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Foto Ana Sousa Morais

Ana Mendonça Morais
– Marketing & Communication Strategist –

Simply saying, social networks are groups of people who have some kind of relationship. They are structures that do not exactly have imposed limits, in the sense that they can appear as easily as they disappear. As a rule, and unless we talk about organizations, there is no hierarchical structure.
So, and for starters, social networks have existed since the dawn of time. From civilizations to groups that are formed by common interests or values. From reading clubs to political parties. Therefore, we cannot fall into the error of saying that “social networks” are a novelty.

Ana Mendonça Morais
– Marketing & Communication Strategist –

Simply saying, social networks are groups of people who have some kind of relationship. They are structures that do not exactly have imposed limits, in the sense that they can appear as easily as they disappear. As a rule, and unless we talk about organizations, there is no hierarchical structure.
So, and for starters, social networks have existed since the dawn of time. From civilizations to groups that are formed by common interests or values. From reading clubs to political parties. Therefore, we cannot fall into the error of saying that “social networks” are a novelty.

What has changed over the years is the way social networks present themselves and develop.

The eventual novelty that exists is in virtual social networks. But we must never forget that social networks, as we refer to today, are just a continuation of the previous ones.

Virtual social networks

Let’s assume, going forward, that the social networks that we will consider here are virtual ones. Therefore, they are online platforms in which people relate in various ways and that contain their own rules.

Let’s start with a simple question: what are social networks for? The answer is also simple: to have a relationship with people who somehow interested us. And consequently to create communities.

The purpose of a social network is to connect and bring people together in some way. And the truth is that we have hundreds of virtual social networks available. For photo sharing we have, for example, Flickr or Olhares. We have Tinder, Grindr or Happn for relationships. When it comes to professional connections, LinkedIn is king. Even WhatsApp, whose main purpose is to share text and voice messages, can be considered a social network thanks to the groups that can be created. Even Waze isn’t left out as a collaborative network for real-time traffic information sharing!

In the race for the leadership

There are networks that stand out, not only because they are more attractive to users, but also because they are in a permanent and tireless race for leadership.

Yes, this is where we’re going to talk about the wonders of virtual social networks. After all, one can’t talk about social networks without talking about Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and (the latest) TikTok!

Facebook is (as it has been in recent years) the social network with more enrolled users. At the end of 2020, Facebook registered 2.7 billion active users on a monthly basis worldwide. And in Portugal we haven’t broken that pattern. Facebook is also the most widely used social network, according to the study by Marktest Consulting “The Portuguese and Social Networks 2020”. One of Facebook’s great maneuvers to ensure it remained at the top of social networks (and relevant) was the acquisition of Instagram in 2012. Until shortly before, Instagram was a social network primarily for photo sharing, but it showed great growth and threatened the relevance of Facebook. With this acquisition, the problem was solved and many interesting features of Instagram were absorbed by Facebook – but we’ll be talking about it below.

After Facebook we have to consider, without a doubt, YouTube. It is the second social network with the most active users (2 billion) and, over the years, it has also made several efforts to stay relevant and a competitor to match Facebook.

We can’t help but talk about the TikTok phenomenon. There is already an article on JellyBlog about the importance of TikTok for brands, aswell as some relevant data about this network, so the most important to mention is that TikTok already has almost as many users as Instagram. Which brings us to the importance of new features in social networks.

The relevance of new features

With so many new apps appearing frequently, it’s a challenge to remain relevant. Facebook can attest to this and has struggled to implement various features that are a success in other apps that threaten to confront them. Take Instastories – videos of 15s at most 24 hours – or more if they are saved in a “highlight”. They became such a success that Facebook had to implement them to try to stay relevant. Did they work as well on Facebook as Instagram? We can firmly say no.

Another example is Reels on Instagram, to fight the giant TikTok, with short videos with dynamic editing and music. Compared to the previous example, they definitely worked better. But are they superior to the same functionality in TikTok? Not necessarily – after all, users have not abandoned TikTok at the expense of Instagram thanks to this feature.

Also in relation to Instagram, we have another example: IGTV, a new version of videos that appear to be almost a challenge to YouTube itself. It is a format that allows longer, carefully made videos that have a captive space on the pages of their creators, for quick and easy access. The advantage? It is much easier for them to have a native vertical format , which is an advantage, since most users consume content on their phone. And if there’s one thing we know about users (as we do), it’s that they want easy, fast and immediate access to content. Without even having to turn their phone over to consume it. However, this functionality lacks something very important: it is not native to the network. That is, as a general rule, users continue to consume YouTube in its original format. Research, supply, immediate consumption.

The business of social networks

After all, why do social networks strive so hard to stay at the forefront of consumption and new functionality? Quite simply, for money.

As much as the justification is to develop versatile platforms, to respond to user demand or that are safe for everyone, the big catalyst is profits. The ads generated on these social networks are very profitable for them, and also for the brands that make them.

By September 2020, and considering the last 12 months, Facebook will have made profits of around €78 billion. In 2019, throughout that year, profits were just under €71 billion.

YouTube, on the other, had profits of around €13 billion in the first nine months of 2020 alone – compared with less than €11 million in the same period in 2019 alone.

The truth is that social networks involve a lot of money. In fact, social networks create almost a relationship of interdependence with brands. Brands need networks to position themselves in the market and to communicate their services and products. Social networks need brands to generate more money. And so it goes, one doesn’t live without the other, being totally dependent.

The reality of Portugal

On average, according to the study “Technology and democracy” of the Joint Research Center (CCI), the Portuguese spend 129 minutes a day on social networks.

In the European reality, Portugal is the fifth country that uses social networks the most, with over 2 hours a day.

Also in the European reality, Facebook is the social network with the highest representation, with a use of about 75%, leaving little room for other social networks. This means that the Portuguese have a large window of opportunity to be impacted by brands – at least more than in other countries.

Although Facebook is the most widely used social network in Portugal, according to Marktest, there has been a decrease in its use by almost half, comparing 2020 with 2019. The same study indicates that about 70% of users remember seeing advertising on social networks and that 1/3 of them have already made online purchases through social networks, which represents a great opportunity for brands. We should, however, consider that the Marktest study was done with a sample of 807 people, which are relatively few, even taking into account our population. Still, these can be relevant indicators for the importance of social networks.

More of the same?

It is said that a copy is the highest compliment. But is it really? In the case of social networks, we can conclude that a copy brings only redundancy. In their incessant search for relevance and their own version of a formula that works, platforms tend to lose their identity. It’s not because it works on YouTube or TikTok that it’s going to work on Instagram. It’s not so that something that results on Instagram will result on Facebook.

This does not mean, of course, that social networks cannot try to improve and develop. But they must do so through innovation, not imitation. After all, if the important thing is money, brands will be increasingly demanding on the platforms on which they will invest. Because, truth be told, it is not possible to be present on all social networks. It is necessary to understand which ones make sense and bring more return, which have the intended audience and can meet the proposed objectives. Therefore, it is necessary that each one stand out and justify itself, without median functionalities.