In this piece, Plum investigates the rise and fall of different social media platforms and the defining traits of the corresponding generations that they appeal to

It started with Facebook. Every Indian millennial remembers the excitement and the subsequent nervousness of finding everyone in their social lives now a part of their virtual worlds. While Facebook today seems like everyone’s favourite uncle to diss on, for millennials it was an initiation into the world of social media that permanently rewired human interactions, networking and ways of expressing oneself.

No longer required to verbally communicate or be physically committed to a sentiment or experience, Facebook offered a grand landscape to play within. For the first time there was freedom to create and curate an online self, and the millennials were the first generation that embraced this opportunity.

Particularly for India which is still dominated by class and caste barriers in social interactions, Facebook provided the first ever chance to break free from those spheres of belonging. A witty status, a well taken photograph, an impressive check-in, could all combine to make an impression that had little to do with the real, physical, economical or even emotional state of each user. And millennials reveled in this make believe world, at least for the initial years.

Enter Snapchat

In many ways disrupting the more curated sense of Facebook’s status and comment features, Snapchat nevertheless offered a higher engagement with one’s network because of video and selfie focused features. It pioneered the filter craze that continues to entertain people of all ages, and it started with a key differentiator : privacy and vanishing photographs, something that instantly made Facebook seem dated. However, Snapchat’s popularity was also bolstered by the privacy scandal that drove many off facebook and reduced the engagement level of a majority of millennial users who now turned to Facebook mainly to post ‘life updates’, instead of daily updates. So where did the itch for sharing everyday moments go? It migrated to..


Instagram marries the best of first-generation social media : it offers private and public profiles, post-specific controls, a constantly updating feed, targeted ads that appear more like interesting posts than they did on Facebook, and a plethora of video choices: live, stories and IGTV. Instagram has now grown to encompass loyal followers from Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat and twitter because of its unique offerings : it allows one to be a silent spectator or an active creator with equal ease.

But wait, let’s take a sharp left

Just when the rules of social media were seemingly more defined, Chinese social media app Musically (now Tik-Tok) made its grand entry. It is no coincidence that a significant shift in the trends in social media are co-inciding with the rise of the next digital generation, Gen-Z. Gen-Z are the number one users of Tik-Tok, and being the first true digital natives, they have taken to content creation and sharing without the awkward self-consciousness of any previous generation when it comes to embracing ever mutating social media platforms.

Tik-tok was the most downloaded app in 2018 itself, with maximum reported stickiness at 52 minutes per day by users. A juggernaut app with the most number of users ever tabulated in Asia, it’s succeeded in capturing the imagination and interest of teenagers. With such a huge population seamlessly getting on the Tik Tok bandwagon, it is getting tougher and tougher to shrug this phenomenon off as random or meaningless – and we think it merits a deeper look into the cultural zeitgeist to investigate what is making apps like Tik Tok really tick.

Avneet Kaur's Tik Tok Channel

About vid: Avneet Kaur, 16 years old, Tik Tok (earlier musical.aly) sensation

With apps like Tik Tok, the meaning/experience of social media has exploded. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – now old players, in a manner of speaking – served a distinct purpose of self-expression. These were platforms that allowed young Indians to express their unique POV, stand out from the crowd, be different and be noticed. The motivation to get onto the first wave social media was to claim distinction. The millennial generation (late 80s to mid 90s) needed to actively dissociate from norms and define themselves afresh through the language of social media which was itself new and constantly evolving. They were ‘digital pioneers’, as we have labelled them in marketing and research jargon – creators in a new digital space that did not exist before them.

Gen-Z have been born into the world of social media sharing, and do not consider it as a distinctive tool of expression. To them, social media is community, a space that means togetherness over individuality. And why not – given that old social structures of the ‘real world’ that are religion, caste, education qualifications, have begun to play a lesser role in demarcating identity for them today. Born on a global stage, they find solace by connecting with other young people who live in a similar world of social media rules. If we were to get absolutely meta about this, it would be safe to say that they are vying to belong to a new world order that is dominantly the social media lifescape. And this world order is without conflict, ripe with acceptance of all kinds of people (although still driven by ultimate capitalist concerns – media consumption driving economy).

India’s thriving Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities have long been written out of even national media narratives (having been confined to glorified rural stories or simple caricatures of village life). This new wave of social media platforms, with apps like Tik-Tok, allow them to belong to a global narrative today.

About the image: Typical image of Tier 3 / villages in India as portrayed in pop culture

Gen-Z populations in the non-metro regions see an opportunity to affiliate themselves with a community – that is not based on geography or social status and the new wave of social media finally allows them to do so.

India’s diversity has often thrust people into opaque buckets, making it virtually impossible to truly peek into the lives of people who are not of the same geography / social status. Brands have been in a frenzy to connect with the metro, urban millennials – a segment, that on its own is not the same as heartland India. But Gen-Z is soon to be the new buzz word, and unlike millennials it is not restricted to the metro, urban segment. Behaviours and motivations of Gen Z in Tier 2 and Tier 3 are very similar to those in metros – evident in the uptake of this new wave of social media. They are driven by the same motives to belong to a community. They are finally part of the larger game – armed with smartphones and internet connections – there is finally no barrier to participating in the global narrative.