The Social Media Technology Pyramid

What makes each social network different is the type of content created, how that content is created, and why that content is created.

Consumers share a large variety of content for different reasons on different social networks. And social media platforms are evolving, which changes what we share. Snapchat and TikTok have been big drivers of these evolutions.

In a January interview Evan Spiegal, CEO of Snap, was asked what he thinks about TikTok. In a refreshingly honest answer, he said he “loves TikTok” and is a “big fan.” He went on to describe how he thinks about TikTok as a technology platform compared to other social networks.

He thinks about the category of social technology as three tiers in a pyramid.

  1. Communication – Self-expression, talking to friends and close contacts, higher frequency. This would be where Snapchat and Messenger sits.
  2. Status – Showing people who you are, that you’re cool, getting likes and comments, lower frequency than communication. Instagram is the best example here.
  3. Talent – Making media to entertain other people, even lower frequency, higher production. Think TikTok and YouTube.

As you go up the pyramid, the time and energy needed to create content goes up and the frequency of content produced goes down accordingly.

It’s easy to send a simple, image, video, or text on Snapchat. It does not take a lot of effort. There are few mental barriers. It’s much harder to learn a TikTok dance or put in the production time needed for a more polished YouTube video.

Spiegal says the appeal of Status content as more limited because “people only do something ‘cool’ once a week or once a month and not necessarily every day.”

Another important aspect of this pyramid is the ratio of the content creator to the content consumers. At the bottom of the pyramid, everyone creates and consumes almost equally. As you go up the pyramid, the potential audience size increases and the number of people actually creating the content decreases.

Talent social platforms are more of a lean-back experience for most consumers. While Communication social platforms are lean-in. There is more discussion, engagement.

I like how this theory matches up with the relatively recent trend of personified brand personalities on Twitter. If Twitter is closer to the Communication tier than it is Talent, it makes sense that brands who can make the platform more personal and conversational are doing well.

Compare the pyramid to your social media strategy. Do your assumptions of how users consume your content on each channel match up?