3 Lessons We Can Learn from Early Social Media Platforms


It wasn’t that long ago when sites like MySpace and Friendster were just seen as fun distractions. Nowadays, you probably open your phone multiple times a day to check notifications on Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok. 

Early social media platforms can teach us a lot about consumer behavior. By studying the evolution of social media, we can gain valuable insights into how it’s changed—and how it’s stayed the same. 

And by studying this behavior, we uncover ways brands can effectively use social media to grow their business.

Social Media through the Years

In a few short decades, social media has evolved from nonexistence to an essential communication tool that more than half the world’s population uses every day. But how did we get here? And how can businesses leverage social media to boost their brand?

When Did Social Media Begin?

While free website builders like Geocities came and went, the first major social media site showed up in 1997 with the short-lived Six Degrees. At its height, the site boasted around 3.5 million users before shutting down in 2000. After that, social media gained momentum in the early 2000s with sites like Friendster and MySpace.

How Social Media Has Changed

In their most basic forms, early social media platforms let users create profiles, connect with friends, post photos, and keep tabs on users within their network. That said, they were mostly restricted to a desktop experience, with growth limited to the number of people with internet access.

Today, roughly 85% of Americans own a smartphone, giving them nearly unrestricted access to the internet. Platforms that adopt a mobile-first approach see rapid growth while others fall by the wayside.

Video is increasingly important to users. Social platforms have evolved to reflect this trend. YouTube currently has over two billion monthly users, with TikTok coming in at one billion. Other platforms like Facebook and Instagram have picked up the video trend and now heavily incorporate video elements into the experience. 

What We Can Learn from Early Social Media Platforms

Brands can learn some valuable lessons by studying social media evolution and how users interacted with these early platforms:

1. Don’t Be Everything for Everyone All at Once

One possible factor in Friendster’s downfall was what Gizmodo called  “conceptual vastness”— its attempts to connect everyone in the world together, Friendster was bogged down with fake profiles and superfluous features that detracted from the experience. 

Eventually, users jumped ship to other sites. 

In contrast, Facebook started life as a networking site for Ivy League college students with school email verifications. Then it expanded permissions to other schools and eventually opened to the public.

2. Maintain a Suitable Image

MySpace was the undisputed ruler of the social media space during the mid-2000s. But cracks started forming when they were caught up in controversies regarding cyberbullying and sexual abuse. As a result, users and advertisers started moving away from the platform altogether.

Brand perception is crucial. Consumers can draw negative conclusions about a brand if placed with unsuitable content, innocent or otherwise. In this case, users no longer felt safe on MySpace, and wouldn’t support a platform fostering that type of activity.

3. Adapt to Rapidly Changes in Consumer Behavior

This may seem like a no-brainer, but failing to adapt in time is part of why some early social media platforms failed, while others took off.

Facebook has maintained itself as a leader since 2008 thanks to some strategic choices. It addressed the safety concerns that plagued MySpace while adding features it lacked. As video and photos became a priority for users, it invested into new features for Instagram and Facebook Watch.

YouTube has adapted to changing demand and behavior. It’s added features such as live streaming and community posts, allowing users to monetize their videos in numerous ways. All these additions have helped it maintain relevance and longevity.

Boost Your Social Strategy with Channel Factory

Maintaining positive momentum and positioning in social media is critical to your digital marketing ecosystem. By studying the evolution of media and learning from the mistakes and successes of early social media platforms, your brand can see incredible success.

Channel Factory helps brands succeed by leveraging video content on YouTube. Get the most out of your next ad campaign with custom ad optimization, performance improvement, and more. Contact us today to get started.