Flat Social Media Usage: What Your Business Must Do Now [Research]

Flat Social Media Usage ResearchStop crying over fewer available social media opportunities that cost more.

Dry your eyes and accept that the “free social media lunch” is over and flat social media usage is the new normal.

The “free social media lunch” is over and flat social media usage is the new normal. #socialmedia #digitalmarketingClick To Tweet


This shouldn’t be a news flash!

Facebook engagement declined 20% in the first half of 2017 according to BuzzSumo data. (BTW, These 10 Facebook marketing tactics with help with the engagement that you get!)

Face reality: Deep down you always knew that free social media marketing wouldn’t last forever.

Unless you’ve been living in a time warp, you’re aware of the information glut. Further, increased information politicization make news and content truth difficult to assess.

To succeed, skip the glossy business promotions on social media.

Instead offer your audience useful social media experiences that fulfill their need to  achieve goals.

To take advantage of current opportunities understand flat social media usage as revealed by current research.

Flat Social Media Usage Research


2018 Social Media Research Data

With the exception of Google+, social media marketing usage by platform remains relatively consistent over the last 3 years. Also, no new networks have entered the top rankings.

Supporting data from on-going social media research by Social Media Examiner, led by Mike Stelzner, and by UMass Dartmouth, led by Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, show similar trends. However they differ in 2 significant ways:

  • Both studies were published in 2018. UMass’s Inc 500 data is labeled 2017 while Social Media Examiner results based on 2017 activity are labeled 2018. (Note: Many surveys use different dates for their reports and the actual activity or data.)
  • Both surveys focused on small business social media usage. Social Media Examiner surveyed readers to capture opinions. 59% of Social Media Examiner respondents employ less than 10 people. By contrast, UMass examined public facing social media sites of the Inc 500.

Due to their research sources, numeric differences are expected. UMass shows what these businesses actually do. Further, the Inc 500 tend to have more employees and generate higher revenues. 

What matters to marketers is the consistency of these social media research studies. Based on your business audience your results will vary.

2018 Social Media Usage Research via Social Media Examiner

Top social media marketing platforms by usage:

For comparison, here’s a visual representation of social media usage by platform from 2016 to 2018.

Social Media Platform Usage 2016 to 2018 - Chart

Social Media Usage 2016 -2018 – Social Media Examiner Research – Chart by Actionable Marketing Guide

Social Media Platform Use Data

Top Social Media Platform Usage –  Social Media Examiner Data via Actionable Marketing Guide

Since 2016, corporate owners of once viable social media sites like Google+, Slideshare and Vine have reduced resources. Despite this, blogs and content sites still encourage readers to share their content on Google+. Further businesses keep posting presentations on Slideshare. Here’s an example from Spin Sucks:

Social Media Sharing Buttons - Spin Sucks

Example: Spin Sucks offers social sharing buttons including Google+ and Pinterest.


2018 UMass Dartmouth Inc 500 Social Media Usage Research

Like Social Media Examiner, UMass Dartmouth’s 2018 Inc 500 Social Media Usage Research reveals consistent usage among top performing social media platforms.

LinkedIn (92% usage) and Facebook (90% usage) rank top among the Inc 500.

Inc 500 Social Media Research - UMass Dartmouth Chart

2018 Inc 500 Social Media Usage via UMass Dartmouth Research

Blogs are a key element of small business social media usage according to UMass Dartmouth. Inc 500 Blog usage outperforms both Instagram and YouTube.

Blogs are a key element of small business social media usage. 55% of the Inc 500 have a blog. @UMassD #socialmedia #blogging #smallbusinessClick To Tweet


55% of the Inc 500 have a blog.

I strongly support this approach since blogs fit with a detailed definition of social media. By contrast, Social Media Examiner categorizes blogging as a form of social media content. This understates their marketing power as owned social platforms.

Small Business Blogging social media

Small Business Blogging Remains Strong – 2017-2018 Chart via Actionable Marketing Guide

Despite video view popularity, YouTube is used less by Inc 500 companies. This is attributable to cost and content creation time.


3 Reasons Why Social Media Usage Flattened

Understand these 3 key reasons for flat social media usage. Then determine your business’s opportunities to stand out on social media.

1. Flat Social Media Usage

Like other businesses and products, social media is following the 4 stage product life cycle. In the process, the strongest platforms mature while others were acquired, went out of business or found profitable niches.

Flat social media usage is in the mature life cycle phase because:

  • No new significant players have appeared.
  • Top platform usage remains consistent.
  • Smaller players have diminished.
4 Stage Product Life Cycle Chart

4 Product Life Cycle Stages – Chart


Having expanded across age groups and geographies, social media platforms have developed into cash cows based on the Boston Consulting Group Product Portfolio Matrix (1970). As a result, they must show profits.

BCG Product Portfolio Matrix – Visualization via UMN

To generating revenues, social media entities can offer advertising, subscriptions and/or ancillary products.Media Definition - Revenue Generation-Chart-Heidi Cohen

Despite large member bases with related data, mature social media entities only create revenues with advertising. Only LinkedIn offers subscriptions, advertising and other one-off products.

To increase revenues, analyze successful media peers. For example, established branded media like The New York Times and The Economist (BuzzSumo) continue to increase  readership and revenues. By contrast viral-dependent digital entities like BuzzFeed and Upworthy have lost traffic, revenues and employees.

New York Times Social Shares Triple – BuzzSumo Content Report Chart

Actionable Media Tactics To Increase Audience And Revenues

  • Consistently produce quality content. Become a go-to quality source that is not dependent on social media. Keep editorial standards high.
  • Diversify content offering by format. Give your audience content formats they want. Go deeper into the niches your audience seeks from you.
  • Use a mix of revenue options. Figure out other ways to create revenues beyond advertising.

2. Low Trust Hurts Social Media Usage

Trust in media has declined significantly according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer. This includes social media.

How People Define Media-Hint: It includes content marketing and influencers via Edelman Trust Barometer -Chart (2018)

People have increased concerns about how businesses use and protect their personal data. (eMarketer)

  • Over 50% of respondents were concerned about sharing personal information.
  • 60+% of respondents are unlikely to share personal information for personalized experiences or deals.
Personal Information Privacy Concerns-Chart

People are concerned about digitally privacy.

Facebook is the worst privacy culprit due to its involvement in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Its size and high user time-on-site yield information based on actual and implied user connections and activities. As a marketer, develop tactics to reduce the importance of Facebook. (Gallup)

74% of Facebook users are very or somewhat concerned about Facebook’s invasion of privacy. @GallupClick To Tweet


Social Media Trust and Privacy

74% of Facebook users have privacy concerns – Gallup Research Chart

Marketing Bottom Line:

  • Proactively ensure personal data security for your audience and employees.

Actionable Social Media Usage Tactics To Increase Audience Trust:

  • Create, distribute and enforce internal guidelines regarding personal information. Include employees, customers and others. Communicate these data-related activities and policies internally and externally.
  • Tap trusted employees across your organization to help with social media distribution. But have social media guidelines in place.

    Who customers trust

    Trust has eroded in the last year according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer

  • Build relationships with your audience directly. Don’t use third-party data or appear to spy on visitors on and off your site.
  • Create and communicate site-specific logins. Don’t use social media logins for authentication. Provide and explain in plain English related security and information protection.
  • Test promotions and communications not based on personal data. Use targeted landing page and related drip campaigns.

3. Social Media Experiences Content Saturation

Social media platforms encourage many-to-many member communications and content distribution. Further they have algorithms that manipulate content visibility targeted at marketers to increase advertising revenues. As a result, social media networks create content saturation.

In 2018, social media visibility declined to an average of 4 shares per piece of content, down from 8 shares apiece in 2015  (BuzzSumo).

In 2017, the average content marketing article attracted 4 social shares. @BuzzSumo #contentmarketingClick To Tweet


Histogram of Social Shares Distribution via BuzzSumo

Facebook’s changes earlier in 2018 underscores social media’s race for attention. 2Q2016 SEC filings signaled this challenge based advertising availability in their Newsfeed.

Never having developed other revenue options, Facebook has significant revenue problems going forward. Its advertising revenue strength over time blinded management to diversifying its revenue streams. But increasing ad prices alone won’t yield enough revenues to satisfy Wall Street.

Actionable Marketing Tactics To Combat Content Saturation

  1. Encourage social media followers to engage on owned media options. Give people a reason to share email addresses with you.
  2. Audit and update existing content. Keep your best content viable and visible.
  3. Expand distribution platform use. Optimize content across platforms to maximize reach.


Flat Social Media Usage Conclusion

Flat social media usage is the new normal!

So put your big girl marketing pants on and diversify your marketing across media platforms (owned, social and third party).

While this requires people and budget, even if you’re a small business, you can still compete. (BTW–Did you realize that you have 40+ owned media options?)

With flat social media usage, you need to be smarter about your marketing resources. Often this translates to better defined and documented plans. Vet and share them across your organization to get useful input.

Also invest in your blog and email list. They’re your owned social media. (Remember that social media platforms use email to get members to visit.)

Don’t get discouraged!

You can succeed despite flat social media usage–you’re an adult too!

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.


Photo Credit:  https://unsplash.com/photos/2QjrfhS08ro CCZero via @RawPixel

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