With most of us sitting on the sofa at home in 2020, it was a boom time for social media. Some people used it to connect with friends, family, and co-workers during the long, enforced seclusion. Many others saw it as a safe haven, a place to turn to for entertainment and variety. This created a new generation of young celebrities who became famous as TikTok began to take up more and more time on our screen.
Here are our tips for the people, companies, and trends that have defined social media over the past year.
Best product: Cameo
What do Floyd Mayweather, Tiger King star Carole Baskin and YouTuber LA Beast have in common? They can all be rented from Cameo, the web-based company that lets you commission videos from celebrities – perhaps to wish someone a happy birthday or to congratulate them on a promotion. In the past 12 months, users have purchased 1.2 million cameos, three times the amount commissioned in the company’s entire four-year history, while the average price for a video has increased 60% to $ 80. For customers, cameos offer the option of sending a personalized gift without leaving home. For celebrities, they’re a new source of income, an opportunity to avoid their own boredom, and a way to stay relevant with fans – especially since well-made cameos often go viral on social media. “My mother loves Kenny G more than any other artist, and he made her a birthday cameo,” said Steven Galanis, co-founder of the company. When Mama Galanis received the video, she posted it on Facebook. “It’s the most dedicated post she’s ever held,” says Steven Galanis.
Most interesting newcomer: clubhouse
Shortly after bars, professional clubs, and conference centers went dark, the clubhouse opened in April. The audio-based social network, available by invitation only, seemed like a dream version of a cocktail party: switch between various group conversations that anyone could join while the guest list remained extremely exclusive. To achieve the latter, Clubhouse initially limited its user base to celebrities (Oprah, Chris Rock, Ashton Kutcher) and the corporate elite (Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mark Cuban, Marc Andreessen). Its overnight popularity sparked a bidding war among VC firms willing to fund it, and it was valued at $ 100 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz in May. The clubhouse just remains invited – and is being followed by criticism that it should do more to moderate its users and heed complaints about racist and sexist comments in its app.
Disruptive innovator: TikTok
Yes, this is not a real competition. The video social network has grown from 55 million users worldwide in 2018 to 690 million this year. As a result, the app has become the hub of internet culture, where video-based memes are endlessly reshuffled with snippets of songs, physical stunts, and choreographed dances. TikTok’s short clips are often shot casually in a living room or bedroom, unlike the glossy, curated photos from Instagram and the much longer videos from YouTube. “It really lowered the bar on creation,” said Brianne Kimmel, a venture capitalist focused on consumer technology and social media, adding to TikTok’s popularity. There’s no bigger sign of a deeper disruption than the race to copy: Instagram released its short-form Reels videos last year, and Snap is paying $ 1 million a day to encourage its users to share content in a similar one public feed that TikTok has.
Excellent company: discord
“You’ll make mistakes,” Discord co-founder Jason Citron admitted in a Forbes interview in June. “As long as it doesn’t kill you, you’ll learn from it.” He and co-founder Stan Vishnevskiy certainly seem to have learned from them. Their chat app was once the most popular tool used by white supremacists to plan the deadly protests in Charlottesville in 2017. Since then, it has been a widespread voice and video chat platform used by everyone from distance learning students and teachers to Black Lives Matter protesters. In June, Discord raised $ 100 million in funding, grossing the company $ 3.5 billion. As popularity continued to grow during lockdown, the company raised another $ 100 million in December, roughly doubling its valuation in a year.
Gabriela Hasbun for Forbes
Annus horribilis: President Trump
In 2020, President Trump declared war on social media. He would probably have had better luck maneuvering elephants across the Alps.
Most prominently, the president tried unsuccessfully to get Chinese-owned TikTok to sell to a US company within a few weeks. And then there was his equally unsuccessful campaign to get Congress to repeal Section 230, the key federal piece of legislation that gives social media companies and other internet businesses full legal protection. While there is significant bilateral support for changing the law, most lawmakers disagree with Trump’s sledgehammer approach and, as with many things, it seems that President-elect Biden is more likely to implement meaningful reform. “With a clearer and more coherent approach from the executive branch, I believe that consensus in Congress will give more room to grow,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Jamel Toppin for Forbes
Forbes Prediction: Some of the TikTokers are growing up
They may be new famous online, but a lot of TikTok stars need a dose of reality. “Influencers think in the short term,” says Tiffany Zhong, 24, editor of a well-read annual report on social media trends and co-founder of Zebra IQ, an app that helps influencers build their online following. “Many of them have to learn to think long-term.” The most savvy TikTokers will focus less on paid branded businesses than on equity investments – either in companies they create or in established brands – and embark on the same path to riches that older, traditional stars took for them.
COURTESY JOSH RICHARDS
Some TikTokers are already thinking in this direction. In December, Charli D’Amelio (16) joined the fintech startup Step both as a public face and as an investor. 18-year-old star Josh Richards has done similar deals – with companies like LendTable, another fintech startup – and has taken on a new role as a full venture partner at Remus Capital in Boston. The appearance at Remus was an opportunity for me to gain a lot of experience in the world of venture funds. And as Gen Z themselves, they can get a lot of insight into the wishes of the next generation, ”says Richards. “I just want to be able to learn and absorb as much as possible – before I start my own fund.”
And drum rolls please …
Forbes Social Media Person of the Year: Charli D’Amelio
Nobody embodies the TikTok explosion better than Charli. Eighteen months ago she was an anonymous teenager from Connecticut. Today she’s the most visited person on TikTok and recently surpassed 100 million followers, a threshold few celebrities have crossed on an app. “Charli hits 100 million – it’s crazy,” says Jacob Pace, a co-influencer who runs a popular TikTok channel, @FlightHouse, and features interviews and music videos with top celebs like Charli. Their following is a pretty telling sign that “TikTok has gotten a lot more exposure and a lot more mainstream this year,” says Pace. These fans can’t get enough of Charli’s dance moves – or her chronicles of life with her family and her TikTok star sister, Dixie. She appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, documented Paris Fashion Week as an official Prada guest and completed several lucrative corporate sponsorships with brands such as Morphe Cosmetics, Sabra Hummus and Hollister Clothing. Next up: a Kardashian-esque reality show on Hulu about the D’Amelio clan due out next year.
We gave these Forbes Social Media Awards 2020 after spending far too much time on TikTok and Twitter – and after some important consultations with venture capitalist Brianne Kimmel, founder of Work Life Ventures; Tiffany Zhong, a former award winner and co-founder of Zebra IQ, an app used to help influencers grow their online following; and Jacob Pace, the founder of FlightHouse, who runs both a popular TikTok account and digital marketing consultancy.