Switching Off From Social? – The Future Of Social Media Marketing

With young people turning away from certain forms of social media, what’s next for marketing?

Walk through the streets of a busy town, and you’ll almost certainly have to dodge people fixated on their phones. Social media has to take some responsibility here: by 2017, social media users made up over half of the UK population, with many choosing to access their favourite sites via mobile.

From Snapchat to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, social media has radically changed the way we communicate and interact with each other over the past two decades. This has had a huge knock on effect in business, as organisations now have entirely new ways of engaging with their consumers.

However, with recent concerns over the security of social networks, not to mention their impact on the wellbeing of those who use them, some of us are making a conscious effort to switch off from social. This leaves us asking the question: does social media marketing have a future?

The appeal of social media

For Oliver Hansard, VP of Sales EMEA at 4C Insights, a technology platform and data science company, the success of social media marketing in recent years can be attributed to its engaging and immediate nature.

“Social media is a really engaging medium,” he says. “It responds to the news really well, it is immediate and very personal. It allows consumers to participate far more in the conversation – so it particularly appeals to those who love that ability to share and be involved. What’s more, social media enables brands to reach specific audiences and make their message far more relevant. This is part of what makes social media engaging for the individual – you’re more likely to receive a message or content that’s relevant to you.”

From both a consumer and brand perspective, then, social media marketing produces the right results. Add in the enhanced metrics that the technology offers businesses – the ability to accurately measure the impact of a campaign using data science – and social media appears to be the ultimate marketing tool. That is, as long as audiences continue to use it…

Feeling antisocial

According to Nisa Bayindir, Director of Global Insights at GlobalWebIndex, an audience profiling company, changes to the landscape of social media are having a large impact on its use. As social media platforms become more diverse, with increasingly specific use cases, she is seeing a shift in consumer awareness and preferences around this technology.

One of the consequences of this is a marked trend away from the use of social media amongst certain demographics.

“Social media is serving less of a social function in some audience’s lives,” Bayindir says, “but perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this trend is that the younger audiences take the lead. For example, GlobalWebIndex’s recent report found that 58 per cent of generation Z (16 – 24 year olds) in the UK and US have made an effort to decrease their time on social media over the last 12 months. This is – perhaps surprisingly – significantly higher than older audiences, who are often assumed to have less interest in social media in general.”

Although ‘making an effort’ to spend less time on social is a goal many of us might be familiar with, members of Generation Z are backing this up with concrete action. According to Bayindir, 50 per cent of the demographic closed a social media account in the last year. This is much higher than any other age group, with only around 15 per cent of 45-64 year olds, for example, deactivating an account.

Choosing your medium

The decision by young people to close down social media accounts accompanies a level of discernment around the kinds of platforms they are using.

“There’s value in factoring in younger audiences’ savviness of social media platforms in general,” Bayindir adds. “They are becoming increasingly picky while older audiences are potentially still discovering. For example, 24 per cent of Generation Z have closed or deactivated an account because it made them feel stressed or anxious about the world. Over 30 per cent did so simply because they’re no longer interested in what other people do or share on their feeds.”

Generation Z’s rejection of certain kinds of social media accompanies a growing lack of trust around the technology in general. High profile scandals at the likes of Facebook and Google have raised consumer awareness of privacy and data concerns. As the general public becomes increasingly reluctant to let large technology companies play fast and loose with their personal data, brands may need to rethink their reliance on social media as a marketing tool. At the very least, it is more important than ever for brands to choose the right platform for their needs.

Where young people are concerned, this means focusing marketing efforts on visual channels such as Instagram.

“Although Generation Z are deactivating accounts, it’s not looking like a downward trajectory for social media overall because we still see that visual channels win with this age group,” says Bayindir. “They favour Instagram to post personal content, and 38 per cent discover products or brands via social media. What’s more, one in five say they made a purchase following the content they saw on social media in the last month.”

These figures paint a promising picture of image based social media platforms and their role in brand management, at least for the time being. The unparalleled possibilities for reach and consumer engagement offered by social means that it will remain a crucial marketing tool, for as long as audiences exist on these sites. If the large social media companies aren’t able to reform their ways, however, individuals might kick the habit for good. Marketers therefore need to keep a close eye on this issue. The future of social isn’t safe quite yet…

For more on the disruption of marketing and consumer behaviour sign up to our weekly newsletter.