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Something very interesting is going on with social media these days. More so than at any time in the past, the big Silicon Valley players appear to be marching in lock-step and coordinating their actions together. Whether it’s working to ban and harass certain voices on social media, or lobbying for certain causes in Washington, D.C., they appear to be more aligned than ever. Add in the fact that the biggest social media platforms appear to be sharing data and opening up new integration opportunities with each other, and it’s all very strange.
From rivals to partners
Aren’t Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram supposed to be rivals? That’s a hard case to make these days. Take, for example, the fact that Twitter just announced a new integration with Snapchat to share tweets in Snapchat Stories, with a similar type of integration coming to Instagram soon. The basic idea is simple: Twitter is providing more options for sharing tweets (and tweet conversations) across different social media platforms. The goal is to drive Snapchat and Instagram users back to Twitter, and could result in more traffic and more engagement for Twitter.
While this type of integration is fairly straightforward and certainly makes sense from a purely traffic perspective, it also reflects a new paradigm in the social media world. In the past, platforms like Facebook did everything they could to keep users within their own walls. They encouraged users to read news stories within Facebook, for example, without the need to leave the Facebook app. And they certainly didn’t make it possible for Twitter users to share tweets within Facebook or any of Facebook’s properties (including Instagram). Since 2012, in fact, Instagram hasn’t provided any direct Twitter integration. Now it seems that Twitter and Instagram want to play nice together: Twitter will make it easy to share tweets within Instagram soon, and Instagram will presumably reciprocate, by making it possible to share Instagram posts directly within Twitter.
The big picture
The big picture here is that former rivals are now turning into partners. Even if it means simply sharing data with each other, it’s a big move. The end goal, if we push on this hypothesis hard enough, is to have all social media platforms merge together, seamlessly sharing data and becoming a system of data flowing from one platform to the other. Using a geopolitical analogy, it would be as if all the states of Europe suddenly gave up their national identities and merged together into one political, cultural and economic entity. Oh wait, that actually happened…
There are obviously legal, regulatory and economic consequences of such a merger taking place in the social media world. Namely, wouldn’t there be a huge antitrust hue and cry over this? If people are afraid that Facebook has too much power and influence now, wouldn’t they be even more afraid if some kind of Facebook+Twitter social media giant emerges? Then, you could really make the case that Facebook has too much market power, and is acting like a monopolist. That wouldn’t be good for Facebook, so it’s interesting to see just how far the company would take any type of integration.
China and other issues to consider in 2021
At the end of the day, we may be seeing the first steps towards a sort of “China model” for American social media companies. In China, for example, social media platforms like WeChat (sometimes called the “Chinese Facebook”) and Weibo (sometimes called the “Twitter of China”) are really much richer and feature-filled than their U.S. rivals. As Dragon Social points out, “The Chinese use the WeChat app for restaurant bookings, flights, making investments, shopping, paying bills, hailing taxis, transferring money, and creating posts on their Newsfeed (called WeChat Moments).” So all of this new integration between platforms like Twitter and Instagram might just reflect the fact that U.S. social media properties really need to combine and share some of their functionality in order to become more robust.
Of course, all this could change if the big Facebook platforms (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) break up due to antitrust concerns. This could be one of the big stories of 2021 – the desire of the social media platforms to become bigger and more powerful, balanced by the desire of the people to make them smaller and more accountable.