Is Social Media Approaching a Plateau?

Some interesting data from the Association of National Advertisers shows that the proportion of marketers who employ social media is leveling off, leading some observers to conclude that social media is reaching a “plateau.” But it would probably be more accurate to say it’s reaching its saturation point.

The ANA data shows that the percentage of marketers who are using social media edged up just 1% over the last year, from 89% in 2011 to 90% this year. That’s a noticeable slowing in the growth rate, following enormous leaps in the preceding years, when the percentage increased form just 20% in 2007.

But I don’t think there’s much cause for concern when a medium begins to plateau, in terms of the number of marketers who use it, at around 90%; indeed, that could as easily be taken to mean that social media, broadly defined, has finished taking over our world (well, not quite, but you know what I mean).

And anyway there are more significant indicators than how many marketers use social media, including the total amount of money spent on social media marketing and advertising; social media’s share of total ad spending, compared to competitors like TV; the number of social media channels or platforms available to marketers; the average number of social media platforms used by a typical marketer; the number of ads which appear on social media platforms, and their engagement rates; and the total audience size for social media.

But that doesn’t mean social media execs can sleep easy at night -- far from it. The constant creative ferment in the broader social media scene means incumbent social media sites like Facebook face a constant threat from newcomers like Pinterest, especially when there are still widespread doubts about the efficacy of advertising on Facebook. There’s also the perennial threat of user fatigue -- an issue given new urgency by the recent analysis from Capstone Investments’ Rory Maher showing that Facebook’s total user base in the U.S. shrank by 0.7% in the last three months, and 1.7% in the last six months.

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