Social media plays an intergral role in most the strategies of most media players. But in this fast moving space, understanding the latest trends – and what it means for your business – can be a moveable feast.
Understanding this is particularly important, given GWI’s finding “that social networking now accounts for more than a quarter (28%) of the time we spend on the internet each day.”
From August, GWI’s Head of Trends, Jason Mander, will be revealing some of their very latest insights in a new monthly series.
But, before then, we look back at some of the key headlines from the 33 countries GWI reported on earlier in the year, and offer our own take on the most significant findings from their reports.
1. Facebook fatigue isn’t just a Western phenomenon
Facebook is, by some distance, the world’s largest social network.
It’s home to 1.44 billion monthly active users and 936 million daily active users; with mobile users making up over 85% of these totals (company data correct to March 2015).
Although Facebook’s Empire is continuing to expand, with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram all playing a pivotal role in this growth, there has been talk for sometime of “Facebook fatigue” in both the US and the UK.
Data from the 200,000 internet users GWI interviews every year across 33 different countries appears to show that this trend is increasingly global.
In fact, of the eight major social networks that they asked their panel about, Facebook was the only one to see a drop in active users.
However, these headline statistics only tell part of the story.
Outside China, over 80% of internet users have a Facebook account; and Facebook still has the most members and active users of any social network.
Moreover, Facebookers tend use the network at multiple times across the day; a behaviour not found to the same extent on many other channels.
As a result, whilst visits may be brief – with social networkers in emerging markets devoting significantly more time per visit – over half of Facebook’s active users engage with the site more than once a day.
This suggests that the extent of Facebook’s decline has, perhaps, been overstated; and that in emerging markets it remains a very important network to engage with audiences on.
2. YouTube has more monthly users than Facebook
“More internet users now visit YouTube each month than Facebook,” GWI notes.
So, although “Facebook might still lead on metrics such as membership and active usage… YouTube can legitimately claim that it regularly engages the larger audience.”
One of the reasons behind this may be absence of any login / user data to use the service (a trait which Facebook has announced it will adopt with Facebook Messenger) which removes one potential barrier to participation.
3. YouTube is the “coolest” network say teens
Another driver for growth is the popularity of the service with young people. Amongst teens in GWI’s sample, (internet users aged 16-19) YouTube is identified as the “coolest” social network, followed by Instagram.
As Rick Gibson recently noted on TheMediaBriefing:
Deloitte has published an interesting comparison between PewDiePie (58m monthly hours viewed) and Coronation Street (67m), so if you’ve ever wondered if YouTube stars were really just legends in their own bathwater, you’ve been dramatically wrong. PewDiePie’s reported annual profits of $7.45m in 2014 suggest there’s real money in building trust with young people.
That Facebook is still seen as the coolest network amongst all internet users in the US and UK reflects part of the older network’s problem; once Mum and Dad like it, then it’s all a bit passé.
That Tumblr and Snapchat has yet to be adopted by many of these older cohorts is, no doubt, another reason why these services are so much more popular with teens. They probably don’t know who PewDiePie is either (don’t worry, we had to look it up too).
4. Mobile Social is growing in importance
Although there are substantial variants in the amount of time people spend each day on social networks, the global average has held fairly constant for the past couple of years.
However, the amount of time spent on the mobile web has grown, and much of this will be spent on social.
As a result, for some social networks, like YouTube, as well as mobile-first (or exclusive) messenger/chat apps such as WhatsApp, Line and Viber, mobile is clearly the cornerstone of their growth plans.
And lest we forget, for some audiences, social networks – and in particular Facebook accessed via their mobile, is the internet.
5. Social networkers are seldom exclusive, they have a relationship with lots of different services
On average, GWI found, people now have social media accounts on 5.39 networks, although they only tend to be active on 2.75 of them.
“The impact of this on the Facebook audience is clear to see,” they write. “Whereas the average Facebooker was actively using 2.56 social networks back in 2012, they are now active on 4.15.”
For media companies, this reinforces the need to be active on multiple networks; whilst presenting a retention headache for the social networks.
Against this backdrop, their acquistion strategies (with Facebook buying Instagram and WhatsApp, Twitter buying Vine etc.) is part of a 21st Century attempt to create new digital walled gardens that they can push their customers around.
This plurality of usage is particularly acute in the APAC (Asia-Pacific) region. And this market arguably remains the one to watch for where social may go next.
Globally, 16-24s also tend to be more likely to display this polygamous tendency.
6. Converting social networkers into active users is hard
For all of the time and energies that users spend on social networks, converting these energies into meaningful interactions remains a consistent challenge for brands.
This trend is particularly evident on YouTube, where a lot of consumption is passive. Although the service is incredibly popular, the number of users “leaning in” to interact with the content is less than quarter.
This activity gap is less acute on services like Twitter and Google+ although what constitutes “active” can often be as simple as a +1 or adding something to your favourites. That’s perhaps not as active as many agencies and publishers would like…
It’s a sentiment which seems particularly pertinent when one looks at the Top 5 activities of users on the leading social networks of Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
What this shows is that even once a network – and the brands within it – have got your attention, enticing you to take the journey a stage further remains a challenge.
Cracking this remains the Holy Grail for many publishers; and social media alchemists are still trying to crack the engagement elixir. Until they do, it looks like we will be learning, experimenting and trying to understand what works for our audience – as best as we can – for a little while longer yet.