People report high levels of dissatisfaction and distrust with social media and yet most continue to use it.
The Pew Research Centre, a nonpartisan US organisation which conducts media and public opinion research, recently released its latest data on social media use and perceptions in the United States. Their survey was conducted before the data scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and it will be some time before we fully understand the impacts of this crisis, but we can make some useful inferences.
In the 13 years since Pew started collecting data on social media use, the growth has been incredible. Young people in America are 25% more likely to use social media than to have a driver’s licence by the time they’re 19. And they are 76% more likely to use social media than to floss. Indeed, in many demographics, using social media is more common than drinking milk!
The boom in social media has changed how news is communicated, changed the nature of dating and changed people’s access to formally unfamiliar industries – like shipping.
However, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once wrote, “change is the only constant” and this observation is more obviously true now than at any time in history, so what is the future for social media?
The core functionality of social media – sharing information and trivia with friends and distant acquaintances – is unlikely to lose its appeal anytime soon, but the way this core functionality is delivered is under increasing pressure to change.
In the key markets of North America and Europe, growth in social media use has largely stopped. In other parts of the world, social media adoption is expanding roughly in line with the rate of internet penetration, which suggests that excitement about the technology is not increasing, only access to it is still growing.
Pew’s poling has found that 80% of social media users are concerned about advertisers accessing their data and just 9% felt in control of their data despite 74% saying that having such control is very important to them. Based on self-reporting, just 5% of people trust the information they see on social media and 59% of users said it would be easy to leave social media all together.
These numbers look dire for the social media industry, but they don’t yet match up with the reality of people’s actions – they may claim to be unhappy about social media, but in an irony that seems lost on most of them, they’re using social media to express this dissatisfaction. Users may not be happy, but from the data we have, they’re not yet leaving – will they start?
Quitting social media is popular now and I have friends who have quit many times – a little like people who quit smoking every week. Elon Musk (Tesla’s CEO) recently quit Facebook (though he is still on Twitter) but how long will this last? Kanye West quit Twitter 11 months ago… he’s back now.
Social media in its current form is far from perfect. Everyone seems to know this, but until there is a better alternative – until the next big thing comes along and changes the game as the dominant platforms of today did not that many years ago – I think social media will continue to be the dominant force on the global and local communications landscapes.