What Makes a Social Media Site Uncool...and Can it Be Fixed?

Lisa Martens

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More and more, we are hearing about how TikTok is overcoming other social media apps. Facebook is now seen as the site for "old people" and continues to see a decline.

Facebook probably won't go away...but it's viewed as more of a utility, like an Internet phone book, than a fun website.

How did this happen?

Basically...what makes a social media site uncool?

Diminishing small creators in favor of larger companies and accounts.

When a social media site is new, big names haven't carved out their piece of the pie just yet. It's a fun, exciting new world...no one knows quite how to get famous, how to monetize, how to use it. The unknown is part of what makes a new social site fun.

However, as social media sites get older, the space gets more divided and more carved up. It becomes more essential to cross-promote and work with established brands. What's worse—the site itself begins to prefer and favor the larger companies and content creators.

Maybe it's because they're looking for clicks and income—But this is what starts to make an app/site feel dated and established, instead of organic and fun.

The unknown, the unestablished, the openness of a new social site adds to the mystery and the fun.

Not advocating for content creators, including explicit content.

Tumblr made a huge mistake when it banned NSFW content. Tumblr was a place for a kind of lite porn...nothing super explicit, but the content was very expressive. One could openly express their preferences, kinks, and erotic fan art.

Tumblr decided that following the rules and playing it safe would be better...they stopped advocating for the communities that used their site religiously.

"Cool" social media sites and apps are not afraid to take a stance that protects marginalized communities and their most loyal fanbase. When a site or app tries to take out the spice in favor of being more vanilla, then it's no longer cool.

Losing a degree of Anonymity.

For security and safety reasons, many social media sites prefer that you use your real name. However, this immediately limits what people feel safe doing on your site or app.

No one is going to reveal their secrets, preferences, or kinks. People may be more hesitant to release their art and music.

Cool social media apps have the feel of a playground...one can dabble without being too serious, and without fearing backlash IRL.

Once you're forced to use your real name, then you start worrying about coworkers, employers, relatives, etc.

"If it's something you're embarassed about, then you shouldn't be doing it." - Says every uncool person ever.

Fun means being able to explore and play without harsh consequences.

Advertising over discoverability.

Once advertising starts to mix with discoverability, people start to become angry and upset.

Even if the ads are well-targeted, then this creates suspicion. How did they know I was talking about that? Are they spying on me? Selling my information?

It doesn't take much for a person to start to feel like a social media site or app is a part of an ethereal "they." "They" are spying on me. "They" want me to buy things.

It's a short jump from being a cool social media site...to being one of "them."

A streamlining that cuts creativity.

Product managers and developers love streamlining apps. They trim by eliminating features that are used by fringe communities and focus on removing edge cases—the strange, unintended, creative use of their features.

There’s a path most developers want you to follow. When too many people start to deviate from a given path, they want to firm this up.

But this eliminates fun and unintentional Easter eggs. People like stumbling upon secrets...like secret code they can use, ways to trick the algorithm to get promoted, etc. They like finding "hacks" and communities that only they know about.

Just like people enjoyed customizing their blogs, adding music, and changing the cursor into a ribbon, people like having a number of creative features, even if they hardly use them.

When a social media app is too clean and functional, it’s not fun anymore. You want your doctor’s appointment to be straightforward...but not your fun social media site.

Oddly enough, when a website becomes too functional, it starts to be less fun and more official-seeming. Fun apps have lots of filters and nonsense features to choose from. It's not just about accomplishing a specific task...it's about play.

Copying other features instead of innovating.

Instagram, in an effort to copy TikTok, now allows you to use specific sounds and to tag by sound, and they introduced "reels." Previously, using a copyrighted song meant your video got taken down.

TikTok solved this and innovated on it. On TikTok, you can search by sound. You are encouraged to use popular songs—that's how you get discovered. Instead of searching by hashtags, now you can look at the music videos your favorite people are making to your favorite songs. Awesome!

And then Instagram...tried to do the same thing. Ooof.

Nothing screams "uncool" like copying a feature late in the game.

Can it be fixed?

No.

My answer is no, it cannot be fixed...not entirely. That defeats the whole point of what coolness is. Being trendy is by its very nature transient.

Eventually, people carve out an audience and a specific use for a social media site. Makeup bloggers find success on YouTube, fanfic and erotica always have a home on Wattpad, etc.

The exponential growth stops. Being number 1 in downloads stops.

But that doesn't mean your site or app cannot innovate and cannot do what it does well.

Facebook is more like a utility now. It's not going away. It's good to see your family and check up on old friends. It's become the phone book and a curated version of people's lives. And that's fine.

People who are young now will grow older, and then they'll download Facebook for its utility.

It just won't be the cool app anymore. And one day, TikTok won't be the cool new app anymore—It'll be for a certain type of content creator. And that's fine, too.

I don't think it can be fixed because it is meant to be transient. But I think there is room in the world, when the "coolness" dust settles, for a wide number of apps with a wide number of utilities.

Eventually, everyone stops wanting to be cool, and just wants to get down to business. Eventually, being trendy is not as important as creating your vlog, your story, your family photo album.

It's just a part of growing up.

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