Remembering what the world was like before social media can feel abstract. In a short decade, the word has transformed itself with instant connections, sharing of news and ideas, and constant engagement with devices.

When most people think about social media, they think of three or four dominant players. It feels like these platforms have been around since the inception of the Internet, but they haven’t. In fact, in 1971, the first email was sent, and this is considered the first social media interaction.

Social media is ubiquitous, but the platforms hosting people’s interactions are not. Facebook, the largest platform by the number of registered users, is not available in China, where WeChat reigns supreme.

It is important to understand how social media platforms shift. Snapchat was in a state of rapid acceleration until 2020 when it again suffered from rumors that it was to shut down. TikTok is the hottest new platform with people flocking to watch and share 6-second videos all in the hopes of achieving viral video status.

In marketing, understanding the rise and fall of social media platforms is essential to your strategy. Each platform attracts a different audience. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Each has repercussions for your advertising budget and reach.

Understanding the evolution of social media is a great way to understand why different demographics are drawn to different platforms. From those who grew up without the Internet to those who have never known anything different, the appeal of social media platforms becomes more obvious as you track their progress and understand their features.

Social Media Timeline

Email 1971

While email is not considered strictly ‘social media’, it was the first online mass communication means. American computer programmer Ray Tomlinson in 1971 sent the first email, to himself.

“The test messages were entirely forgettable. . . . Most likely the first message was QWERTYIOP or something similar,” he is quoted as saying.

SixDegrees 1997 allowed users to set up a profile page, create lists of connections, and send messages within networks. It was one of the first true social media platforms, similar to those that we use today.

The site registered about 3 million users. It was bought out in 1999 for US$125 million, closed in 2001. The lack of people who had Internet access at the tie is considered largely responsible for its demise.

Am I Hot or Not 2000 was launched in 2000 at the whim of two men who were having a dispute over the attractiveness of a woman. The site asks registered users to post a photograph of themselves so that other users can rate them out of a 1-10 score.

Within a week of launching, the site had reached almost 2 million page views per day. It has had various spin-off sites, including matchmaking services.

The site is credited with influencing the creators of Facebook and YouTube. The site has also influenced some interesting research and studies into attractiveness, image perception, and brain function.

Friendster 2002

Launched in 2002, Friendster was intended as a dating site that would match people that had friends in common. You could create a profile, include “status updates” and share content. Messaging “friends of friends of friends” was also possible.

The site’s popularity spiked in 2003 and the company was ill-equipped to handle the capacity. Users started seeking other platforms as servers crashed.

Myspace 2003

Myspace quickly grabbed the attention of teens. It had customizable public profiles that included music, photos, and tag lines, all of which were visible to anyone. The public profiles were a stark contrast to the privacy of Friendster.

In 2005, the site had 25 million users. From 2005 to 2008, it was the largest social networking site in the world, reaching more than 100 million users per month.

It was the first social network to reach a global audience. One of the main reasons for its decline since about 2018 has been its inability to adapt to new ways of managing in an online environment.

Despite this, it is one of the most influential social media platforms ever created.

A Few Faces 2003-2005

In 2003, Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg launched Facemash, similar to Hot or Not, it allowed students to rate each other’s attractiveness based on photographs.

“The Facebook” followed in 2004, registering 1 million users by 2005, at which time it name-changed to simply “Facebook”. In 2006, it was launched globally, allowing users from outside Harvard to join. The “” domain was purchased for US$200,000.

However, it was during this same period that the online community saw a swath of platforms launch, all vying for the same user base.

LinkedIn targeted the business community. Photobucket and Flickr called to shutterbugs, social bookmarking site del.ici.ous and WordPress also came into existence.

2005 welcomed YouTube, with its first video, “Me at the zoo” now boasting 111 million views.

Reddit arrived that year too; the American social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion website, largely known for its trolls.

Twitter 2006

In 2006, the site formally known as Twttr, took flight. The first tweet ever sent was on March 21st by co-founder Jack Dorsey “just setting up my twttr.”, is the same message new users send out on joining the platform.

Dorsey envisioned Twttr as a text message-based tool for sending updates between friends.

LinkedIn 2006

LinkedIn was the first social media platform to offer users paid premium packages. Its Jobs and Subscriptions area, the site’s first premium business line, created revenue in its early development.

In 2006, only 3 years since its launch, LinkedIn turned a monthly profit for the first time.

LinkedIn has a checkered history, with acquisitions, transitions, blocks in certain countries, and internal issues.

However, it continues to boast massive user numbers. As of 2020, there are over 690 million LinkedIn members.

YouTube 2007

Between the platform’s soft launch in May 2005 and the official release in December of the same year, YouTube attracted 80 million daily views. Ahead of its acquisition by Google in 2006, the site grew to 100 million videos being watched by 20 million site users.

In May 2007, YouTube introduced its partnership program, which has been key for the site. The initiative is what it sounds like: a partnership between YouTube and its popular content creators. YouTube provides the platform and creators to supply the content. Profits from advertising on creators’ channels are then shared between the two parties.

Tumblr 2007

In 2007 the social network described as “Twitter meets YouTube and WordPress” Tumblr was launched. David Karp at just 17-years-old launched Tumblr from his bedroom in his mother’s New York apartment. The site allowed users to curate pictures, videos, and text and “reblog” their friends on their “tumblelogs.”

The platform was one of the inspirations for the term “micro-blogging”, which became widely used to describe Twitter and Tumblr.

The platform allowed users to “exchange small elements of content such as short sentences, individual images, or video links,” much the same way that Twitter does.

Hashtag 2007

Twitter’s strict 140-character limit for tweets made it challenging to use. However, the introduction of the hashtag change that. The symbol # is used to link content, making it easier for people to share ideas without having to reiterate what has been said.

During the summer of 2007, one of Twitter’s early adopters, Chris Messina, proposed the use of the hashtag (inspired from his early days on internet relay chats) to organize tweets. A few months later, the #SanDiegoFire hashtag was used to aggregate tweets and updates about the California wildfires.

However, the hashtag wasn’t until 2009 that Twitter realized the potential of the idea, and embraced it as an essential part of the platform.

It has since become a verb in much the same way that Google has.

Weibo 2009

The micro-blogging site Sina Weibo, or simply Weibo, is China’s answer to social media interaction in a controlled environment. The site was launched in 2009, the same year Facebook and Twitter were banned in the country. Along with Qzone and QQ, Weibo remains one of the most popular social networks in China, with 550 million active monthly users.

Emoji 2010

There can be little doubt that digital culture changed in 1999 when the emoji first appeared on Japanese mobile photos, thanks to Shigetaka Kurita. But it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that emojis started appearing internationally on Apple and Google platforms.

Pictographs have long played a part in our linguistic culture, and emojis are the new form of such communication, requiring no common language, they enable people to communicate without words. are fast being legitimized as a language.

In 2015, the Oxford Dictionary recognized the “Face with Tears” (a.k.a. the laugh-cry emoji) as an official pictograph.

Instagram 2010

On July 16, 2010, one of the first Instagram photos to be published by co-founder Mike Krieger was an uncaptioned, heavily filtered shot of a marina.

About 95 million photos and videos are shared on the platform each day, which has about 1.1 million registered users.

Snapchat 2011

Launching almost 1 year after Instagram, Snapchat (originally Picaboo) offered young people a platform away from their parents.

Users were able to publish content that would vanish after 24 hours, which seemed to appeal to the younger demographic that the platform attracted.

IGTV app 2018

Instagram increased its 1-minute video limit to 1-hour and launched a new app, IGTV, dedicated to long-form video. It was the first real threat to YouTube at the time.

TikToc 2020

TikTok, known in China as Douyin, was launched in 2016. It has a base in music. It offers a mix of music lip-syncing and micro-video content.

The globally appealing app has a userbase of 800 million and it is estimated to reach over a billion users this year.

Almost 50% of TikTok’s global audience is under the age of 34, with 26% of all TikTok users aged between 18 and 24.


Social media changes fast. It has new incarnations with each generation, who are growing up with devices in hand and have a very different world view to those born before the Internet was virtually ubiquitous.

As a marketeer, it is useful to know the origins of each platform. Not only does thins help to inform the demographic of users, but can give you an insight into how to reach your desired audience. For example, if you wanted to find your customers who are 18-26 online, you might search TikToc before Facebook, or if you wanted to find young professionals under 35, your first place to look might be Instagram.

Knowing which platform hosts your audience is a good place to start when deciding on how you will present your campaign and reach your target audience.