Facebook’s IPO, the return of MySpace, the explosion of Instagram and Pinterest and Google+’s continuing battle for acceptance. It’s been quite a year for social media. Here are the top 12 social media stories of 2012 that shaped how we use social networking sites and our expectations for the future of the social web.
Things Look Pretty For Pinterest
Photo-focused pinboard platform Pinterest has seen slow and steady growth since its launch in 2010—but a breakout 2012 marked Pinterest as the web’s sixth-largest social network, trailing behind job-hunting giant LinkedIn by just under a thousand users. In July 2011, Pinterest had 2.5 million users; by the same time this year, its user base had ballooned to over 25 million, the “largest year-over-year increase in audience and time spent of any social network” to date. In August, the formerly invite-only network finally went public, but it wasn’t until November that Pinterest added business pages for brands. Despite co-founder Paul Sciarra’s abrupt departure in April, the future looks bright for this purchase-driving platform.
The World Gets Social
Social media became even more mainstream in 2012. The 2012 Olympics were hyped as “the world’s first social Games,” and the London Games did not disappoint—users sent nearly 3 million tweets during the opening ceremonies alone. From athletes posting photos of their Olympic medals to an entire meme surrounding gymnast McKayla Maroney, the 2012 Olympics were spectacularly social. With Hurricane Sandy came another social storm, as users and media outlets alike used Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to follow the superstorm’s path. With the entire nation’s eyes on the East Coast, several fake photos of the storm’s alleged destruction quickly went viral—but thanks to the social web, fakes were ousted just as diligently. Social media played an unprecedented role throughout the 2012 Presidential Election, with Twitter taking the lead. President Obama’s victory tweet, which was shared over half a million times just 22 minutes after it was posted, became the most-retweeted tweet in the network’s history. Twitter even launched an interactive Political Engagement Map, allowing users to see where in the nation people were most interested in specific, searchable issues. And if that isn’t enough to convince you that social media is now the norm—take it up with the Pope, who officially joined Twitter this December.
Google+ is Still Google+
Divisive social darling Google+ began 2012 by opening its doors to the teenage set, lessening its age restriction from 18 to 13. But if Bieber Fever is contagious, Google+ remains naught but a scratchy throat, even with the lessened requirements to join. In mid-January, the global search giant announced that it would begin integrating Google+ results in regular Google searches, a move met with criticism from many internet-goers. In September, the company proudly announced that it had crossed 100 million active users—but because Google replaced Google Talk with Google+’s Hangout feature this July, it is unclear how many of those 100 million actually know they’re using Google+. Facebook forever, suckers.
MySpace Brings Sexy Back
Even we didn’t see this one coming. Returning bigger and bolder in October was MySpace, led by none other than former boy-bander Justin Timberlake. The company teased a stunning video of the refurbished network this September, followed by the official announcement of the network’s relaunch this November. The new MySpace streams posts in a grid format not unlike budding social giant Pinterest, which users navigate with an unusual horizontal scroll. The network, which will have a particular focus on music and artist representation, continues to roll out invitations.
Twitter Cements Itself in 2012
It was a big year for microblogging giant Twitter. The company revealed a new design in September, the most notable change being the addition of a header image to accompany a user’s avatar and profile information. In August, Twitter made headlines with a new API that limited support for third-party Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Echofon. Twitter also launched a tool this fall that allows any website to embed an interactive timeline of tweets. In mid-December, the company began rolling out a long-awaited archival feature, so long-time tweeters can download their entire tweet history.
LinkedIn’s Silent Steady Climb
With minor but meaningful upgrades in design and functionality, LinkedIn had a quiet 2012 in the press but a huge year on Wall Street, doubling its stock price and avoiding any radical switches to its platform or terms of service. Despite the launch of a number of heralded job-centered social challengers like BranchOut and Facebook’s own job app, LinkedIn has moved along silently and steadily, setting itself up for a blockbuster 2013.
Social Media Finds Itself on Capitol Hill
In May, Maryland became the first state to pass strict social media privacy laws prohibiting schools and employers from demanding that applicants share social media logins and passwords and related private content. Delaware, Illinois and California followed suit, with a number of states fast tracking similar legislation. The bills came in response to select employers across the country requiring social media credentials to vet candidates during the hiring or educational application process. Hiring managers and admissions officers can still vet applicants through publicly accessible social media information, but for now, applicants with questionable but private Spring Break pictures are safe.
The First YouTube Video to Top One Billion Views
It took a South Korean K-pop star and his insane video to knock Justin Bieber from the top of YouTube’s most-viewed video charts. PSY’s Gangnam Style became the first YouTube video to top one billion views and so far is the most liked video in YouTube history. YouTube had a big year, offering live streaming of events during the London Olympics, live streams of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Debates and Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. With marketers and brands getting increasingly savvy with video, the sky’s the limit for 2013. Moar cat videos, plz.
Geolocation Apps: The Bust of 2012?
One of the big questions heading into 2012 was whether or not geolocation would be the big news of the New Year. The answer—sort of. Mobile definitely emerged as one of the main focuses for marketers in 2012 and beyond, but geolocation social apps like foursquare still haven’t taken off like their masters would have hoped. Foursquare still leads the pack with more than 25 million users checking in more than three billion times a day, but even the geolocation giant is struggling to gain critical mass. Other apps like Glympse and Path have interesting bells and whistles and dedicated communities, but media flare-ups surrounding geolocation apps like Girls Around Me the aptly named Creepy keep the general public wary of geolocation as a trend. Will someone break through in 2013 or will it take more of a shift in public perception to win the geolocation wars?
Instagram Ups and Downs
Instagram emerged as a blockbuster photography and social media platform in 2012 with 100-million+ users at the end of the year. Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion in April, which many saw as an impending sign of Instagram’s downfall. Since the purchase, Instagram has continued to grow at a record pace but clashes with Twitter (disabling support for Twitter cards) and a recent change then take-back of their terms and services have added some drama to the storyline. With Twitter introducing their own photo filters and the bloom off the Instagram rose, the future of the channel is a little hazy for 2013.
Facebook Goes Public
It’s been a huge year for Facebook—good and bad. A complete redesign to the current Facebook Timeline, a much publicized and much maligned IPO and the 1 billionth user in October. Through it all, Facebook has managed to survive the slings and arrows to remain the largest and arguably most influential social network out there. Now there’s talk of more redesigns (sigh) and additional tweaks to its algorithms (double sigh). You know what’s cooler than a million changes to the platform? A billion changes to the platform.