Adapting to the Changing Social Media Landscape

The GistCommunity creation. An early adopter of Twitter leveraged it to curate content and nurture professional networks.Transition phase. Over time, Dennis Shiao noticed a shift in social media usage, leading to a decrease in Twitter engagement and a move toward diversifying social media platforms.Strategic adaptation. In response to the changing landscape, Shiao suggests businesses should adapt by fostering targeted communities and seeking alternative channels for interaction and engagement.I was once “all in” on Twitter. A colleague told me about the service, and I created my account in December 2007. The service was a bit clunky in the early days. Users created ad-hoc conventions (e.g., at-mentions, retweets, hashtags, etc.) and it was neat when Twitter formalized these things as platform features.My initial focus was on curating and sharing industry-related content, which helped augment my personal brand. Entire communities assembled around hashtags. There was #eventprofs for event professionals and #CMWorld for content marketers who were part of Content Marketing Institute’s community.It was magical to turn Twitter connections into IRL (in real world) friends. My wife worked at Twitter, and I got to visit Twitter HQ in San Francisco. My wife bought me a customized jacket from the Twitter Store. It had the Twitter logo and my Twitter username stitched onto it — I still wear it.Things have changed a lot in the past 12 months. Facebook pivoted to the metaverse, Twitter had an ownership change, and state governments in the United States started to ban TikTok.Let that all sink in.As an active user of social platforms, it all feels so different these days. So where are things headed?Rey on Adobe Stock PhotosSocial Media (as We Know It) Is Dead Social media platforms aren’t going away, but I expect slower growth in new users and a plateau (or worse) in monthly active users. When Twitter was acquired last year, a number of my marketing friends deleted their accounts because they didn’t agree with the views of the new owner. Others kept their accounts, but log in much less frequently if at all. Still others moved their time and attention to competing services like Mastodon, Post and Bluesky. I kept my account active, haven’t signed up for competing platforms and still check Twitter daily. However, I’m posting less frequently and the serendipity of meeting interesting new people has dried up.When social networks see their user base decline, the network effect goes into reverse. More value is attained when users can follow and connect with lots of other users. In addition, advertisers, who are responsible for the majority of revenue to most social platforms, may go elsewhere if there are less users to market to.Ian Bogost wrote a thought-provoking piece for The Atlantic (in 2022) titled “The Age of Social Media Is Ending.” Bogost begins the article:It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end — and soon.Bogost noted that the original mission of social networking was to form connections and that around 2009 (i.e., when the smartphone was introduced), social networking became social media — in other words, sharing and publishing content.Bogost ended his piece by encouraging the elimination of social media. To me, it’s a bit of an extreme take:To win the soul of social life, we must learn to muzzle it again, across the globe, among billions of people. To speak less, to fewer people and less often — and for them to do the same to you, and everyone else as well. We cannot make social media good, because it is fundamentally bad, deep in its very structure. All we can do is hope that it withers away, and play our small part in helping abandon it.I don’t want to see social media go away entirely. I still enjoy it, both in the opportunity to share content and the chance to consume content others share.View allBut here’s the thing.I think businesses should stay active and engaged on social media, but it’s time to pursue other channels to drive website visits, leads and opportunities.Related Article: Twitter Blue: Is Twitter Verification Worth It for Marketers?The Splintering of the Social Web The newsfeeds of Facebook and Twitter were the ultimate all-you-can-eat meal: everyone from everywhere all at once, posting about every topic imaginable. It was convenient for users and convenient for advertisers. This all-in-one-place world is splintering, as people prefer a la carte dishes to a buffet.I’m seeing a lot of activity in:Group chats: SMS, Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, etc. Friends or family members establish the group and stay in touch via asynchronous messaging.Affinity groups: Slack, Discord, Facebook Groups, etc. Groups gather around a particular topic (e.g., New England Beer Lovers) or affinity group (e.g., University of Connecticut Parents Group).Single-topic communities: There’s a subreddit on almost every topic imaginable. I compare this to the days of Usenet, where there were groups like good portion of my free time has shifted here. I’m in a Messenger chat with college friends, a group SMS with extended family, a group SMS with friends and a Slack community of content marketers. Most of these I check daily — and in some, check and post multiple times a day.These communities present a challenge to businesses, as most don’t offer vehicles for advertising or sponsorship.Related Article: How Social Media Marketing Has Changed This YearHow Should Businesses Respond? The shift from monolithic social platforms to targeted communities provides businesses with a glimpse of the future. And that’s to establish, foster and grow your own community around the mission of your business. Before discussing tactics and technologies for your community, answer these questions:What’s the mission? In other words, what’s the intersection between our expertise and the goals and aspirations of customers, partners and prospects?Are there existing communities that already fulfill this mission? (If so, try a different mission or “niche down” to something more specific.)Who are the people in our ecosystem who can evangelize the mission and grow the community?From here, I recommend a “focus group approach” where you plan small, intimate gatherings (e.g., coffee, cocktails or dinner) in particular cities. Assess things like attendance and engagement at each gathering. This approach lets you test the waters on the community’s viability without betting the house on it. It also lets you refine and adapt. Learn how you can join our contributor community.

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