platforms like Instagram). Twitter offered a level of

anonymity mixed with real-time public online chat in a more manageable format than forums like Reddit. Additionally, a lower quotient of digital advertisers dominates the outlets. Pinterest, while heavily visual-reliant like Instagram, was more organizational, aspirational, and required lower casual involvement from users. Ads are also much less apparent than on platforms like Facebook. LinkedIn advertises in a way that is immediately relevant to users, promoting posts around job openings or professional development. Feeds are relegated to professional communication with others in a similar industry.

What’s next? We suspect that recent events will stress the importance of useful, functional online networks more so than ever in the following months–if not years. No matter the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence today, nothing can predict the quotient of human creativity, and what that will bring to social networks in 2021 and beyond.

At Kubit, we believe in the power of human curiosity and ingenuity, two things that even the most advanced technology has not managed to mimic. But we can rest easy knowing our smart data analytics are likely to catch it before, well, just about anybody else.