For years we’ve complained that one has had to go back to the early 2010s to find an exciting new social-media application. This past year might finally have broken the curse: irresistibly shareable personalized video clips from celebrities and being able to be a text chain with your favorite celebs show that there’s still room for novel ideas to go mainstream even in the face of one giant owning several major social platforms. In addition, 2019 brought both the rise of social shopping as well as the return of niche networks for communities that make far less sense being dumped into a one-size-fits-all group.
For creating the “famous faces on demand” platform, where fans pay for personal videos from more than 30,000 celebrities
While it was launched in 2017, this past year marks the Chicago-based company’s pop-culture arrival. Both a utility for, and seemingly the next evolution of modern celebrity, the “famous faces on demand” service allows consumers to book celebrities to create personalized video shout-outs for anything from birthdays to good-luck wishes as well as prom invitations and marriage proposals. In 2019, the company’s employee headcount went from 18 to 135, while participating celebs skyrocketed from 3,000 to more than 20,000. Cameo also expanded internationally to the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and raised $50 million in Series B financing.
Read more about why Cameo is one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For giving notable people like Kerry Washington and Jennifer Lopez the ability to text their fans—and receive texts back
Launched in summer 2019, this text-based social platform provides celebrities, artists, and their fans a walled garden to connect, away from the prying eyes of trolls, and providing the stars with more information about their fans—age, location, and so forth—than they’re able to get from traditional social like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. So far, Community has kept its numbers deliberately low, less than a thousand celebrities and artists, but it’s an impressive cross section, including Ashton Kutcher (also an investor) Kerry Washington, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Schumer, Paul McCartney, Ninja, and more. Star music manager and Kutcher’s investment partner in Sound Ventures Guy Oseary told Fast Company, “The point is now we don’t have to rely on platforms that share all of our information that don’t give [artists] the information directly. They’re all great platforms for broadcast. We all need them. We all use them. They’re awesome. But if I want to have a more meaningful, more direct connection, [Community] is the platform of the future.”
For finding new ways to convert inspiration into transactions
The visual social network has evolved significantly over the past year, growing to about 335 million monthly active users, which is an increase of 26% year over year, outpacing the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Its U.S. audience was up 8% in 2019, while international audience growth was 35%. In terms of revenue, the company made $400 million in 2019 Q4, up 46% year-over-year, taking its 2019 total up to $1.14 billion. Back in September 2019, Pinterest introduced Shop The Look ads that allows advertisers to feature multiple products in a single ad, making it easier for users to buy more stuff from one image. Then in January 2020, it launched Try On, powered by Lens, that allows users to virtually try makeup products from brands like Estée Lauder, Sephora, bareMinerals, Neutrogena, and L’Oreal. Pin that.
For making Instagram’s “link in bio” into a sleek menu for sharing articles, merch, or paid partnerships
This Australian company started in 2016 as a way to clear out the “link in bio” clutter from brands and others on Instagram trying to connect followers and their products. Now it links up social followers with your entire online ecosystem, using one link to direct people toward the e-commerce or other content that matters for any business or brand. Over the past year, Linktree averaged 10,000 signups a day, growing its active users by 200% to more than three million, with over 40% of traffic coming from sources other than Instagram, including Twitch, YouTube, and Pinterest. In July 2019, Chance the Rapper used it in his partnership with Lyft to launch his album The Big Day, giving fans the option to download it for free or donate to the Chicago Public Schools through SocialWorks, all within the Lyft app.
For connecting sober people with each other
Founded in 2018, Loosid is a digital sober community that makes dating, travel, and socializing easier for those who refrain from alcohol. When nonalcoholic beverages are worth $7 billion more than just four years ago, and zero- or low-alcohol beer is the fifth-fastest growing beer type, Loosid is tapping into the occasions around these trends. In early 2020, the company launched Boozeless Guides, inside looks at local restaurants and bars across the United States that offer alcohol-free drink options.
For looping in more than 2 billion monthly views and 22 million fans to its TikTok talk show
Flighthouse was on TikTok when it was still called Musical.ly, and now generates two billion monthly views. The channel passed the 20-million-follower mark this past year, up from 16.8 million. In early 2020, it launched a new music-focused, short-form show on Tik Tok called \”Certified Superfan,” as part of its partnership with Republic Records. Flighthouse has worked with such artists as Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande, but also helps lesser-known artists boost their profiles. Their campaign with Niki averaged more than 100,000 reposts a week, turning her track “Indigo” into a Top-5 trending song on TikTok.
For powering 1 billion animated conversation stickers a day in iMessage, Twitch, and more
Long the go-to app to have as many animated emoji options to ask your friends if they want to grab some pizza, the New York-based company rebranded from Emogi to Holler, and took its intelligent AI-powered, animated visual content for messaging apps and expanded to create sticker campaigns for brands like Ikea, Snickers, Bud Light, Fox, and Subway. At the same time, it expanded to bring animated content to such platforms as Badoo and Venmo. It grew in 2019 from being a part of a billion messaging conversations a month to a billion a day.
For building the only social network with no ads, no targeting, and a privacy bill of rights
Given its myriad of challenges around privacy, advertising, and user data, anything with a sales pitch that sounds like the anti-Facebook merits attention. Since 2018, MeWe has grown at a 405% rate, and it hit five million members by mid-2019 and closed a $4.5 million offering, bringing the company’s total funds raised to $15 million. Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee is a board member, and says of the company, “MeWe gives the power of the internet back to the people with a platform built for collaboration and privacy.”
For helping women over 50 gather for friendship
While most social startups focus on becoming the next flashy digi-bauble of whatever generation is coming next, Revel’s goal is to create a nationwide subscription-based network tailored to women over the age of 50, helping them foster new relationships. Still in its early stages, so far it has a community of 500 users, and has $2.5 million in funding led by Forerunner Ventures. Age may be just a number, but the number of people in an often-forgotten social demographic—like the opportunity it represents—is huge.
10. JFK PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM
For re-creating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on Twitch
To mark the 50th anniversary of the achievement of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 “Moonshot” speech, the library partnered with its marketing agency Digitas to create JFK Moonshot, a fully synchronized, augmented-reality app that re-created Apollo 11 where every moment, maneuver, and milestone unfolded in real time, second by second, precisely 50 years later. It also followed the lunar mission on social media in real time, using almost 110 hours of Apollo 11 audio transmissions, fullscreen 3D animations, and live Twitter feeds in the voice of the astronauts. With more than 240 million brand impressions, the effort helped a new generation of Americans experience and get excited about space exploration.
A version of this article appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.