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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Irwin

A new generation of social media apps is helping people find 'their people'

As larger social networks fracture, upstart platforms like Letterboxd, the Nudge, Spill, and Lex are pulling in users.


3/21/2024

The desire to feel supported, included, and in community with others, online or IRL, is universal. But many huge social media apps today seem more adept at making users feel on the outs—or worse. Algorithmic and content-moderation changes at X (formerly Twitter), for example, have left many users feeling unsafe, distanced from their internet friends, or simply unappreciated if they don’t shell out a monthly fee. 


“The more a group feels excluded from the mainstream internet, the more they’ll look for alternative spaces,” says Ed K. Lin, a sociologist and lecturer at UC Berkeley. This has driven people to try platforms that, through distinct content moderation and curation techniques, allow them to congregate by identity groups and interests. Instead of posting to their public feeds, people are heading to more community-focused spaces, many of which appear on Fast Company’s 2024 list of the Most Innovative Companies in social media.


Promising upstarts are catering to social groups in novel and experimental ways. Lex, for example, provides a classifieds-style feed for queer people, while Spill, an open-to-all microblogging site, is built with content-moderation features that are intended to make Black and other marginalized creators feel welcome. Other apps, like the Nudge and Letterboxd, serve specific use cases: making plans with friends or recommending films.  


WhatsApp is also helping users find their niche—and with a decidedly contrarian approach. Rather than trying to make the app more addictive by adding things like algorithmic content suggestions, comments sections, and prompts to connect with other users, the platform says it’s making users’ messaging more meaningful. It’s added video-call features, upgraded group chatting, and strengthened privacy protections, all so that users can communicate more authentically.  


The niche-ification of social media holds promise for advertisers. According to Tony Paille, principal at digital marketing agency Growth Spurt, advertising on more tailored social media apps provides a stronger return on ad spend, albeit at a lower volume, because users have more “meaningful interactions.” These platforms also give creators “a chance to carve out a space in a less crowded environment,” says Brendan Gahan, cofounder of LinkedIn influencer marketing agency Creator Authority.  


The challenge for these apps’ executives is to deliver strong returns for their investors, despite smaller user bases and an aversion to algorithmically suggested content. Expect to see more new ideas—and perhaps some high-priced acquisitions followed by the integration of these platforms as features. Social media use, after all, has always been more fragmented than the major platforms have led us to believe. 


Explore the full 2024 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 606 organizations that are reshaping industries and culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact across 58 categories, including advertising, artificial intelligence, design, sustainability, and more.


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