Social Media Is Maturing: Has Your Strategy?

I remember the days when we called digital media “new media.” My undergrad studies and half of my career were focused on traditional mass media. Our ad campaigns for marketing clients consisted of TV, print, radio, out-of-home, and traditional PR. New media was websites and banner ads.

Then more interactive social media came along and we began to experiment with social for clients. Social media was also called “emerging media” in a class I had in grad school. Strategy was all about getting more followers to brand pages for this new “free media.” ‘Like us on Facebook,” was the message and the goal was to increase brand page followers.

Social was still “new” and “emerging” when I began teaching social media marketing in 2011. Twelve years later it has changed quite a bit. I look a little older since that first social media course, and so does social media. I don’t know if social media is having a midlife crisis, but it is slowing down. The days of double-digit increases are behind it as new user growth has stalled.

Slowed growth of social media called for different strategies. Photo by Song Kaiyue: https://www.pexels.com/photo/slow-signage-2029478/

Facebook user growth averaged 15% from 2013 to 2017 but slowed to 8% from 2018 to 2021. In 2021 growth was just 4%. Except for the 2020 Pandemic lockdown, Twitter’s user growth has been under 10% in the past 8 years with 7 being under 5% and negative growth projected for this year. After years of hiring sprees, the world’s biggest tech companies have laid off 150,000 workers in recent months.

What Does This Mean For Social Media Strategy?

This doesn’t mean you ditch your current reliable social strategy to run out and buy a midlife crisis convertible. But you may need to reconsider your social media vehicles. Because a social platform made sense 10 or 5 years ago doesn’t mean it’s the best choice today. You may also need to expand your fleet of platforms.

Facebook is still the biggest, but your target audience may be spending more time elsewhere. More people are active on more platforms but have not increased their overall time with social media. Many thought Snapchat would lose a lot of users to Instagram when it added Snapchat-like features. Instagram did grow but Snapchat users remained consistent.

People didn’t leave one platform for the other, they divided their time between each. With social media maturity, people are adding new social platforms, but keeping their existing ones. Today, the average person uses 7 social platforms each month. TikTok is the lasted social media star, but people still take the other platforms out for drives.

Social Media Is Following The Product Life Cycle.

These signs indicate social media has reached the maturity stage of its product life cycle. In marketing, the product life cycle describes the four steps a product or service goes through once introduced to a market from introduction to growth, maturity, and decline. Marketing strategies change with the stage you’re in. When a product or service, like social media, reaches the maturity stage, growth slows, competition increases, and strategies must evolve.

The graph below shows how social strategy began with experimental budgets building early adopter brand followers. As social grew audiences became more mainstream, requiring social ads for crowded newsfeeds, engagement with user generated content, and measurement of ROI for sales. Now budgets are significant with expected returns. Strategies are complicated with multiple social platform use, social ads, UGC, influencer marketing, and social selling.

Social media has reached a maturity stage that requires different strategies and tactics. When planning social media strategy consider which stage your brand is in.

From 2012 to 2017 daily time spent using social media grew by 9% each year. In the last five years that growth stopped with an average increase of less than 1% a year. We’ve spent the same 2 ½ hours a day with social media since 2018. As people added social media platforms, they didn’t spend more time on social media.

This maturing puts more pressure on individual platforms to compete for existing users instead of new adopters of social media. It also increases competition between brands to reach that audience with less ad inventory leading to increased costs. Social media marketing use has stayed at 92% in the last three years, but social media ad spending rose 38% to $67.4 billion representing 24% of all online ad spending.

Mature Social Media Means Asking Different Questions.

For social media strategy the question to ask is no longer “What social media platform is my target audience on?” but “What social media platforms are my target audience most active in?” Monthly active users (MAUs) matter, but more context comes in considering other data such as daily active users (DAUs). The table below shows a comparison of top social media platforms globally, in the U.S., by generation, and frequency of use.

Depending on the data you emphasize top social platforms change. Facebook is top for global monthly active users, share of social platform visits in the U.S., and for Gen X (age 43-58). Yet for monthly active use by Gen Z (age 11-26), YouTube rises to the top for both monthly active users and daily active use.

Globally, social platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat show up on the top 6 list, but in the U.S. Twitter and Pinterest get more use. For Gen X, LinkedIn is on the list, but Snapchat and TikTok are not. Pinterest makes the top 6 list for Gen Z monthly active users, but Twitter is higher for daily active use.

The complications of the maturity stage are less daunting when you realize a more focused strategy means you don’t need to reach everyone on all social media platforms. Strategies must be more nuanced to be effective and efficient. Search for the target audience’s daily driver social apps.

Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp, may work in some global markets, but Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter would be better in the U.S. Until you consider age. Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram may be right for a Gen X target audience, but YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok may be a better choice for Gen Z. Social media strategy must be unique to the brand’s markets, objectives, and target audiences.

How have you noticed social media strategy changing in the last decade? If you need a tune up for your strategy a good place to start is conducting a social media audit. I explain how and include a template in my article “Social Media Not Meeting Expectations? Perform a Social Media Audit.”

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