The Trend That Isn't: Social Media Backlash

Social Media Backlash

Most journalists love a good trend story, especially if it seems to conform to their own preferences and prejudices. The semi-ironic journalistic rule of thumb that "three things makes a trend" reflects journalists' awareness of this problem, but also their willingness to adopt a simplistic stance when it seems to confirm their beliefs.

On the level of meta-trends, I won't go so far as to say that there's a trend of journalists writing trend pieces about a "backlash" against social media -- but there does seem to be some buzz building around the notion that many people who were initially swept up by the social networking phenomenon are now "over it" and logging off, for good.

I will admit to having my own concerns and doubts about social media, and I also understand the contrarian appeal of standing athwart the path of history crying "stop!" or "go get some fresh air!" -- but as for the notion that people are somehow over-saturated and swinging back to lives of pre-Friendster social simplicity, I have to call "baloney." It just doesn't stand up to an examination of the facts.

First of all, the trend stories about social media backlash are usually based on anecdotal evidence -- and even this doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Several articles recently noted that celebrities like Miley Cyrus have canceled their Twitter accounts, but failed to point out that celebrities are the people least in need of Twitter or online social networks in general; the world is Miley's Twitter account, and it doesn't limit her to 140 characters (as well as paying her a lot more). Twitter isn't really an optimal tool for people who are already famous, unless they happen to be extra-narcissistic; on the other hand it's ideal for people who think they should be famous, and have some kind of highly-engaging daily proof to back this belief up.

Getting down to brass tacks -- which those trend stories never seem to do -- the general direction of social networks in terms of size, volume of activity, and time spent is unquestionably pointing upwards. From a mere six million in January 2009, Twitter's number of unique visitors rose to 73.5 million in January 2010, according to ComScore, while the number of Tweets per month has steadily increased from about 80 million to more than 1.2 billion over the same period. Crunch the numbers and that's an increase from 13.3 Tweets per person to 16.7 Tweets per person, suggesting increased scale has been accompanied by intensified activity.

As mentioned in a previous episode of the Social Graf, there has in fact been a notable decrease in the number of unique visitors per month at MySpace over the last six months or so, but the data suggests this is mostly a demographic phenomenon having to do with the preferences of different age cohorts when it comes to their social network use. Specifically, MySpace seems to have drawn a flood of adults over the age of 24, but then rapidly lost its novelty and interest, resulting in a 24+ exodus to other social sites like Facebook (reader reactions seemed to confirm this pattern -- here I go using anecdotal evidence myself!). MySpace returned to its original user profile -- to their relief, perhaps -- while Facebook so far seems to be doing a better job holding the interest of the 24+ set.

But however the balance may shift within and between networks in terms of users and age cohorts, there's absolutely no evidence that social networking in general is losing its appeal; quite the opposite. In December 2008 according to ComScore MySpace had 76 million unique visitors in the U.S., generating 40 billion page views, while Facebook had 55 million unique visitors generating 18 billion page views. A year later, MySpace had slipped to 57 million unique visitors generating 24 billion page views, while Facebook grew to 112 million unique visitors generating 45 billion page views.

Putting it all together, combined page views for the two leading social networks increased from 58 billion in December 2008 to 69 billion in December 2009. Meanwhile, presuming no overlap total unique visitors increased 29% from 131 million to 169 million; presuming 100% overlap, the number of unique visitors increased 47% from 76 million to 112 million; presuming 50% of the larger network's user base was also present in the smaller network at both measurements, the total increased 22% from 93 million to 113 million.

However you want to slice it, social networks are still growing.

6 comments about "The Trend That Isn't: Social Media Backlash".
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  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media, February 19, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.

    People talking to their friends. Nope, no backlash. Ever.
    Hasn't happened in coffee shops, telephones, letters, parties, social media is just another place for friends to talk to their friends. There will no backlash. Calm down. Don't assign any -one- social media site to represent the entire category. Dangerous. The category is fine, will grow and as long as people want to talk to friends, all will be well.

    I agree. Such "backlash" articles are the result of too many fancy degrees and too much free time. Go to the gym.

  2. Linda Lopez from Independent, February 19, 2010 at 3:32 p.m.

    Re Miley Cyrus: When it comes to trends, celebrities follow them; they don't start them. They're not in the business of creating or innovating; what they do is use the hot spots already out there to get seen. The alpha people start the trends, followed by the early adopters -- among which there may be a celeb or two who happen to be plugged in (@aplusk @MCHammer) -- and then, along with the rest of the great unwashed, the celebrities. As a parent, I'm glad Miley decided to save her thumbs and get some fresh air.

  3. Roger Wilson from The Conference Department, Inc., February 19, 2010 at 3:45 p.m.

    I haven't seen a backlash article. Did I miss it? What I do see is the "social media" angle being applied to every big story out there, whether it fits or not. I think this is because media people are particularly deeply involved in "social media" themselves and want to believe that it is shaping events. But hey, here I am commenting...

  4. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich, February 19, 2010 at 3:58 p.m.

    To me, the challenge of participating in the Social Network arena comes down to time. In a world where you can now be Buzzed, Blogged, Tweeted, Facebooked, IMed, MySpaced, Tumbled, Digged (not "dug"), Pinged, Poked, and Plurked, I'm beginning to wonder how it's even remotely possible to be "social." Unless there's been a large, bizarre, and unknown accident in Switzerland with the Large Hadron Collider that's resulted in a rupture in the fundamental space-time continuum, there remain only 24 hours in day, 7 days in a week, and the last season of "Lost" to cope with.

    So if my preceding paragraph counts as "backlash," then add it to the others. But as a consumer and contributor to some of these networks, all I can offer is that I now feel officially "networked out" and need to cut back on my activities and focus on the few that mght mean something.

  5. M. Davis from Kinetics Marketing & Communications, February 19, 2010 at 4:54 p.m.

    I think that Social Media is here to stay as a category, but the individual sites must continually "innovate or die." Also, don't upset your core users--Facebook has towed this line with changes to their interface that have made navigation more difficult--thus upsetting their user base. However, the more invested someone is in a service, the less likely they are to jump ship (like the banking model of getting customers to have Checking, Savings and a Motgage with them--the consumers almost never leave). The same goes for Social Media (photos, video, text, large network of friends, etc.). Facebook has done this well but Twitter may be in trouble down the road if they don't add multimedia or improve the Search functionality.
    -Monica Giffhorn
    Kinetics Marketing & Comms

  6. Juli Schatz from Image Grille, February 19, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

    As they say in the fashion world, "social media is the new black."

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