The social media boom of the last decade is over. It’s not that people are no longer using social media — they are. They’re just using it less, and engaging differently.
Per GWI, 54% of people use social media to connect with friends and family, and 27% of people use social media to keep up with news. What they aren’t necessarily hopping on social media to do is be sold to. However, social media platforms need users to spend as much time on their apps as possible and to continue buying from advertisers in order to remain profitable.
In other words, social media users want to socialize and social media platforms want to sell, leading to a misalignment between a product and its customer base.
Here are some key insights we’re seeing with the current state of social media.
Users Prefer to Share with ‘Close Friends’
There is one social media feature that satisfies users’ desire to connect — Instagram’s Close Friends. On Close Friends, users feel free to share private stories in a controlled, non-judgmental space. Individuals can control who sees their content, and it’s the one corner of the app where there are no ads or selling.
Instagram has taken note and is expanding the Close Friends feature, including an option to only share in-feed posts with Close Friends. If this feature takes off, it could make posting to the public feed obsolete for the average user.
Sales Fatigue Is on the Rise
While advertising and sponsored content are nothing new on social media, users are feeling sold to more than ever, especially on TikTok. In September 2023, the platform rolled out its in-app shopping platform called TikTok Shop. Since its launch, TikTok Shop has been met with mixed reviews.
While the app’s commission-based structure can be helpful for creators who recommend viral products, TikTok users have expressed that the platform’s focus on sales makes it feel more like a space for infomercials than a place where people go to learn or be entertained.
As evidenced by the lack of enthusiasm around Instagram’s failed in-app shopping platform, consumers in the U.S. don’t trust social media platforms enough to shop from them. Continuing to push in-app sales could cause friction between TikTok and its U.S. user base.
The Possibility of Going Ad-Free
Privacy laws have made paid social media advertising more expensive and complex than before. As if that weren’t challenging enough for brands, both TikTok and Meta are testing ad-free subscriptions to eliminate ads for some users altogether. Snapchat rolled out a similar offering last year called Snap+ which now has 5 million users and is expected to generate $240 million by the end of the year.
While these subscriptions may be lucrative for the platforms if users decide to buy (the key word being “if”), it could make reaching potential customers more challenging for brands that rely on paid ads.
What does this mean for marketers?
All hope is not lost for conducting business on social media, but it does mean brands may need to use social media differently. As mentioned above, the average social media user hops online to either connect or learn and brands that position their social platforms as a space for community and education could satisfy these needs.
With that in mind, businesses on social media may benefit from focusing less on engagement and the hard sell, and more on generating conversation among potential customers and getting potential buyers to engage offline through in-person communities and experiential marketing.
As new social media trends and best practices continue to emerge, we’ll report on the latest findings.