The Future of Social Media, as Reflected by Data


A recent study found that in 2013, 75% of higher education students used social media in the process of deciding where to enrol. There were several articles on this, most highlighting the advantages of social media for higher education, but the point missed by many is that this stat is more indicative of demographics than sector. Yes, social media has had a huge impact on higher education processes, providing new ways for institutions to connect and engage with current and prospective students, but it makes perfect sense that this age group, for whom social media has existed for pretty much as long as they can remember, would be most likely to research and interact via social platforms when conducting this research. But it’s not just higher education this relates to. It’s everything. The shoes they’re going to buy, movies they’re going to watch, places they’re going to visit – social media is where the next generation do their research on all major decisions. And their reliance on social as their go-to resource is only going to increase.

This is What They’ve Learned

The growing reliance on social media can sometimes be missed when looking at the effectiveness of social as a business platform. Many still see it as fun, as a platform for kids to share updates about what they had for dinner or pictures of themselves pouting in the sun. But amidst those interactions, habits develop, personal processes, and those actions become part of what they do, of how they live, in a wider sense. The best comparison is the internet – twenty-five years ago, the internet was a slow, clunky, dial-up service. At that time, many of us were using DOS prompts to navigate our own PCs, let alone have any sort of rational functionality on the web. But as the internet developed, people started to use it more – you’d check for something on Yahoo!, you created a Hotmail account, maybe you even used a message board to voice your thoughts on something. Over time, these things become part of your normal process till eventually you can’t imagine how you got by without them. You don’t send letters anymore, right? The next generation don’t make phone calls at anywhere near the same rate. For the younger generation, social media has always been. It’s part of how they’ve grown, how they’ve learned to socialise and interact. Seeing stats like 75% of students use social media for research is not only expected, it underlines the baseline trends highlighted in every study and every research paper looking at the impact of social on the communications landscape.

Slower Growth is Still Growth

This is also what’s interesting about seeing reports of Facebook’s slowdown in youth demographics or Twitter’s issues with attracting new users. While youth take-up has slowed, the fastest growing user-bases are among older demographic groups. This makes sense – five years ago, a large proportion of the 25-34 demographic were in the 18-24 category. While the 18-24 rate might slow, the older categories have continued to rise. Logically, as generations move through, you’d expect those high adoption rates from the younger brackets will continue to flow through as those people continue using the platforms they’ve become aligned with. Slowing growth rates in youth demos generally reflect that they’re hitting peak take-up, its the increases among older demographics that represent the more important aspect for the future of social business. More generations active on social means more businesses heading to social to reach them – and more businesses utilising social, leads to more of their competition doing the same. Ongoing increases in overall user growth rates again highlight the need to take social seriously, and to initiate yourself and your business to the opportunities in the wider social space.

Look to Industry Leaders

While the numbers all indicate that social media is not a fad and that social business is going to become a crucial part of all marketing strategies, there are still many businesses who are not yet ready to allocate the time or money to undertake the necessary learning and monitoring of social platforms. Yes, it takes some time to understand, and yes, there will be additional requirements, in terms of posting, interacting, listening. But if the trends aren’t enough to sway you, maybe you should look to how social is being approached by business leaders. In 2013, 77% of Fortune 500 companies maintained an active Twitter presence. 70% had Facebook profiles, 69% had YouTube accounts. That’s a huge amount, and while you could assume that a Fortune 500 business would have more money to allocate to new media, you can also assume that they wouldn’t do so without good reason. ROI remains a contentious point, one which marketers are still trying to clearly define, but one aspect that cannot be argued is the numbers – the data suggests social business is only going to become more important in future. It’s not going to go away, you’re not going to see social media switch off and people revert back to phones and faxes as they did in the 90s. Do you think the internet’s going away? Imagine what it would do to your business if it did? In a few years time, you’re likely to be looking at social media in the exact same way.

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