Facebook is for boomers, Twitter keeps breaking and YouTube revenues are falling. National security concerns mean TikTok is threatened with a US ban. That leaves the field open for new entrants. Yet social media start-ups are failing to supplant incumbents.
Venture-capital backed social networks are losing traction at record speed. French app BeReal, which asks users to send a selfie to their contacts every day, reached the top of Apple’s App Store in July. Since then, active user numbers have dropped nearly 50 per cent in the space of four months, according to data from Business of Apps.
BeReal is following the same accelerated life cycle as Clubhouse. The invitation-only audio app, which offers the chance to hear insiders swap stories, was valued at $4bn in April 2021 by VCs including Andreessen Horowitz. Demand had already peaked. That month, downloads fell below 1mn, according to Sensor Tower data, down from close to 10mn in February.
Group video chat app Houseparty reported a jump in sign-ups in early 2020 as lockdowns drove online socialising. Eighteen months later, owner Epic Games shut the app down.
Some new ideas sound stale. NGL, which lets users send messages anonymously, is reminiscent of Q&A app Askfm. Texting app Honk does not save messages, a gimmick Snapchat promoted a decade ago.
Potential users are increasingly weary of signing up to yet another new app. Despite gripes, many find it easier to remain on networks full of existing contacts. Non-profit Mastodon was hailed as an alternative to Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk’s controversial acquisition. But its estimated 2.5mn peak user base is a fraction of Twitter’s daily active users, last reported as 238mn.
Social media giants are moving to absorb rival ideas quickly. BeReal’s rise led Instagram and Snapchat to add a similar feature so users can take pictures from both the front and back camera of their phone. Challengers need to do more if they are going to stand out.