Mastodon is so last week. Hive Social is hot. But the hype may not last.
Under the new leadership of Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk, Twitter has been rocked by mass layoffs (which saw much of the company’s legal advisory and content moderation teams ousted), resignations from top executives, flip-flopping platform changes, an ultimatum issued to employees that resulted in more resignations and a major drop in ad spend as brands pull back in light of brand safety concerns.
Amid the chaos, many users are flocking to different platforms. Decentralized social network Mastodon hit 1m monthly active users for the first time this month, and experts are predicting that disgruntled twitter users will shift their attention to platforms like TikTok, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Now, Mastodon seems like last week’s news as Hive Social, a social media site that’s a bit like Twitter-meets-Instagram-meets-Tumblr, gains steam. The company tweeted on Tuesday that it had seen some 250,000 new signups overnight. Today, it was trending as the top app in Apple’s App Store. In total, the platform has reached around 2m downloads after nearly doubling in size since Musk acquired Twitter in late October.
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The buzz surrounding Hive Social
Launched in late 2019 by then-college student Raluca Pop, Hive Social has a profile page similar in appearance to Twitter’s. Users can post without a character limit and the app’s feed is organized chronologically – rather than algorithmically serving up content based on ‘relevance.’ The platform also includes an Instagram-like ‘discover’ tab where users can explore content that may interest them.
For former Twitter devotees, Hive is a shiny new toy. “Twitter’s challenges have fundamentally shaken up the social landscape – and that’s a good thing,” says Chris Harihar, partner at Crenshaw Communications, a B2B tech PR agency. “From Mastodon to Hive, more platforms have an opportunity to cut through and gain market share.”
And Harihar, for his part, believes that Hive has a better chance at success. “Hive is better positioned to be a Twitter competitor than Mastodon because the barriers to entry on Mastodon are higher,” he says. “There’s more of a learning curve.” Mastodon is a network of user-generated servers hosting independent communities. It requires that users either build their own servers or join independent servers and abide by the server’s self-designated rules. Hive, meanwhile, is more like a classic social media site, and is therefore, Harihar says, “built for wider adoption.”
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A lack of differentiation and the problem of size
Despite Hive’s appeal, experts – including Harihar – remain skeptical of Hive Social’s prospects when it comes to securing long-term engagement from either users or brands.
“What’s interesting about Hive right now is that rather than offering a truly differentiating feature, the growth is mostly driven by an anti-Twitter sentiment. And that cannot last forever,” says Mike Allton, a social media influencer and head of strategic partnerships at social media management platform Agorapulse.
The challenge – and opportunity – for Hive, Allton suggests, is establishing a true competitive differentiator. “[Hive needs] to create a unique experience – like social audio with Clubhouse – that cannot be easily duplicated by mainstream platforms, like TikTok’s addictive algorithm. If Hive cannot innovate in that way, they’ll fail to achieve mainstream adoption.”
Outside of the fact that Hive Social lacks a one-of-a-kind feature that might position it for mass adoption, the platform is saddled with a range of other issues that could hamper growth.
For one, the company is small – as in, run-by-a-total-of-three-people small. Beyond the obvious operational challenges (considering the platform’s user base is growing at speed, Hive will likely need to build out its team), the company also falls short on one key issue: content moderation. Founder Pop has said that the app does not yet have content moderators, who could help enforce terms and conditions and keep the site free from hate speech and violence.
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Seeing the same ills as Twitter?
Hiring a content moderation team is a top priority for the organization, Pop has reportedly said. And the app has already made some of its stances on content regulation clear: on Monday, Hive said that it does not tolerate hate or bigotry – and that former US president Donald Trump (whose previously-suspended Twitter account was reinstated by Musk this week) and controversial right-wing influencer Andrew Tate would not be allowed on the platform.
But Hive’s lack of formalized content moderation is no small matter: in fact, for many users and advertisers, it’s their primary concern regarding a Musk-helmed Twitter and precisely the reason they’re seeking out new communities elsewhere.
“What some people seem to be missing is that, with Twitter and the various emerging alternatives, the product isn’t an app to post things on – the product is the moderation,” says Andrew Graham, founder and head of strategy at Bread & Law, a New York-based PR firm. “It’s what defines the experience for users and for advertisers. So when Elon gutted moderation, he gutted the product. I am not suggesting it would be easy to build out Twitter’s features and functionalities in a different app. But those are technical problems with technical solutions.”
(Musk has suggested that he can manage content moderation almost entirely with AI solutions. Many, including Graham, doubt that such an approach will prove effective. “Moderation is a people problem,” says Graham. “You can’t code better moderation into an app. I don’t think Elon understands this, and I doubt he ever will.”)
In another shortfall that mimics Twitter’s troubles, Hive this week faced some issues with identity verification. A user alerted others that usernames are not unique or protected – meaning, essentially, that multiple users could operate under the same username. Hive immediately faced backlash, before explaining Tuesday evening in a Twitter post that it is deduplicating usernames and will soon roll out an identity verification feature.
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The question of monetization
Another key problem for Hive is the matter of scaling. Without a robust team of engineers, content moderators, legal advisors and marketers, the app may face trouble when it comes to building out the platform and driving growth.
Of course, part of scaling will necessarily involve considering monetization of the product. “The typical route to monetization for a platform like this to survive is advertising,” says Matt Navarra, a leading social media consultant and industry analyst.
However, Navarra, like other experts in the field, recognize that there’s “a tide that seems to be turning” when it comes to platform monetization. In the same way that Musk is seeking to charge users $8 a month for a verification checkmark, many platforms are now moving away from purely ad-based models and toward subscription-based models, or some hybrid version that derives revenue from both ads and paid product offerings.
As it stands, Hive is taking something like the hybrid route. It has two existing revenue streams in place: though it’s free to download, users can add additional music to their profile, starting at $.99 per song; plus, the platform includes what Pop has called “minimally-invasive” ads that are formatted like regular user-generated posts.
“There are plenty of opportunities within a platform like Hive to build a scalable monetizable business from,” says Navarra. However, he says, “It’ll be interesting to see if they succumb to the pressures of needing income and revenue to fund expansion.”
Hive was started with a $25,000 investment from an angel investor to get the app up-and-running. With revenue from in-app song purchases and branded posts, it’s presumably been able to stay afloat until now. As it’s blown up in the wake of Twitter’s hullabaloo, however, Hive raised some $300,000 via crowdfunding site WeFunder in the last six days alone.
As it stands, the app doesn’t offer more traditional ad formats. It’s a fact that has some experts wary of Hive’s growth potential. “In the short term, Hive scrapes away some Twitter users who are as turned off by Elon’s Republican activism, hubris and poor management as I am,” says Bread & Law’s Graham. “But I don’t think it becomes this haven for brands looking for a new platform. It’s just not there yet, and I don’t think anyone serious should expect it to be.”
A less serious but nonetheless relevant consideration is that Hive features a chronologically organized feed – which may turn off users and brands alike. “We’ve already had this debate, and we already know the outcome of it. As much as people dislike – or say they dislike – algorithmic feeds in a platform, when it gets to a certain size … you need some sort of artificial intelligence or algorithm to make sure you see the right stuff at the right time,” says Navarra. At the end of the day, he says, users and brands value the fact that most social platforms serve up the most relevant and timely content from users and creators they care about.
For Hive, Navarra predicts, staying married to the chronological feed will only hurt its prospects. “As much as [Hive] leans into some sort of utopia that [posits an] algorithmic-free platform as a goal or a desire, I don’t think it’s realistic in terms of actually delivering the best experience for most people,” he says. “I’m a bit hesitant to say that it’s a particularly strong or good aspect of Hive in terms of advertising and revenue.”
Will brands bite?
Without a more robust ad offering, brands aren’t likely to buy into the hype, experts say. “While users are testing these new services, it’s doubtful brands will follow anytime soon,” says Crenshaw Communications’ Harihar. In light of economic uncertainty, Harihar says brands “aren’t seeking to experiment.”
He predicts that brands will reallocate Twitter spend to performance-focused channels like search and affiliate marketing. Graham, on the other hand, is betting on LinkedIn, which he argues “has some similar technical capabilities” to Twitter, but with “better” content moderation practices.
Navarra believes that Hive could fizzle just as soon as it’s taken off. “My hunch is that it won’t grow to be a triple-digit, multimillion user platform – certainly not in the short-term,” he says.
Instead, he anticipates that Musk and Twitter users and advertisers could iron out their differences in the near future. “Twitter and Elon Musk will settle into a groove at some point and stay in equilibrium – once the cultural reset has occurred. People’s addiction to it – and the fact there’s a lack of a direct alternative – will lead many people to continue using Twitter,” he says. That is, at least until Twitter runs into a real existential threat in which “the business folds because it can’t monetize in the way that Elon Musk thinks it can or regulators and legislators clamp down on its loose content moderation decisions.”
At least into 2023, Navarra says, “I can see Twitter being still fairly popular if it’s still standing.”
Others are more confident in Hive’s prospects. “It depends on what Hive is looking to do,” says Sean Gardner, a social media influencer and digital marketing expert. “It is not about the lack of vision that will keep a site from thriving – if anything, it is a poverty of imagination. The scope and depth of Hive’s imagination can help it leverage this big moment for something greater. And that includes the advertising component, because business loves a winner.”
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