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Jun 2011 24

is social media really dying?

Posted in blog

Now, before any stressed out brand managers who have just invested half this years budget into a whizz bang social media strategy have a heart attack, let me assure you that the short answer is no.  If you are in a desperate hurry then you can stop reading this, take two valium and go back to your ever increasing ‘to do’ list with some confidence that you are probably not wasting all that cash (or rather somebody else’s). Probably.

For the rest of you, this week has seen a plethora of knee jerk scaremongering amongst the media and some others, many of whom I suspect have a self-centred agenda, in announcing almost with glee that Facebook is losing members ‘hand over fist’ following the second month in a row where it has seen its active membership falling in the US and Canada, and that this spells the ‘end’ for the social media giants.

Only last week I attended a talk at which several hundred senior HR directors were told by a speaker from an online recruitment agency that the ‘big three’ (Facebook, twitter & Linkedin) were a complete waste of time and were ‘so last year’, much to the bemusement of the crowd most of whom had only just about got to grips with how to post a status.

The suggestion is that people are leaving the big three in favour of more localised or niche applications that cater for their specific tastes.

Let’s get a little perspective on what’s actually going on here.

Facebook has just under 700 million ‘active’ members (essentially people who log on at least once a month).  That’s equivalent to the third largest country in the world and twice the population of the US.  In the last recorded month that the stats refer to, 12 million more people signed on than signed off worldwide. The countries where members are actually falling slightly are where already more than 50% of the population have signed up.

What’s happening in these situations is that Facebook is entering its maturity stage in the product lifecycle.  It’s actually running out of people in these countries who are likely to sign up, and logic says cannot keep expanding forever. The people that are ‘moving on’ are therefore one of two groups…

They either are so fashion conscious that they don’t like being part of the masses and so will always be on the look out for something new and different (commonly known as ‘early adopters’- you know the type), or they never really “got into” Facebook in the first place and just don’t see its benefit, and so are dropping off the ‘active’ list as they fail to use it, like enthusiastic new year gym joiners in any given February.

The former is never easy to market to unless you’re involved in a leading (or is that bleeding?) cutting edge product – and here’s where I suspect many of the naysayers have an interest. It’s also where the youth market resides who are notoriously fickle and would rather be seen dead than use anything their dad’s might.

And the latter, those that don’t really get it, are catered for already by other more traditional methods of marketing.  Let’s not forget Facebook wasn’t created for us marketeers (if anything they don’t really like us!). It isn’t going to be able to catch everyone.

The folks running Facebook aren’t daft either.  They already know that only around half of their users log in everyday. They are therefore now embarking on an “engagement strategy”, which will concentrate on getting users to log on more frequently as they link up with other tools and apps to provide more services (music/ location apps/ retail etc).

Once this takes hold (and I think it will) then this latter group of ‘lapsed users’ may well return to their accounts and use them more, much like those friends who resisted mobiles for so long are now mostly sporting at least a basic model (“I never use it, I just have it in case someone needs to get in touch” – uhuh).

Facebook for all it’s foibles is a damn easy way to keep in touch with people and share information, and even your gran can get the basics with a few lessons.  Twitter too, once mastered, can act as a very good tool for keeping abreast of topics or people that interest you. And then there’s Linkedin, which just about covers the business networking side of things (ironically already being threatened itself by Facebook’s private groups functionality).

Most people can see these tools used together as a pretty smart way to keep tabs on the zillion things that are going on in all our lives.  Who really wants to get to grips with even more if it means more log in’s and more passwords? Do me a favour. That’s why most of the new social apps such as Foursquare integrate with Facebook rather than challenging it.

The people touting the death of Facebook also forget how slow the mass market is to catch up.  Sure, web based customer driven development sites like Dells Ideastorm and Mystarbucksidea are definitely flagships for leading edge customer engagement marketing, but are they really going to ditch their social media strategies in favour of it?

Mass ‘Social media’ is therefore very much here to stay.  And In the meantime the least  that a marketeer should do is go with where the ‘crowds’ are – and 700 million and counting is a fairly big crowd to potentially share your messages.

The big three, for the time being, hold the cartel on the social media network, and unseating them is going to take a heck of a shift.

I think if Facebook had a voice it would comment in the terms of the late great Mark Twain, after his demise was prematurely announced in the New York Journal: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.


Posted by: Rob Paton, Director, The Marketing Box