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Social Media Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

It's complicated

Social media and 2018 have been through a lot.

A quick search on Medium for recently published tech- or media-related articles produces these headlines:

  • Facebook Fabricates Trust Through Fake Intimacy
  • Getting a Flood of Privacy Policy Updates? Read Them.
  • Face It, You Just Don’t Care About the News Anymore

Fabricated trust. Privacy updates. News drama. Yikes.

“Pew Research Center has studied the spread and impact of social media since 2005, when just 5% of  American adults used the platforms” (Rainie, 2018). Since then, social media platforms have experienced rapid growth and, consequently, massive criticism — particularly regarding privacy and data protection. Things have changed a bit since 2005. “About seven-in-ten American adults (69%) now report they use some kind of social media platform (not including YouTube) — a nearly fourteenfold increase since Pew Research Center first started asking about the phenomenon.” Now, 37% of those ages 65 and older say they use social media sites.

When distrust is coupled with such high usage of social media from people across a broad spectrum of ages, one thing is certain regarding the relationship between social media creators and consumers: It’s complicated.

Who’s Using Which Platform?Majority of Americans now use Facebook, YouTube

Besides the fact that pretty much everyone uses social media, let’s break things down at a more granular level.

Facebook’s popularity among teenagers is hurtling downward, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center. Only 54% of teens (ages 13-17) use Facebook, which is a severe drop-off from three years ago when 71% reported using the platform. The shift doesn’t mean teens are spending less time on social media, however: “95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one; and 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis.” The platforms teens use most? YouTube( 85%), Instagram (72%), & Snapchat (69%).

Another Pew Research survey examined the social media landscape in early 2018 and found that Facebook and YouTube dominate other platforms amongst U.S. adults (Smith & Anderson, 2018). So rest assured that Facebook is still worth time and energy, with roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults using the platform.

How Do People Feel About Social Media?

No matter the age, people report feeling generally positive about the impact the internet has had on their personal lives. But its impact on society? Not so much — especially according to older internet users. Four years ago, 8/10 Gen X internet users felt that the internet had been “mostly a positive thing for society,” but that number is on the decline, falling to 69% for 2018 (Jiang, 2018).

Despite the shift found in an older demographic, younger internet users are less convinced about its effect on their lives.

The largest share feel that the effect has been neither positive nor negative. As we’ve already established, though, it’s complicated. The share of social media users who say the platforms would be hard to give up has increased by 12 percentage points compared to a survey from four years ago. We’re realizing that heavy social media usage might not be healthy, but we’re not willing to give it up.

Should Our Strategies Change?

I’m a believer that social media strategies should be in constant change. But now more than ever, we should be hyper cognizant of the fact that our audiences are hesitant to buy what we’re selling. We social media creators are stuck in the awkward limbo of utilizing distrusted platforms to connect with skeptical users.

Almost half of all U.S. adults get news from Facebook, yet only 5% of online Americans report having “a lot” of trust in the information they receive from social media sites.

What we can do to make things a little less complicated is to focus on transparency and authenticity. The issues users have with their social media experiences go well beyond privacy and trust. People see social media as a negative venue for political discussions, having feelings of stress and frustration, and many users admit to being harassed on social media sites. With data demonstrating that people still don’t leave these platforms, we ought to focus on fostering healthy, beneficial experiences with content that reminds people why they grew to love social media in the first place. In wheat farming, the chaff is the husk surrounding a seed — the part of the grain that is generally thrown away. Right now, social media is full of chaff and data shows that people’s online behavior is changing accordingly. As online users continue to separate the wheat from the chaff, our duty is to focus on creating more wheat.