Every year, Edison Research and Triton Digital release The Infinite Dial, which is the longest-running survey of digital media consumer behavior in the United States. The report focuses on how and where Americans are consuming media. It suggests patterns and summarizes our social media usage. Last year, the Infinite Dial prompted BIG headlines when it revealed that for the first time in the history of social media, usage and consumption were down, not up.
This year’s report uncovered a different set of headlines that undoubtedly reflect the shifts we experience day-in and day-out in social media marketing.
Facebook also made headlines this month when it announced it will merge Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger to create a new, interoperable, “privacy-focused” social network. This is one of the biggest announcements the social media giant has made, and I believe it will fundamentally change how we use social media.
Let’s take each of these threads one at a time.
Social Media Usage is Flat
The Infinite Dial showed a slight uptick in overall social media usage, however, the number of Americans using social media has essentially remained unchanged since 2016. At this point, the number of people who use social media is flat. It appears that we’ve hit peak social. The last big year of social media growth was 2016.
This low-growth trend is consistent across platforms. Pinterest, LinkedIn and Snapchat all had no or very limited growth when compared to the year prior. LinkedIn has steadily remained at a 22 percent usage rate for the last three years.
Both Facebook and Twitter usage declined again this year. Fewer than two out of ten Americans age twelve and older use Twitter. Facebook is quickly becoming less appealing to the youngest generation of Americans studied (12 – 34). Seventeen million fewer young Americans use the platform compared to last year.
Instagram was the only social media platform to grow. I have been predicting this for a couple of years now. Instagram will become more popular than Facebook. The child will behest the parent. What’s driving this? Instagram has better discovery, it’s more positive, and young Americans are using it more. It’s one of the most popular social platforms among Americans age 12 – 34.
I highly encourage you to read the entire report. The highlights I’ve covered are only a portion of the social media research and media behavior trends included in The Infinite Dial 2019.
Facebook Pushes on Its Master Plan
Usage of the Facebook we know today is declining. We see this in the Infinite Dial. Couple this with the fact that the company admitted the main Facebook app ran out of ad inventory in 2017 , and that was before 15 million Americans stopped using Facebook.
This month, Mark Zuckerberg announced the company is merging Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger to create a new, privacy-focused social network. The reaction from mainstream and technology media has generally centered on the idea that Facebook has been rocked by privacy scandals and is changing its ways before regulators do it for them.
I see the situation differently.
There are only two communications modalities bigger than Facebook: messaging and email. Taking over the role of SMS and email has been Fakebook’s true plan since it acquired WhatsApp in 2014. Now that the news feed is waning, Facebook is making its move.
In 2015, I wrote in my book, Hug Your Haters, that “Facebook wants WhatsApp and Messenger to become the new email.” Facebook has copped that it wants to be THE conduit for global communications. This move is how they get there. The premise of putting the focus on messaging and apps over a public news feed is the right approach, strategically.
Not everyone wants to be a publisher. Not everyone wants to broadcast to the world. Not everyone wants to accrue an audience. In 2014, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel said young people prefer the “phone book” model of communications. Instead of trying to build an audience, they want more intimate connections and to share with a few “real” friends rather than many ‘pretend’ friends. The projected death of SnapChat has not occurred. As you can see in the Infinite Dial, the use of Snapchat has been reliably consistent. Its young core has not abandoned the ship. They are, however, abandoning Facebook in droves.
The reduction in news feed views and corresponding revenue has to be overcome somewhere, and that somewhere is in messaging. I anticipate rounds of advertiser testing in the next year, as Facebook works with companies and road-tests how to monetize attention shifting from broadcast to the phone book model of social connectivity.
So, what does this news mean?
I believe email and phone companies (Verizon, T-Mobile, et al) should be wary and wonder about their future. When the new Facebook messaging app rolls out, it may ultimately become the way people communicate with one another and with brands.
Facebook has long-signaled it will lean hard into ephemeral content (like stories) and live video. I think the new platform will put these components front-and-center.
An important and under-discussed byproduct of this move to messaging and stories is that these services are mobile-only. If Facebook has its way, the entirety of social networking will be via app.
These changes aren’t happening tomorrow, but they are happening. We can see evidence of them in the data from reports like The Infinite Dial today. Facebook is moving forward in the way it always wanted. As long as it doesn’t drop the ball on ad revenue, I think we’ll look back at the turbulent times of the Facebook news feed as the dominant social networking application with a sense of nostalgia and enervation.
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