3 Reasons the Social Media Fad is Already Dying (and why it’s Not Bad News for Marketers)
Facebook is growing, but only in developing markets. In the US, Facebook lost 6 million users in just one month. It lost 9 million in the past half year, and an additional 2 million in the UK over the same time period. This isn’t new, either. About this time last year, studies started reporting a declining interest in Facebook among teens and young adults as they started spending less time on the site.
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The slack isn’t being picked up by other social networks, either. Teens seem less interested in social media altogether. Even Instagram, if it even counts as a social network, has only managed to hold steady. Pinterest has seen slight growth, but that is likely because of its rural appeal.
Teens have expressed interest in new networks like Wanelo, Vine, Snapchat, and Kik, but any growth here is far too small to make up for the losses other networks are experiencing.
Why is interest in social media declining, and what does this mean for internet marketers?
1. Privacy (in the least political sense)
News rags and blog posts on the subject of social networks and privacy tend to focus on the political aspects. We see a lot of talk about the NSA grabbing data from social networks and concerns about businesses spying on them. Consumers are not immune to these concerns, and we see plenty of backlash, especially from younger generations, against privacy infractions and excessive commercialization.
But that’s not the kind of privacy concern that’s killing social networks.
Instead, it’s a very mundane, apolitical kind of privacy that is driving people away from social networks. Over time, we’ve received friend requests from our parents, our co-workers, friends of our friends, and people we hardly know. Social networks have interpreted this polite response as an indication that we would like to share everything we say with all of these people.
You can’t have a comfortable, relaxed conversation with a megaphone.
Confusing, untrustworthy, difficult to follow privacy settings have made everybody feel like they are holding a megaphone when it’s not necessarily what they want to use. Facebook’s most widely used feature among teens is not its social network: it’s the instant messenger.
The ability to publish whatever you wanted online without any knowledge of HTML was once empowering. When it was new and hip, it was also something you could do with the comfort that only fellow teens and close friends knew about it.
Today, anything you post on social networks is going to be seen by your parents, co-workers, and people you barely know. If you have any modesty, and any moderate skepticism of privacy settings, you can’t feel relaxed or truly act like yourself on a social network.
The growth of our social profiles has created problems that go beyond privacy. Where most people would rather not broadcast their unfiltered selves to the world, most people also would rather not read the polished, corny, filtered things people are willing to post to social networks. They especially don’t care to see these kinds of posts from the growing number of “social connections” they have with people they hardly even know.
I’ve witnessed an interesting phenomenon in my personal Facebook feed recently. All of my favorite posts are re-shares from channels that either I’ve subscribed to, or my connections have subscribed to.
Why would we expect it to be any other way?
Studies have shown that most people don’t use Facebook for expression or communication. They use it for entertainment. Most people, in turn, aren’t in the business of being entertaining. And so we witness this phenomenon of fewer people using social networks to communicate or express themselves, and more of them simply sharing material from publishers that are good at being entertaining.
As people realize that most of the things they share and look at on social networks aren’t being produced by themselves or their friends, more of them will turn directly to the publishers of that content, instead of social networks, for their entertainment.
That’s a bad thing for social networks, but great news for the content marketers who understand the implications.
3. It’s all talk and no listening
“Social media marketers” always emphasize the importance of not just being shareable, but of listening. Social media has transformed the online experience from one of broadcast to one of conversation, or so they claim.
Nobody bothered to let the consumers in on that message, though.
Social media has always been one of the worst platforms for conversation in the traditional sense. Everything from the phone to the instant messenger to the email is more conducive to conversation.
Social media is not built for two-way communication. All the emphasis is on the material that is being shared. The comment section is small, and only small comments are allowed. It’s difficult to identify who is responding to whom. Responses don’t come in real time, and conversations grow stale before anything real develops. Even email is a better platform for conversation, since there is no expectation that the response email must be shorter than the original email. In the workplace, a tool like WorkZone has always been more useful than a social network for project planning.
Comment sections don’t make for good conversations. They have been, and always will be, a place for the original sharer to get validation from their peers. Nothing more.
Social networks made this problem worse by adding Likes and Pins and other buttons that made the comment unnecessary. Why say anything when you can just click a button?
There may be conversations happening on Twitter and Facebook, but they’re happening in the messaging tools, not on the social networks.
The Implication for Marketers
What does all this mean for us? We can start by looking at those small start-up social networks to see what they’re doing differently.
Wanelo? It’s a social shopping site. Vine? It’s for sharing short, looping videos. Snapchat? It’s for taking a quick goofy, ugly picture, adding a caption, sending it to a friend, and deleting the image immediately afterward. Kik is a smartphone instant messenger.
In short, the social networks of the future are niche or they are for intimate, personal connections.
And niche has always been a good thing for marketers.
Marketers who embraced the social media hype too readily did so because they were using a traditional marketing mindset. On the TV, yeah, it’s good to go where the biggest audiences are. On the web? Not really. Not when you can segment your audience by interests and commercial intent.
Let’s put the focus back on niches. Stop trying to appeal to everybody with the same message. Go where your audience is. The rules haven’t changed. Only the platforms.