During the past decade, businesses and government institutions alike have been advised to invest greater time and resources into social media. However, in 2018 we are beginning to see a slowdown in social growth, accompanied by a wider public backlash against these platforms.
The importance of digital communications channels cannot be understated, but are we finally beginning to see the pendulum shift back from conversation towards more content-driven online media outlets?
In July, Facebook and Twitter both suffered historic losses following unsettling earnings calls. Mark Zuckerberg’s company saw $120bn wiped out in July, on the biggest single day loss in US stock market history. As TechCrunch reported at the time: “In two hours, Facebook lost more value than most startups and even public companies are ever worth.” Meanwhile, Twitter experienced its worst single day percentage drop since 2014 after reporting declining monthly active users.
During the same month two UK newspapers reached digital milestones: The Times reached 500,000 subscribers, with 255,000 of them coming from digital-only subscriptions, while The Guardian revealed that overall digital revenues had now outstripped print for first time, as the company earned £108.6m (US$141m) from digital last year and £107.5m (US$139.91) from print and events.
If such trends were solely the result of quantitative market realignment, we could be forgiven for thinking that these occurrences did not represent a crisis. But we now know that the issues for social media run much deeper than quarterly results.
From fake news and election meddling to privacy concerns and calls for greater regulation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are now under fire from pretty much every corner of the globe. Indeed, even Google has not been exempt from such scrutiny in recent months, receiving a €4.3bn fine relating to “illegal practices regarding Android mobile devices to strengthen dominance of Google’s search engine.”
For marketers this represents a problem, because the very platforms currently offering scale are themselves becoming engulfed in trust concerns. And trust, particularly in an online environment, is critical to successful branding.
At RDF Strategies, we have always advised that a strategic approach to corporate communications is key, and certainly the use of social media shows no signs of coming to an end any time soon.
But while you have to go where the eyeballs are, it’s also important to find the right environment for your brand and look for online outlets that will inspire trust and affinity with the right demographics. While social media platforms remain an important part of the mix, the digital shift back from conversation towards content could actually be beneficial for brands. Appearing alongside a well-read New York Times article for example, as opposed to in a sponsored Twitter ad. within the midst of a tweet-storm, carries obvious reputational benefits.
Even Facebook is at it. The company’s ‘Facebook Watch’ platform, which offers an alternative to platforms like Netflix, Amazon Video, and BBC iPlayer, as well as traditional TV, is being rolled-out globally this month. Users will be able to choose from a range of shows from both established brands and independent creators.
Of course there is no doubt that social media has revolutionised communications within our society, and that many of those changes are here to stay. Moreover, the continuing popularity of Snapchat shows us that this technology will continue to reinvent itself and further evolve both individual and business-level communications.
But it’s also possible that we are now seeing a secondary shift in digital media back towards more content driven media. Peer-to-peer communications are shifting back towards direct interactions through platforms like WhatsApp, Messenger, and indeed Snapchat. This leaves public forums more open for a return to quality content, which in turn represents opportunities for businesses through PR, branded content, advertising, and beyond. At a time when digital media is itself in-flux creating clear, transparent, and engaging corporate communications regardless of which platform they end up on, remains an important focus.