Don’t panic over ‘peaking’ social media—just prepare

As users flee powerhouse platforms for nimbler niche communities, communicators can get in on an assortment of ground floors. Which ones, though?  

Peak social media

We’ve had a nice run, social media.

What began as a whirlwind mid-aughts romance of lighthearted “facemashing,” AIM chatting and making pals on Myspace has snowballed into a colossal global industry.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram have become essential hubs of business activity, and social media strategy is now a primary concern for virtually every company on Earth. Doing business without these channels has become almost unthinkable. However, the technological tides could be turning. Many are declaring that we’ve reached “peak social media,” citing sinking user numbers on platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook. Users—especially younger ones—are increasingly fed up with the toxic baggage that all this “connectivity” has wrought, and they are deleting accounts accordingly.

What does all this digital upheaval mean for communicators? No one knows, exactly, but now seems like a good time to consider what changes might be on the horizon.

Here are three tips to get ahead of the social media marketing game in 2019:

Try out emerging niche platforms. What’s going to be the next big thing?

There might not ever be another Facebook, but Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian predicts that chat- and messaging-centric apps such as Telegram and Discord could rise exponentially in the near future. Business Insider shared Ohanian’s views on which way the social media winds appear to be blowing:

“I really believe that we’ve hit … peak social, where the platforms that are one too many, where we follow individuals, have really, in a lot of ways, run their course, and we’ve reached the ceiling.”

Ohanian continued:

“What people seem to be clamoring for more and more now is community, and so whether that goes to private group chats — like your WhatsApp group, your Signal group — or new platforms that have emerged,” he said.

“We’re seeing this as a response to the fact that so much of social engagement is not about a sense of community; it’s about a sense of playing to your tribe, your following. And if you don’t have a following, you don’t really have a voice,” he said.

Do you have a “voice” online? How about a “tribe?” As opposed to carrying on posting or tweeting into the void, consider seeking out more specific “communities” in 2019. Your best bet for connecting with your audience might still be on Facebook or LinkedIn, but you could get ahead by establishing a presence on a smaller, more targeted platform.

What about abstention? If you’re weighing whether to slog along with the same social media strategy you’ve had since 2014, consider the question that Ragan Consulting Group co-founder Jim Ylisela advises communicators to ask before every project:

“What would happen if we didn’t do this?”

What would happen if you stopped tweeting? What would transpire if you stopped posting Snapchat or Instagram Stories? Would your followers riot in the streets, exhorting you to resume providing content? Would your bottom line take a hit?

Break up with the platforms that drain you, and prioritize channels that serve a substantive business purpose. Above all, commit to measuring real business outcomes that spring from your social media efforts. That’s how you’ll weed out the weakling channels that do not merit further investment.  

Prep plans for a post-peak social media landscape. All this talk of “peak social media” could be overstated hype—or it might not be. Either way, it’s wise to start planning for a world that’s not dominated by The Big 5 (or 15, or 21, depending on how you rank such things).

Have you tinkered with WhatsApp?

Statistic: Number of monthly active WhatsApp users worldwide from April 2013 to December 2017 (in millions) | Statista

How about Vero, or Steemit? Have you considered how to use social media to rebuild trust or to sell directly to your customers in 2019? How would you pivot if one or more of the platforms you invest in (and count on) were to go belly up?

The end of the era dominated by a handful of social media titans could be nigh. Savvy communicators should weigh their options accordingly.

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