Looking back on the social media landscape of 2013, a few things become clear: first, companies were actively taking lessons from the failures of the past, and doing whatever they could to avoid them. And second, this was the year where social media really started to grow up, and to be taken seriously by the establishment.
So, here are the biggest events to happen in social media over the past year:
1. Twitter goes public, and avoids Facebook's mistakes
Unlike last year's Facebook IPO, which became a giant mess, in the days after with lawsuits from investors and investigations by government agencies and both Houses of Congress, Twitter had a much quieter, and more successful, debut.
The reason? Because Twitter actively avoided making some of the same mistakes that Facebook did.
That began with how the company chose to disclose that it was filing: doing so confidentially by taking advantage of a rule in the Jumpstart Our Business Startup (JOBS) Act, signed last year, which loosened regulations for "emerging growth companies," which only applies to companies with less than $1 billion in revenue.
This was done to avoid the close scrutiny that Facebook was unable to avoid. Twitter was not forced to reveal any of its information until a little over a month before it went public, giving investors and the media less time to pick it apart.
And Twitter's "don't be Facebook" strategy also applied to what it did in the lead-up to its IPO.
Remembering that Facebook's stock only started to rebound once it proved it could run effective mobile ads, Twitter made sure to prove the effectiveness of the network, including how Tweets drive offline sales, as well as advertising on television.
2. Facebook loses teens
News that teens were abandoning the site dogged Facebook all year. A report from back in April, put out by Piper Jaffray, found that interest among teens in old guard social media was on the decline, and that they were finding their own networks, specifically ones that their parents had not discovered yet.
Facebook, of course, denied it until Facebook's Chief Financial Officer admitted that the problem does exist. in a conference call following the company's most recently earnings report.
“We did see a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens," he said. Those 12 words spooked investors enough to give back all of the company's gains that day, and it has been trying to backtrack the comment ever since.
Now some might say that teens getting off Facebook is good for them, and for adults on the network, but that is definitely not true from Facebook's perspective. Hooking in teens for any social network is important from an advertising perspective. Simply put: this is the demographic advertisers covet, and the more of them that are on the site the more money it can make.
Years from now, when we look back 2013, it just be might be remembered as the year that the old guard, began ceeding control to a new crop of social media sites (see #3 below).
3. The rise of Snapchat
As Facebook sees teens flee, another upstart social network has been taking advantage.
The first time I ever heard of Snapchat was right around this time last year, when it was first reported that Facebook was looking to build its own app to compete with it. (That app was eventually called Poke. It was a big failure). The idea sounded interesting to me: an app that allowed users to have more control over what people could do with the messages they sent. But I had no idea what was about to happen in 2013.
Snapchat simply exploded this year. It's become so popular that a Pew study from October found that 9% of all phones now have the Snapchat app installed on them. It recently announced that its users were sending 350 million snaps every single day, up from 200 million in June.
Was it the wise decision to turn down those offers? Only time will tell. But 2013 was definitely the year of Snapchat.
4. Vine vs. Instagram
Another big shaker that popped up in 2013 was Vine, which officially debuted in January (though I can't be the only one who feels it's been around much longer than that). Vine, of course, is the app, owned by Twitter, that allows users to take six second-long videos of themselves.
The app proved to be fairly popular, getting up to 13 million users by June, but, as with any successful product, though, there will be a rash of imitators and copiers, looking to bring you down.
In this case that threat came from directly from Instagram, which debuted its own video feature in June, allowing users to make videos that are between 3 and 15 seconds long.
The general consensus at the time seemed to be that this move by Instagram would prove to be a Vine killer. I mean, after all, Instagram had over 100 million users, compared to Vine's 13 million. No contest, right?
Wrong, actually, and for one key reason: Instagram pulled this move out just as Vine had debuted on Android. Ty then it was apparently too late to take it down, though; by August, Vine had more than tripled its userbase to 40 million.
So now Vine and Instagram are direct competitors, which will no doubt be a good thing for users of both services going forward.
5. Facebook bounces back
2013 may have been the year that Facebook started losing the youngins, but it was also the year that the company bounced back from what Zuckerberg himself called an "extremely turbulent" first year as a public company.
Starting with the posting of its second quarter 2013 earnings at the end of July, the company has seen a remarkable turnaround in its stock price since.
In that earnings report, Facebook posted revenue of $1.181 billion for the quarter, beating Wall Street's estimates of $1.62 billion, and up 53% from $1.18 billion in the second quarter of 2012.
Investors were impressed by the gains the company reported in mobile, in both revenue and users.
Monthly active users (MAUs) were 1.15 billion as of June 30, 2013, an increase of 21% year-over-year, while mobile MAUs were 819 million as of June 30, 2013, an increase of 51% year-over-year.
Facebook's percentage of mobile ad revenue has been increasing every quarter: mobile accounted for 30% of that revenue in Q1, up from 23% in the fourth quarter of 2012, and up approximately 14% in the third quarter.
Those numbers gave intestors so much confidence in Facebook's long-term future that the stock shot up 70%, reaching a record high, going above $45 for the first time in September. Then went above $50 just two weeks later.
Before the company's second quarter number, the stock was trading at $26.51 a share. It has since more than doubled, ending trading on Friday at $55.12.
Right now, Facebook shares are trading at 45% above its $38 IPO price.
This is good news for Facebook, obviously, but only reiterates what Twitter was trying to avoid, ie the whole lost first year that Facebook experienced.
6. Ads! Ads everywhere!
2013 will also probably be remembered as the year that social media finally learned how to successfully monetize. And that has meant lots and lots of advertisements, everywhere you look.
This year, two of the newer social media sites got their first ads: Pinterest, which debuted its first ad product, Promoted Pins, in September; and Instagram, which rolled out its first ad in November. And even the more established players expanded their ad models. LinkedIn began rolling out Sponsored Updates, while Twitter launched a global retargeted ad network.
Even Foursquare got into the action, debuting its self-service ad platform, which it opened up to a select group of small businesses. It then expanded it to around one thousand businesses in July before opening it to small businesses all around the world in October. The platform is what seems to have helped the company go from taking on $41 million in debt earlier this year, to raising $35 million this week.
Most importantly, though, was Facebook. Not only did the company turn itself around based on the success of its mobile ads, but just this week it began testing out new autoplay video ads that will appear in user News Feeds.
7. Twitter gets into the TV business
Besides its IPO, the second most important thing that Twitter did in 2013 was solidify its relationship with television advertisers.
First, the company premiered its tv ad targeting software in beta mode in May, and then expanded to to all U.S. advertisers that run national television spots in July.
The technology allows advertisers to engage directly with people on Twitter who have been exposed to their ads on live television. It works by identifying Tweets that correspond with that television show.
Twitter also purchased real-time TV data company Trendrr to help make those ads more relevant.
In October, Nielsen released its first Twitter TV ratings report, and that same month Twitter struck a deal with Comcast to debut a new feature that will give users the ability to both watch, and record, shows directly from Twitter.
Not to be outdone, Facebook said it would release its own weekly television reports. But Twitter is definitely the one that has put the most work and effort into getting hold of those television ad dollars.
8. SEC disclosures on social media
Now that Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are all public companies, it is no stretch to say that social media, after years of being called a fad, is finally being taken seriously as a real money-generating business.
But perhaps the most telling sign of how far social media has come was a move by the SEC, in April, to allow companies to announce key information via social media, as long as the company also informs investors that it is doing so.
It is hard to imagine the SEC allowing such a rule even five years ago, but this change in rules was a sure sign of how social media changed the way that people both disseminate, and receive, their news.
“Most social media are perfectly suitable methods for communicating with investors, but not if the access is restricted or if investors don’t know that’s where they need to turn to get the latest news," George Canellos, Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a statement at the time.
The new policy stemmed from an investigation involving Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who used his personal Facebook page to announce that Netflix had reached one billion monthly online viewing hours for the first time, instead of a press release or Form 8-K filing.
One of Mark Zuckerberg's stated goals is to connect everyone around the world to the Internet. And it is obviously something that he takes very seriously, as evidence by the fact that he started an entire organization, called Internet.org, to achieve it.
Partnering with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, Internet.org has three stated goals: to make access afforable, to use data more efficiently and to help businesses drive access.
"The Internet is really the backbone of the knowledge economy. If everyone had access to those basic tools, we'd all be able to benefit from all of the innovation and creativity and ideas that everyone had, Zuckerberg has said.
There are obviously selfish reasons for this; the more connected people means more people on Facebook. But there is also a philanthropic side to it as well, where Zuckerberg truly believes that he can benefit a lot of people, even if Bill Gates does not approve.
If Zuckerberg can make this work, 2013 might well be seen as the beginning of a world changing event, one that benefits everyone.
10. Myspace came back... but did anyone care?
Not that anyone was really asking for it, but yes, this was the year that Myspace officially came back, with a completely new look and feel.
Instead of being the customizable social network of old, though, it revamped itself into... a music service. It came complete with access to 53 million songs available for streaming, a feature for users to program their own radio stations, and a tool which will allow users to create, and then share, animated GIFs.
And hey people seemed interested in seeing what had become of their old hangout... at least at first. The site saw 31 million visitors in its first two weeks after relaunch. By October, though, growth had slowed significantly, and the site was only seeing 36 million by October. It went from a gain of seven million in two weeks, to only five million in three months.
Perhaps becoming yet another music streaming service was not the best way to differentiate itself.
(Image source: http://maziermedia.com)