The growth of social media’s influence in our daily digital lives has been astounding over the last few years. According to figures in the latest Statista Digital Economy Compass (see the chart below), the global average time spent using social media platforms per day is 142 minutes in 2021 – far higher than the 90 minutes recorded in 2012.
As the Statista infographic shows, though, this growth has plateaued in recent years, and the latest figure even represents a year-over-year decrease of three minutes. So, 17 years after the birth of Facebook, is peak social media already behind us? This is a question analysts and investors have been pondering for a few years already. While specific platforms will experience fluctuations in user numbers, and some will become obsolete (such as Myspace), the market potential still not fully unlocked in developing economies should mean that social media will be able to find at least one more gear to shift into before the peak is truly reached.
Though Statista provides some interesting data on peak social media, one would have to understand more culturally and from an economic view to understand why. Here are some spitballing reasons that this peak social media phenomenon is occurring.
- Market saturation may be occurring within the user base, at least in the developed world. The idea that growth can be made up in the developing world may become problematic as they simply do not have the income to support social media companies as in the developed world.
- The proliferation of social media companies has divided much of the user base into segments that make those universes so small that it makes those communities uninteresting.
- Social media was about independent user-generated content. This was at the expense of mainstream media. Hence, mainstream media has moved into social media, crowding out the original intent of many of these social media companies. This has made the content uninteresting.
- Early on in social media, there was a proliferation of duplicate accounts. Social media has clamped down on this in recent years, and hence growth may have already been overstated.
- Since much of the electorates of many countries are so divided, and the “culture war” seems to target one side and not the other, censorship has driven away many users, even to the point of many going completely off of social media platforms.
- Governments realizing the power of social media, both in the developed and developing worlds, have turned social media into propaganda machines to control people. Many have come to realize this and have made the platforms uninteresting.
- Online bullying and the overall nasty nature of discourse on social media have caused many social media users to avoid these platforms. At the same time, the over-policing of this discourse has turned many users off and makes discourse uninteresting.
- Since the time of Edward Snowden, many now clearly understand that social media is using personal data for all kinds of reasons. This has caused many to shun social media.
- Social media posts can get you in trouble in terms of employment and other activities. Employers now look at social media to determine what kind of employee one would be. Employees now clearly understand this. This has caused many to hide who they really are online and post much less information about themselves (or heavily sanitized), making the content uninteresting.
- The rise of gaming has cut into the interests of social media activities. Other technologies have also cut into social media use, such as online chat programs, more online entertainment, and other fun technological gadgets.
- Social dis-cohesion and political divides have put many, especially the youth, out onto the streets in activist activities. They merely use online activities to organize via code words to avoid censorship and government surveillance.
No doubt there are multiple reasons why peak social media is occurring. Perhaps this is why many more legacy social media companies are rethinking their strategies to maintain growth – i.e., Facebook launching the Metaverse. Unfortunately, most likely social media companies will not be addressing the real issues people have with social media.
Perhaps you have further ideas and can spitball these reasons in the comment section below.
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