Many of the leading US and European social media firms will attempt to follow the lead of Tencent’s WeChat, and become all-encompassing super-apps in 2020. Social media firms will further make attempts to grow their presence in markets such as internet TV, ecommerce, and mobile payments.

Listed below are the top social media technology trends, as identified by GlobalData.

App within an app model

The future of apps is integration. Asian companies are leading the way when it comes to super-apps, spearheaded by WeChat (developed by Tencent). WeChat users can hail a taxi, order food, buy concert tickets, play games, check in for a flight, send money, and more, all in a single, integrated app. In 2020 North American and European companies will attempt to replicate the success of their Asian counterparts. Uber is set to follow in the footsteps of Indonesia’s Gojek and expand its services, integrating them into a single app.

Ecommerce and AI

Social networks are steadily moving into the ecommerce space with increasingly powerful AI-based online shopping tools. These come in three broad categories: personalised recommendations; virtual assistants; and visual search. Although social media platforms are currently coming under significant regulatory scrutiny for their ability to filter politically-targeted content responsibly, there has been less aggressive criticism to date of these platforms’ move to ecommerce. Virtual assistants, visual search apps, and recommendation engines will continue to make the shopping experience more efficient.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

Social media and messaging platforms are investing heavily in AR and VR. Nearly every messaging platform supports camera-based AR effects that superimpose graphics onto users’ images, turn selfies into fun avatars, or allow users to recreate video backgrounds. AR is likely to be more lucrative than VR. Companies will increasingly see the monetisation potential of AR avatars. We also expect to see more AR virtual stores on social media, enabling users to try on items without having to enter a physical store.

Money transfer services

In the era of fintech, traditional remittance businesses like Western Union, MoneyGram, and large banks have been unseated by faster, cheaper mobile transfer services. Social networks have also dabbled in this sector. Peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile payments will continue to grow, but the leading services will be independent apps such as digital banks (Revolut, Monzo) and transfer apps (Venmo, Xoom, Zelle).

Collaboration tools

There has been a surge in the number of tools that aim to make it easier for office workers to communicate and collaborate. Following the early success of Slack, many companies have begun to compete in this area, including Microsoft (with Teams and Yammer) and Facebook (with Workplace). Competition will continue to drive innovation, with Facebook already implementing auto-translation and video collaboration. Free variants and a focus on frontline, nonwhite-collar workers will help drive adoption.

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By GlobalData


Esports tournaments are attracting more viewers and becoming an important advertising channel. The finals of the 2017 League of Legends world championship was watched by 60 million viewers worldwide. Esports content is broadcast primarily on streaming channels like Twitch and YouTube but is starting to appear on mainstream channels, including ESPN. We expect the number of esports broadcasts on mainstream platforms to increase, with more networks following ESPN’s lead.

Internet TV

Netflix and Amazon continue to dominate subscription-based streaming. Social media firms have attempted to break into this market with services such as YouTube Premium and Facebook Watch. The content of these services is still inferior to that offered by the leading players. The success of social media TV lies in short-form and user-generated video content. Non-subscription based, longer videos may continue to grow on social media, especially with the likes of IGTV (Instagram TV) and YouTube, but these will exist in a separate segment to traditional internet TV. YouTube is the best-placed social media disruptor.

Secure messaging

There has been a rise in the popularity of messaging services offering end-to-end encryption, which prevents data from being accessed by anyone other than the sender and recipient. However, anonymity has encouraged illicit activity, raising regulatory concerns. Consumers increasingly demand end-to-end encryption. Facebook has responded with plans to encrypt all its chat services. However, there will be rising pressure from governments to ban end-to-end encryption.

This is an edited extract from the Tech, Media, & Telecom Trends 2020 – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.