Interest in social networks is declining, reveal research

By Chris Lee

A recent study from US researcher E-poll Market Research has found that, although awareness of popular social networks remain high, interest in the sites may be declining. For example, Facebook and Twitter were found to have surprisingly low appeal despite their high market penetration, which the study’s authors said implied that they have either habit-forming characteristics or are viewed as a necessity by users.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Gerry Philpott, president of E-Poll Market Research; “During the past five years, the role of social media has shifted from a leisure activity to an integral and, at times, mandatory, part of our lives. Despite this, consumers continue to place the majority of their trust in traditional media brands and advertisers should consider the environment in which they choose to put their dollars.”

The trust issue

Could the recent controversy surrounding the alleged spying on social networks by the US Government have eroded trust in leading social networks? For David Gelb of Web design agency JBi, this may certainly be a factor, but the intrusiveness of advertising could also be influential.

“The issue for us to consider is that whilst social media has become integrated into our everyday lives, these are actually businesses and as we all know business rather enjoy making money,” he told NMK. “One of the most important ways that social media websites make money is by selling ‘targeted advertising’ space on our timelines and profiles. To make their product commercial the keyword here is ‘targeted’ as to achieve this they need to know our information to see what we like and more importantly what we want. Herein lies the issue of trust as this conflict of interest between us and them has got us all concerned that are private thoughts for friends and family are actually being exploited commercially.”

Gelb believes it is a question of balance as these sites need to make money to exist and survive for us all to use otherwise in reality we all lose. It really is a matter of negotiation and until we find the middle ground, this issue of mistrust could grow.

Brand affiliation an issue

According to Andreas Pouros of search marketing agency Greenlight Digital, the findings suggest that the biggest social networks may not be as resilient to competition as we may have previously thought.

“There’s no true brand affinity between [social networks] and their users in the same way as we observe with Apple,” he said. “All this compounds to suggest that the leading social networks may have people’s time and attention, but not their hearts and minds. New entrants should be encouraged by that, as well as established firms who are looking to take a slice of the social media pie over the next few years.”

Is market saturation to blame?

For Martin Brindley of PR consultants DMG Europe, market saturation could be a major factor in users’ apparent lack of interest in social media loyalty.

“The dilution of social media sites’ appeal is down to there now being more sites than your average consumer knows what to do with,” he argued. “This is causing confusion and agitation. Imagine if your local pub, where you meet with all your friends, suddenly gets split into several different parts and spread throughout the city – that is very much how people are feeling about their online social experience.”

Brindley added that we are already seeing the next part of the social media evolution, which is the mergers and acquisition stage, as witnessed by Facebook buying Instagram, Yahoo buying Tumblr and Google buying Waze.

“This is leading to social media starting to reduce its footprint. Which will, in turn, help turnaround the appeal due to consumer confusion being naturally solved through this process,” Brindley concluded.

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