If you want to grasp the most recent social media platform changes and make the most of your own social media marketing efforts, it’s important to take a wider perspective of consumption patterns and examine how people are seeking to use social applications to interact in a variety of ways throughout time.

Picture such patterns may help you get a better understanding of what your customers want to see from your company – which is where the new study from app analytics platform App Annie comes in.

App Annie’s ‘Evolution of Social Apps’ report looks at how social media usage trends have evolved over the last decade, highlighting the rise of live-streaming, the increasing focus on social commerce, the growth of TikTok and Snapchat, and more.

The report is key reading for those looking to maintain a handle on key shifts, and what’s driving the latest platform updates. You can download the full report here, but in this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key notes of interest.

It is likely that the most significant finding of the study will be the increase in consumer spending on social media apps, with total expenditure already reaching $3.2 billion in the first half of 2021 – an increase of 50 percent year on year.

App Annie social app spend chart

App Annie predicts that in-app spending will reach $6.78 billion this year for the whole year, as seen in the chart below. As you can see in the figure above, the increased use of social networking applications in Asian countries – especially India – has driven in-app spending to record levels.

This is projected to continue to increase at a pace of around 29 percent each year in the future, which, according to App Annie, would result in social app expenditure reaching a whopping $78 billion by 2025.

If you’ve ever wondered why every app is attempting to include in-stream commerce, here is the answer. As a result of the data, platforms who can extend user involvement into direct spending and purchasing habits will have a substantial advantage over their competitors in terms of income potential and new possibilities for brands.

If you haven’t thought about integrating your product catalog into Facebook or Instagram Shops, or if you haven’t been keeping up with TikTok’s growing eCommerce ambitions, it’s time to start paying attention (you can sign up to our newsletter right here).

The study also examines how consumers want to spend their money on social media applications, with live-stream producers proving to be the most successful in a number of ways.

App Annie social app usage chart

As per the report:

Total time spent in the top 5 social apps with an emphasis on live streaming are set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone, outside of China in 2021, a 3-year compound annual growth rate of 25% compared to 15% for chat and photo & video apps”

Which is an interesting shift – between 2014 and 2018, the focus moved away from social media platforms, and public broadcasting of your thoughts and opinions, and towards messaging and private groups instead, with Facebook, in particular, making a big push on groups as a means to maximize its in-app engagement.

Now, it seems that live-streaming is regaining popularity among consumers. Because of the epidemic, this has been exacerbated, with live-streaming frequently serving as the only effective social outlet for individuals who have been placed in lockdown situations. Even with that being the case, it seems that live-streaming is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. It seems that this tendency will continue, even as we go into the post-COVID era, when you take into account the extension of that trend, which is VR connectivity and socializing in virtual worlds (i.e. the Metaverse).

However, it is not just about watching live streaming, but also about paying money on broadcasts:

“In the first quarter of 2021, social applications that include live-streaming as a major feature accounted for $3 of every $4 spent on the top 25 social apps.”

A large element of this growth has been virtual “gifting”, with content creators in Asia, in particular, generating big dollars from in-stream virtual gifts, which essentially act as donations to the creators, subsidizing their output.

Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok have all created their own variations of the same, and while the trend does not appear to have caught on in western regions with the same veracity as it has in Asian regions, the data indicates that there is significant opportunity, with live-streams providing a sense of immediate connection, assisting in the development of community, and facilitating direct transactions while in-stream, among other things.

According to reports, Facebook is now experimenting with shopping-related live-streams in its main app as well as on Instagram, and TikTok has hosted a number of live-stream retail partnerships with major companies and platform stars.

TikTok live-stream shopping

It remains to be seen if this becomes a more widespread trend in western countries, but the potential there, and as previously said, it coincides with wider changes in consumer behavior.

Additionally, the study examines the rise of TikTok, which, according to App Annie’s statistics, has already overtaken YouTube in both the United States and the United Kingdom in terms of average monthly time spent in-app, per user.

App Annie social media usage trends report - TikTok versus YouTube usage over time

TikTok’s meteoric rise has been incredible to see, and it’s becoming more difficult to imagine it failing to turn that popularity into a profitable company, both for TikTok and for its top performers. The most significant concern for TikTok is successful monetization, since short-form video offers less opportunity for advertising and, as a result, lesser revenue potential for producers of the app. TikTok is attempting to create a more direct connection between companies and artists, while also experimenting with longer form films in order to enable more ad possibilities. YouTube and Facebook, on the other hand, can provide greater income prospects.

There is also the ever-present possibility that the United States Government, and perhaps others, will take action to prohibit TikTok because of its ties to the Chinese government. Although that aspect has been quiet of late, it remains a source of worry among security experts, and it has the potential to become a significant barrier to the app if it is brought to a head once again.

As a result, it seems probable that top producers would want to diversify their income streams rather than depending only on TikTok – which, in and of itself, may be a hindrance to the app’s ability to achieve its full development potential.

No matter how you look at it, TikTok is obviously a huge winner when it comes to broad use, and it is continuing to gain momentum in the social media arena.

This is also evident in the figure below, which shows the ranks of app downloads over the course of the last decade.

App Annie social app downloads 2012 to 2021

Even while Facebook’s dominance is undeniable, it’s also worth noting some of the other trends that have emerged, such as the growth of TikTok, the decline of Twitter, and the revival of Snapchat.

Another aspect of the study is that, according to App Annie’s statistics, Snapchat’s international downloads have increased by 45 percent in the past 12 months, compared to the same period the previous two years.

App Annie Snapchat downloads chart

That can largely be attributed to India, where Snapchat has seen huge take-up since launching its updated Android version back in 2019. Earlier this year, Snapchat reported that it’s seen 150% growth in active users in the region.

Snapchat usage in India stats

Which is really where most social apps are now looking – with Indian smartphone adoption rising, the opportunity exists to connect with billions more users, and the apps that can gain the most traction in India stand to see huge benefit, especially in regard to in-app purchases and revenue potential.

Consequently, the newest features and improvements that you’re seeing aren’t even primarily focused on you in many ways. Live-stream commerce, in-app shopping, and other features are primarily aimed at the Asian market, where there is significantly greater growth potential for social apps than in western regions, where adoption is already high and spending is not increasing at the same rates as it is in the Asian market.

Even if you don’t believe that these new components will be successful, it’s possible that they will be successful in other areas, and if they are successful in the United States and Europe, it will be an added plus.

For that reason, it may be worthwhile to look at Asian adoption patterns instead, or at what is gaining momentum in China, inside its own online bubble, if you truly want to assess where things are going in the social media landscape and what platforms will be seeking to concentrate on in the future.

And what’s gaining traction in China right now? Live-stream commerce and Douyin, the local version of TikTok.

It’s not hard to see either of these elements becoming much bigger considerations in western markets as well.

You can download App Annie’s ‘Evolution of Social Media’ report here.