Back in 2006, Facebook had a mission to “make the world more open and connected” and became publicly available to anyone over the age of thirteen.' Since acquiring 12 million users during that year¹, it has now grown to a staggering 2.41 billion registered users². The ballooning of Facebook’s user base is evidentiary of a larger societal willingness to connect online, which has led to a total of 3.5 billion social media users worldwide in 2019³.
When taken at face value, these statistics portray social media as an advantageous space that brands must occupy to reach large audiences. However, the truth is that whilst the number of users on social media remains high at the moment, the nuances of user relationships with social media are changing. As such, brands shouldn’t take a high volume of registered users as the full story. It’s vital that when allocating advertising budgets, marketers must look past how many users are on a platform and focus more on who is on the platform and how they use it.
Who is using social media in 2019?
Despite online connectivity with friends being typically associated with youth, the number of 12-15-year-olds with a social media account has dropped by 5% in the last year⁴. In fact, it’s the 25-34-year-old cohort who are most likely to have a social media profile in 2019⁴. It’s possible this can be explained by how social media was introduced to each cohort. The younger age group grew up with social media and seamlessly adopted each platform as they emerged, so it’s possible that they have a more fluid relationship with social media that allows them to move on to new things more easily. On the other hand, their older counterparts had to adapt and make room for social media in their lives, so it’s possible that the decision to register was given more thought and this led to a more stoic relationship.
As social media has matured, age has been one of the biggest factors in determining users internet diets. Within Facebook’s user base, there has been a big drop in the number of users aged 12-24 (down 700,000) and a rise in users aged 45-65 + (up 600,000)⁵. This indicates that Facebook is becoming a platform for older generations and means that brands who are targeting a younger demographic may see their ad spend wasted on Facebook. Ultimately these brands need to consider exploring other platforms, such as Instagram where most of the younger demographics are⁶.
How are users behaving differently with social media in 2019?
Whilst social media platforms have a large user base of registered users, 31% of users do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on a daily-basis⁷. Although Facebook remains the most used of these services, users are only spending 23 mins/day on the platform compared to 39 mins/day in 2015⁴. This suggests that some users are starting to turn the lights out on social media.
In fact, 74% of people have reduced or adjusted their usage of Facebook since 2017⁸. Breaking this down, 54% of users have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, 42% of people have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, and most damningly, 26% of adults have deleted the app off their phone⁸.
The shift in user behaviour with social media can be attributed to numerous factors which have resulted in users taking more responsibility for the impact of social media on their lives. For instance, since the Cambridge Analytica scandal and stronger GDPR implementation, users are more wary of privacy and the gatekeeping of their data. Polls reflect this by showing that a mere 14% of people believe that Facebook respects their privacy⁹. This view is taken by users across social media as a whole, but Facebook has definitely taken the brunt of this criticism. Facebook has also been the most commonly-cited source of online harm (including bullying, personal details being hacked and fake news)⁴ and the recent CMA investigation into Facebook¹⁰ has only added kindling to the fire.
People are also beginning to realise that the continued usage of social media can directly cause negative mental health outcomes. Recent research suggests that this can be remedied by restricting the time spent on social media as this has been shown to reduce the feelings of depression and loneliness¹¹. Some social media platforms including Instagram and Facebook have begun to address this by providing time-tracking dashboards to hold the users accountable for how much time they spend on the apps. This move to transparency has facilitated the opportunity for users to set cut-off times for their daily usage, which reinforces the behaviour change we are seeing across social media usage.
Where are users going now?
It has been suggested that the above concerns have forced users to seek closer-knit communities. This has manifested in the uptake of niche community platforms¹² and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger¹³. This has not gone unnoticed by Facebook whose mission statement has notably changed from “making the world more open and connected” to “giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”.
It hasn’t stopped at friends either as the prioritisation of people over platforms seems to extend to parasocial relationships with admired personalities. Just this month, gaming streamer ‘Ninja’ made the jump from Amazon’s Twitch to Microsoft-owned Mixer, where he grew a new subscriber base of 1 million over 5 days¹⁴. This suggests that users ultimately care more about who is on the platform when choosing which ones to engage with.
So what lies in the future for social media? With such a dynamic internet culture, no one can truly know where the future of social media is going, but we can certainly comment on what’s happening in the immediate future. For many, social media usage is still on the agenda and continues to grow in popularity as it attracts new audiences (e.g older demographics). For others, what was once a social right of passage, social media has become much less of an activity and more of a possession. What we mean by this, is that 93% of people use their social media as a sign-in-tool for other platforms¹⁵. In this way its usage is akin to a qualification - it’s something you got a while ago, and it mainly proves useful for getting through doors.
Overall, the number of people with a social media account remains high, however, it’s important for brands to be mindful of the changing audiences and usage behaviours. Brands must avoid blindly allocating marketing budgets to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and think that all bases are covered; brands must seriously research where their audience currently are and how likely they are to see your ad investment. It may not even be on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at all...
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