Social Is Stalling As Trust Dips And Ad Growth Halves

There have been a lot of Churchill quotes being banded around with Brexit looming, but perhaps one of his lines sums up the state of social media perfectly. Currently we are likely not seeing the beginning, and we're far from any end -- but it does look like the end of the beginning.

Yesterday we had research in The Telegraph that showed interactions on Facebook, such as likes and shares, are down more than a third in just a year.

It came a month after Mary Meeker's report noted that after user numbers had slowed down to a growth of 6% globally for social media in recent years, last year it pretty much flatlined at just 1% growth. 

Then we had a report from Warc, summing up how well the first quarter had done in global digital marketing. Now, let's be clear -- social media still saw nearly $18bn pumped into it in just a single quarter. The thing is, you have to remember that social media always throws up huge numbers. 

If you look at the growth behind this, it has actually halved. In 2018, first-quarter growth was up 56%. In 2019, it was 26%. 

Again, it must be emphasized that most industries would kill for a growth rate of 26%, year-on-year. The point is, however, that this steep curve in money flowing into social is flattening out. 

It's not hard to imagine the reason why. It is evident in user growth declining to a point where it is flatlining at just 1%. 

The inescapable truth for the social platforms is that users simply don't trust them anywhere near as much as they did in their heyday. We've seen how misuse of personal information can be used in an attempt steer an election and how fake news spread by bots can set out to do the same.

We've also been shocked at young people feeling abused online to the point where some have, it is believed, been pushed so far they have taken their own lives. 

It isn't just the public that is questioning its relationship with the social media site -- governments are too.

Facebook has been fined for misuse of personal information by the ICO with the maximum penalty available before GDPR kicked in. Google has been under investigation too since the beginning of the year, and this is just in the UK. Both Google and Facebook appear to be on the verge of facing antitrust investigations in the US too. When the EU authorities took Google to task, the resulting antitrust fines have set new records.

So they are still sitting on a goldmine, but it would probably be fair to say that the gold rush is truly over and it will be a case of mining the same --  albeit lucrative -- seams for quite some time. 

However, it definitely feels like this is the year where the proverbial worm turns and social growth flatlines. It will take a while for ad revenue to cotton on.

Budgets are a little like oil tankers -- they take time to slow down and be diverted, but it seems inevitable that the decline from 56% to 26% growth in just one year is a trend that will continue.

As we were saying, it's not the end, but it definitely feels like the end of the beginning for social media. 

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