Social Media Reaches Middle Age. Are We Headed Towards A Midlife Crisis?

When you reach middle age life begins to change. Things don’t work like they used to, your favorite songs are now considered classics, and you start dreaming of convertible sports cars. Social media as a marketing tool has reach middle age and is maturing as a medium. Yet this doesn’t mean we are facing a mid-life crisis. It means we need to change the way we think about our social media strategies.

Social media is no longer new and has become mainstream for many. Across the globe 3.5 billion people are active on social media. And while social media users are increasing there are signs we have entered a maturity stage. One sign of this new era is that user growth has stalled in certain markets. The number of social media users in the U.S. failed to grow for the first time last year. And Facebook’s growth has slowed in the U.S. and Canada to just 1% while growth in Europe was just 2%.

Growth has stalled in other areas as well. US daily time spent with social media fell 1 minute in 2018 after an increase of 13 minutes the previous two years. And it is predicted that time will remain flat at just 1 hour, 15 minutes through 2021. While we are spending less time on social media we are adding more social platforms. The average global social media user age 16-34 has 9 social media accounts. Even 55-64 year old’s are on 5 social media platforms now.

In this new era social media managers must consider more than global monthly active users (MAUs) and overall user demographics of social platforms. Another stat to consider is daily active users (DAUs) among target audiences in specific markets. The question to ask may no longer be “What social media platform is my target audience on?”, but instead consider “What social media platforms are my target audience most active in?” This makes a difference as the table below illustrates.

Globally the top social platforms by highest MAUs are Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. But if you look at global DAUs the top social platforms switch order with Snapchat in first, then Facebook, followed by Twitter. The platforms and order further change when you add demographics and a specific country. The highest DAUs for Gen Z (age 13-19) in the U.S. now become Instagram first, YouTube second, and third Snapchat. In contrast, the most popular social networks accessed by U.S. moms become Facebook first, Pinterest second and then Instagram third.

Flat time spent with social media, stalled user growth and more social accounts means platforms and brands have become more competitive for user’s time. And this has lead to increased social ad spending. Social media used to be thought of as “free marketing,” but no longer if you want to remain effective and drive results. While social media marketing use among U.S. brands rose 1% in the past two years (90% to 91%), social media ad spending increase 48% ($18.6 billion to $34.9 billion).

What do these signs of aging mean? It means putting the top down on your social media and letting in some new strategies. Instead of using social to saturate your audience with brand content across the same channels you may need to add social platforms where you have not been before. And if you haven’t already you’ll need to more use paid social to reach those users. But this doesn’t mean spray and pray. Success comes in targeting the right audiences at the right time in the right social platforms. And it means using AI machine learning to optimize those efforts.

Yet brand posts and brand ads may not be enough. Social media strategies must also integrate employee advocacy, executive communication, user generated content, social customer care, influencer marketing, and messaging. Paid can drive direct action and increase reach, but organic can build community which can lead to advocacy.

Finally, with the increase in social ad spending this means more than ever you’ll need to connect social strategy to business objectives using analytics to measure outcomes. You are not headed towards a crisis if you take the time to adjust your social media strategy. Social media author and consultant Jay Baer says, “If your social media strategy is older than a year, you don’t have a strategy.” How have you adjusted as social media has matured?

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