Is social media dying? There are indications that Facebook may have peaked in popularity despite more than two-billion active users worldwide. Scores of next-generation Internet users are increasingly abandoning the social media platform.
According to a Pew Survey, Facebook’s user-base in the US largely remained stagnant at around 68% from 2016 to 2018. Negative publicity due to confrontations with GDPR in Europe and the Cambridge Analytica scandal may have also contributed to declining numbers.
The bigger question is whether the lack of engagement is limited to Facebook alone or impacting all social media channels equally. YouTube recently made an announcement that its userbase is increasing twice as fast as Facebook. The engagement levels are certainly showing no signs of abatement because many of us do spend hours watching YouTube videos.
Has Social Media Seen Its Best Days Behind it?
Brand fatigue, lack of trust, privacy issues, the rise of fake news and bot-driven influencers, and too many marketers competing for eyeballs are the biggest frustrations about social media. Many believe that this is a transitory phase. In the future, social media companies will simply evolve thanks to live streaming and greater content personalization.
However, it seems extremely likely that in the light of “14 Eyes”-like surveillance programs, people will start valuing their privacy even more. This means less desire to share updates or content via public feeds. Users may feel that deleting one’s social media accounts could be more attractive than agreeing to obtrusive terms and conditions.
Recently, JD Wetherspoon, a UK-based pub chain with over 900 outlets, decided to delete their corporate Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. According to Tim Martin, the founder and Chairman of JD Wetherspoon, they simply got “fed up” with social media. What would it take for others to be pushed to the brink and call it quits?
Some of the pet peeves of present forms of social media include:
1. Ad Desensitization
Advertisers with massive social media presence already complain about this collective phenomenon of unrest. Less than 1 out of 50 followers of a company page on Twitter or Facebook engage with their posts. Subscribers no longer fancy being trolled for attention every waking moment.
2. Fake News and Misinformation
Instead of click-bait, people are looking for truthful content that helps them directly engage with their peers and social groups. Twitter recently banned bulk posting because of numerous complaints.
3. “The Age of Narcissism is Nigh Upon Us”
Many would agree that the online world has become a lot less happier with narcissistic people filling the most popular news sites. The current engagement model of social media allowing for unfiltered opinions has made it a fertile ground for angry rants and pointless debates. If what people cannot say in the real world out of politeness, can be said on social media in just a matter of a few angry exchanges, in the dust-up of cyberspace, all seems to be forgiven.
If only there were social media engagement models that rewarded good behavior, and reined in our worst instincts, as in the real world. Now, that is a business idea someone should take on.
The Road Ahead
So, what does the future hold? We do not know for sure.
A few trends, however, look certain. AR/VR, artificial intelligence, voice-driven applications like Alexa, machine-learning and Internet of Things will make the Internet visible in every aspect of our lives rather than be restricted to one device at a time. This has interesting ramifications. While none of us would stop checking emails and news updates online, the mediums which advertisers use to reach us will change greatly.
For example, if you’re a media company, your readers will have less and less patience with unrelated and irrelevant content. They can tweak their news update settings to filter unwanted noise. This means account-based marketing initiatives will have more pull factor than mass advertising.
Social media, in its traditional sense of sharing unfiltered posts and opinions, may have already reached its saturation point. A course correction seems inevitable in that the very concept of social media might evolve into something else. This could mean a new era of hyper-connectivity where social media merges with the emerging technologies of future. The social media companies would no longer be able to get away with what they have so far. They will increasingly have to play by the rules of abuse control, data protection and privacy requirements.