Commentary

Social Media Today: Less Social, More Mature

If you watched Super Bowl 2020 ads, you may have noticed that digital media platforms, including Facebook and Google, are transforming the public expression of their brands in subtle yet definitive ways. By appealing to viewers emotionally, tech giants are cleverly depicting how the use of data can connect us with one another.

Facebook Groups’ “Ready to Rock?” ad focused on the emotions groups experience when celebrating their interests collectively. Google’s poignant spot featured an elderly man asking Google Assistant to remind him of happy moments he and his (late) wife experienced together. Both represented a seismic shift in the way tech behemoths have heretofore approached their audiences -- going deeper not to merely grow their base but, more importantly, to retain it.

The use of social media has become more purposeful. Social consumers are evolving, increasingly turning to social as their primary source of news and events, as opposed to validation-seeking “likes.” Security concerns about flagship platforms already knowing too much about us mean platforms aren’t as rules-free as they once were, providing users tools to more fully control what they share and who sees it.

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The percentage of millennials and Gen X-ers on Facebook has increased only slightly since 2012, according to Sprout Social, but the use of Facebook among baby boomers and the Silent Generation (those born prior to 1945) has increased sharply. In 2012, less than 45% of baby boomers used Facebook; in 2019, 60% did. An even faster growing demographic on Facebook is the Silent Generation, which went from 26% in 2018 to nearly 40% last year. And, as older users have embraced Facebook, younger ones have started to eschew it, according to Pew Research, further reducing its role a necessary part of social life.

When Facebook launched in 2004, Zuckerberg proved the web could not be singularly defined as a source for finding information like a phone book. He showed us that the internet has the power to mirror how people live, as an infinite and interactive feedback loop capable of building human networks and enhancing relationships – ultimately resulting in an abuse of that power privilege.

However, with more than 1.4 billion people using Facebook Groups every month, the platform appears to be getting back to its roots, an indication of how central Groups have become to the social experience. Compared to the rancor-infusing social media discourse today, consumers migrating to Groups find a happy digital oasis where they are surrounded by like-minded people -- an alternative especially appealing to a more mature demographic. 

Considering the sheer enormity of social media’s addressable market, there’s room for new players. There’s opportunity for emerging platforms designed with experiential authenticity that connect with audiences not because of "likes" or selfies, but because the online environment the platform provides gives the consumer an experience that feels more physical than digital, serving up innovation that takes into account customer perspective and dreams.

In case you haven’t heard: Both social media and those consuming it are maturing.

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