Using social media as a marketing tool requires being where the audience is. But choosing social platforms for higher ed can be challenging because we have so many different audiences. Our users range from prospective students in high school to current Wolverines, to faculty, to alumni. Is Facebook really a better bet for an audience that skews older? Where are Gen-Z users posting and viewing content? Do U-M students and U-M professors get their news from the same apps? Staying up to date on social trends and platforms is vital in creating successful digital marketing strategies. And that means continually reevaluating which social platforms are thriving and which are just barely surviving.
How much longer will it be until the social media networks we’ve all come to know, love, and sometimes hate fizzle out? Is there something on the horizon that will take over and replace one of the “big four”—or all four, for that matter? As touching as comeback stories may be, some platforms are suffering and may soon reach the point of no return.
We broke down the big four (Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to determine whether they are barely hanging on or rising to the top, and learn how we can adjust our strategies to keep up with either scenario.
Twitter has been over-promising and under-delivering for years, slowing growth in their user base. With the rise in trolling and harassment within the tech app, it has been difficult to convince newcomers to dive in. That doesn’t mean Twitter isn’t trying, however. It released many updates in 2017, including a greater emphasis on live video and a 280 character limit many of us have not found the need for. Unfortunately, these tweaks have had virtually no effect on Twitter’s bigger problem: making itself a mainstream social network able to appeal to a wider public (Alba, 2017).
Despite struggles to stay relevant among the cluster of fake news and internet bullies on their feeds, Twitter still remains valuable in the social sphere. No other network has established the same core base of devoted users and defined the base of its services. Twitter has become a go-to news source for the media and the community alike, and its ability to offer on-the-fly conversations and commentary makes its users incredibly loyal. Twitter’s faults are easily recognizable, but they are still being encouraged by a relatively healthy, engaged user base. By the end of 2017, Twitter reported 330 million monthly active users (Aslam, 2018).
Twitter already has a strong user base that is likely to stick around (at least for now), but if it wants to keep those users and have a shot at attracting new ones in an era where Snapchat and Instagram are dominating forces, it needs to make some changes (DeMers, 2017). What could Twitter do moving forward, how do they make sure not to burn bridges with current loyal users, and what does the landscape look like for marketers who use the platform to promote a brand?
One option is that Twitter could be managed like a media company, rather than a tech company. This approach could focus Twitter around its core use cases, especially industry insider conversations, live news, and video, taking advantage of an audience that can be “reasonably sliced and diced for ad targeting” (Alba, 2017). For marketers, especially in higher education, this means taking a deeper dive into what the target audience wants and utilizing the insider conversation element. Capitalize on the loyalty that is embedded in Twitter users and engages more closely with them, making them feel involved. The platform should be used less as a billboard and more as a community space.
Twitter will have its own personal challenges as it tries to keep up. Sometimes networks are held hostage by their most loyal users, who are usually not in favor of a change to their beloved social space. But if nothing changes, we all know Twitter’s future is in jeopardy.
As Facebook gears up to celebrate its 10th birthday this weekend, there couldn’t be a more appropriate time to review the Big Brother social network and explore what it has become and what it will be in the future, if anything.
While the network has survived longer than its early rivals such as MySpace, EMarketer forecasts that the network will see a decline, especially among teen users in the U.S., this being the first time the research company has predicted a fall in Facebook usage for any age group (Frier, 2017). The problem? We live in a fast-paced world where everyone relies on immediate response, delivery, and gratification. Social content needs to be fast, too, before boredom or impatience ensues. Twitter is live, fast, and has links that are easily accessible. Instagram is constant and quick, with visually appealing content available at the opening of the app. Snapchat is fast—almost too fast—visual instant messaging. More and more users are gravitating toward these other platforms where content is quick, easy, fun, and visually appealing.
So what is Facebook’s biggest problem? The network is lackluster in the younger demographic. Only 8 percent of Facebook users are between the ages of 13 and 19. The bad news doesn’t stop there, though: as the graph below shows, usage declines as members get older (Davey, 2017). In addition to an aging demographic, Facebook also has a perception problem as being a platform for personal rants. The mammoth of the social networks, Facebook is old—and no matter how much they do to revive it, their efforts may fall short. While Facebook has implemented updates like the popular Stories feature, more and more users are starting to prefer platforms like Instagram and Snapchat that were more designed for visual sharing.
But this doesn’t mean Facebook has thrown in the towel. You don’t have 1.4 billion daily active users and hold the spot for most widely used social platform for 10 years by doing nothing (Noyes, 2018). As Facebook grew, it constantly adapted its features to try to appeal to its users. Unfortunately, as with Twitter, this is not bringing in any new users—and hasn’t been for awhile. If younger users only know Facebook as something their grandparents use, they are not going to feel inclined to join.
But Facebook is staying alive by continuously adapting to what younger users are looking for. The company is trying to capitalize on things like the recently created “Facebook Workplace,” instituting features similar to what other popular apps like HouseParty offer, and buying a stake in companies like Oculus to stay up on trends like virtual reality. Is Facebook looking at a gloomy future? No. Will they last forever? Again, no. As marketers, our best bet is to continue to use Facebook to appeal to an older demographic and to wait for the day that NewsFeed dies out and the stories live on…and eventually, we all find ourselves not looking to “legacy” social networks for our online communications. (Except maybe to connect with our grandma—but even she is migrating to Instagram because she really just wanted to see our photos anyway.)
Instagram recently reported a remarkable 500 million daily users, significantly trumping Snapchat’s 178 million daily users (Aslam, 2018). So how did an app that consists entirely of sharing photos gain so much popularity? Engaging storytelling through vivid and visually pleasing content is the key, along with allowing users to share the inside glimpses of their lives that they want to share. Instagram is a highlight reel: it encourages large, public networks where people have polished profiles. It’s a place for people who enjoy sharing their lives through visuals—and judging by the numbers, that’s a lot of us. We can tell someone about our vacation, but seeing images has a more visceral impact, and Instagram was designed for images.
Content on Instagram is different because there is more engagement. “Engagement” is hard to measure and involves several factors like post visibility, tendency to comment, and shareability, but one thing about engagement for sure is Instagram allows more connectivity with followers (DeMers, 2017). The platform appeals to that visual nature most users enjoy. Nearly the entire newsfeed is occupied by the horizontal span of images, and since they’re all reduced to the same square format, it gives a certain level of formality to the experience (DeMers, 2017).
Instagram is the thriving platform right now, bringing in $4 billion in revenue in 2017 and accounting for roughly 20 percent of Facebook’s revenue; it is set to bring in over $10 billion in 2019 (Lister, 2018). The app is anticipated to continue its rise, which is really no surprise since it’s part of the Facebook empire. Instagram’s ability to enhance emotional connections makes it a very popular choice indeed across all demographics.
When texting first made its way to our cell phones, we couldn’t get enough of it. The instant messaging we had been doing on our desktop computers (after waiting for the modem to dial up the internet) was now quicker than ever, and a whole lot more convenient.
Fast forward to today, where more than 2.5 billion people globally are using messaging platforms (Patel, 2017). Snapchat is everything we loved about old school instant messengers, plus texting capability and visually pleasing content. It’s also fast. Snapchat content is ephemeral, staying online only for a short period of time, one of the things that appeal to a younger demographic. The smartphone camera has become a communications platform where users can show their personality in a quick-messaging format. Snapchat has created a novel and compelling social experience that teens and young adults flocked to.
The company isn’t resting on its laurels, though. Improvements to keep the app fresh and new are vital to its long-term success. It explored new augmented reality, beating its competitors to launching the feature, and has continued to update it over time. Snapchat’s forays into VR have helped establish them as a relevant, pop-culture news source. Next up: taking a tip from Facebook, the company is looking into algorithm updates so the structure of the network can better cater to users and their personal interests. The news would be ranked based on what is most frequently read, and recent chats are listed to take advantage of the instant messaging feature.
Is Snapchat trying too hard? Personalization algorithms aren’t always met with success; people don’t like to be told what to read, and they don’t want to feel like they are being deprived of options or are losing their freedom. Snapchat was already personal in its own way, with conversations that could be private or grouped.
It is not all grim. What we do know is that in order to thrive, social media platforms need to keep evolving. The successful companies will listen to their current users even as they engage with potential new users and learn to accept and manage the change that is inevitably coming.
Be social. Stay social. #UMSocial
Post written by McKenna Whipple, Social Media Content Strategist at The University of Michigan.
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