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Has Social Media Usage Peaked? What 2018 Data Means for Marketers

The saturation level of online content has been a hot topic over the past few years, especially in relation to social media algorithms, active users and industry strategies. Year after year, we’ve watched the social media space grow as people join new online communities where they share increasing amounts of content, showcasing even more of their personal lives publicly online.

However, in 2018, the data looks a little bit different. Snapchat went public in 2017 and has recently released their latest earnings report in which they share that their daily active users has declined by 3 million users.


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At the same time, through The Infinite Dial Study, we also learned that Facebook usage in 2018 is down 5 percent over last year and social media usage is down 3 percent, overall.


The sheer amount of information and opinions shared daily about the industry is enough to make heads spin and leave many unanswered questions: Does this mean social media has reached the height of its popularity? What does this mean for users and content marketers moving forward? There are many ways to slice the data (and many ways to skew it, too) so it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Here are the facts we’re considering as we determine the best content strategies for our clients in the social space and beyond.

The way we are consuming media is changing.

From streaming services and podcasts to the increase in video content everywhere, preferences for consuming information are changing. In the past year, weekly YouTube usage increased from 43 to 46 percent, and people are consistently choosing to listen to podcasts more than in the past (up 4 percent over 2017, and averaging 7 podcasts listened to per week).

While Facebook and Instagram are continuing to shift their services to provide opportunities for many types of content on one platform, there are still a wide variety of social media apps where users can spend their time – and the time can’t be spent on all of them. It feels natural that some apps will become less used by the overall online population (e.g. Snapchat) while activity continues to grow on others (e.g. Instagram).


This doesn’t mean those less-used platforms are on their way out, though. For example, Snapchat reported a 44 percent increase in revenue to $262 million this year, and is still projected to increase by 1.2 million users ages 12 to 17 by 2022. The study also showed that Snapchat’s brand usage is still on the rise. This is an opportunity for Snapchat to focus on a smaller, very interested segment and optimize the space for brands to build relationships with these users as they become more financially independent decision-makers.

The way we are communicating with others online is changing.

Type of communication is also being increasingly divided by age group with younger generations – Gen Z, especially – preferring more private conversations using applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat over public broadcasts on channels like Facebook and Instagram.

Additionally, the type of content shared on each platform is becoming drastically different. For instance, you can probably expect to read an update on your friend’s kids or shared news articles (fake or not) on Facebook, join in an industry chat on Twitter, find travel or fashion inspiration on Instagram, and stay updated on industry information and business contacts on LinkedIn. People will naturally gravitate toward certain types of content and exclude themselves from being exposed to others, so we would expect to see varying activity levels on each of the platforms based on the types of interaction happening there.


To take it one step further, as the algorithms continue to show people a more narrow set of content, we expect polar reactions from users who may either love or hate the direction the curation of content is headed.

What does this mean moving forward?

All of this said, it’s more important now than ever that marketers tailor their messaging and delivery for unique audiences on different platforms. Because social media has been around for more than a decade and some of the newness has worn off, the rate of increase in users on core social media channels will probably begin to slow down, and it seems that each channel’s core audience will continue to become more narrow.

This, however, doesn’t mean that usage or activity has reached its peak, but that marketers should be listening to and analyzing the activity that is happening on each channel to determine how to best reach their client’s target audience. We still believe that social media efforts should be focused on channels that will return the highest ROI for clients based on their individual goals, which means honing target audiences, tailoring the content for the applicable platforms, and optimizing based on results.