What can we learn from social media titans at the forefront of user experience?

Annabel Harper

30 Jun 2022

The success of today’s biggest online platforms – be it the likes of Facebook, WeChat or TikTok – hinges on an ability to carve out and maintain a specific, online community offering.

It’s not just about capturing user’s attention, it’s about keeping it for the long-haul. And this comes down to user experience (UX) – what’s on offer, how easy is it to use and encouraging audiences to come back for more. Social platforms currently paving the way with recent UX updates include:

1. Instagram’s re-introduction of the chronological timeline

In 2016, Instagram removed the option to view posts chronologically and introduced a newsfeed with content ranked and personalised by an algorithm. Many users complained that the algorithm-based feed excluded content, promoting recommended posts and burying others.

In a post, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, commented on the quantity of feedback from users asking for access to a “deterministic, chronological feed just from the accounts they’ve decided to follow”. In essence, users cried for the chronological timeline back and the platform finally listened.

2. TikTok’s 10 min video length extension

In the hopes to unleash the creative possibilities of its users, TikTok announced it would extend the maximum length of videos from three minutes to a whopping 10 minutes.

Many speculate the move could have something to do with monetisation, making the platform a bigger contender to the likes of YouTube. However, there are concerns whether the increase in format length could alienate users who come (and stay) for the quick content hit which its short-format videos provide. Only time (and user analysis) will tell…

3. Reddit’s r/Place 2022 comeback

In a revival of April Fools’ Day experiment from 2017, users could once again contribute tiles to Reddit’s r/Place canvas in a move to showcase, “the magic of online communities, conversation, and collaboration,” according to Reddit’s EVP for strategy and special projects, Alex Le.

Larger and more impressive than its predecessor, over 10.4 million users joined to place single tiles on the canvas. Collaborations across Reddit saw communities of users band together to choreograph their tiles to create images on the board. The complete time-lapse of the four-day collaborative digital art piece is well worth the watch.

So what do all these updates to user experience mean?

Each alteration demonstrates to users these platforms refuse to stagnate. They are continuously adapting their offering to ensure they respond to consumer or market demands. To build a platform is one thing, but in today’s digital environment, it’s the updates to user experience – which must be continuously tried and tested – that will keep communities online and coming back for more.

For brands, these updates also highlight that social media must not be used as corporate catch-all dumping ground. Content must be tailored for each site to embrace each unique UX experience and compliment the users which inhabit each online space.