Here are Forbes' top picks for the people, companies, and trends defining social media during 2020. The awards were decided on by a panel that included venture capitalist Brianne Kimmel, who is also the founder of Work Life Ventures; Tiffany Zhong, who is a former Under 30 honoree and the cofounder of Zebra IQ; and Jacob Pace, who is the founder of FlightHouse.
Forbes' Best Product: Cameo
What do Floyd Mayweather, Tiger King star Carole Baskin, and YouTuber LA Beast have in common? They're all for hire on Cameo, the web-based business that allows you to commission videos from celebrities--perhaps to wish someone a happy birthday or to congratulate them on a promotion. Over the last 12 months, users bought 1.2 million Cameos, triple the amount commissioned in all of the company's prior four-year history, while the average price of a video rose 60%, to $80. For customers, Cameos are an opportunity to send a personalized gift without leaving home. For celebrities, they're a new revenue stream, an opportunity to stave off their own lockdown boredom and a chance to stay relevant with fans--especially since well-made Cameos often go viral on social media.
Forbes' Most Intriguing Newcomer: Clubhouse
Shortly after bars, professional clubs and conference centers went dark, Clubhouse launched in April. The invite-only, audio-based social network seemed to offer a dream version of a cocktail party: hop between different group conversations in which anyone could participate while the guest list stayed ultra-exclusive. To accomplish the latter, Clubhouse at first limited its user base to celebrities (Oprah, Chris Rock, Ashton Kutcher) and the corporate elite (Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mark Cuban, Marc Andreessen). Its overnight popularity sparked a bidding war among VC firms ready to finance it, and it snagged a $100 million valuation in an Andreessen Horowitz-led round in May. Clubhouse remains invite only--and dogged by criticism that it should do more to moderate its users and heed complaints about racist and sexist comments made on its app.
Forbes' Disruptive Innovator: TikTok
Yeah, this one's not really much of a competition. The video social network has ballooned from 55 million users worldwide in 2018 to 690 million this year. As a result, the app has become the center of internet culture, where video-based memes featuring snippets of songs, physical stunts and choreographed dances are endlessly remixed. TikTok's short clips are often shot casually in a living room or bedroom, far different from Instagram's glossy, curated photos and YouTube's much-lengthier videos.
Forbes' Outstanding Firm: Discord
"You're going to make mistakes," Discord cofounder Jason Citron admitted in a Forbes interview in June. "As long as it doesn't kill you, you learn from it." He and cofounder Stan Vishnevskiy certainly seem to have learned from theirs. Their chat app was once most famous as the tool used by white supremacists to plan the deadly 2017 Charlottesville protests. It's since become a widely popular voice- and video-chat platform used by everyone from students and teachers contending with remote learning to Black Lives Matter protesters. In June, Discord raised $100 million in funding that placed a $3.5 billion price tag on the firm. With its popularity continuing to climb in lockdown, the company raised another $100 million in December that roughly doubled its valuation in a year.
Forbes Forecast: Some of the TikTokers will grow up
They may be newly famous online, but many TikTok stars need a dose of reality. "Influencers think pretty short term," says Tiffany Zhong, 24, publisher of a widely read annual report on social media trends and cofounder of Zebra IQ, an app that helps influencers build their online fanbases. "A lot of them need to learn to think longer term." The savviest TikTokers will begin to focus less on fee-based brand deals than on equity stakes--either in businesses they start themselves or in established brands--following the same route to riches that older, traditional stars have blazed for them.
The Forbes Person Of The Year In Social Media: Charli D'Amelio
No one better personifies the explosion of TikTok than Charli. Eighteen months ago, she was an anonymous Connecticut teenager. Today, she's the most-followed person on TikTok, recently surpassing 100 million followers, a threshold few celebrities have crossed on any app. "Charli hitting 100 million--it's insane," says Jacob Pace, a fellow influencer who runs a popular TikTok channel, @FlightHouse, featuring interviews and music videos with top celebs like Charli. Her following is a pretty telling sign that "TikTok got a lot more attention this year and got a lot more mainstream," Pace says. Those fans can't get enough of Charli's dance moves--or her chronicles of life with her family and fellow TikTok star sister Dixie. She's appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, documented Paris Fashion Week as an official Prada guest and struck several lucrative corporate sponsorships with brands such as Morphe cosmetics, Sabra hummus and Hollister clothing. Next up: a Kardashian-esque reality show on Hulu due out next year about the D'Amelio clan.