Social media users are a fickle bunch. Teens, in particular, are influenced by ever-changing trends.
What was once new and cool can quickly become old news. Take Facebook for instance.
While brands and advertisers observe changes in algorithms and engagement rates, teens base their decision to use or not use the site on something much simpler—who else is using it.
As parents, grandparents, and school administrators have joined the social network, teens have sought other outlets. Contrary to what some might say, this isn’t necessarily a mass exodus that signals the demise of social media or the death of Facebook.
Rather, it’s a sign that teens and other consumer groups may be segmenting their social media use—using different social networking sites according to the way they classify and engage with different types of connections.
Adults have been doing it for years, so why shouldn’t teens follow suit?
For example, many people use LinkedIn exclusively for professional networking. But the same people might use Twitter for various reasons—from keeping up with news to following the dialogue around Game of Thrones.
Facebook, on the other hand, tends to be used primarily for personal reasons, like staying connected with family and friends. Why, then, are we surprised to learn that teens don’t want to juggle conversations with their peers in the same space that they use to wish their grandma a happy birthday?
Instead of trying to manage increasingly complicated social relationships through a single social networking site, consumers, including teens, opt to use different social networks to engage with different types of people and for different types of interactions.
An interaction on Facebook with grandma might closely resemble a phone call—long, formal posts; timely follow-up; and using proper grammar.
On the other hand, chatting with a friend might look more like a string of text messages—short and direct; easy to start and end; and filled with slang.
This explains a growing trend among social networking sites that are shifting toward one-to-one and small group messaging features.
Following the emergence of social networks like Jelly, Kik and Snapchat, larger, mainstream networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—have added or improved their messaging functionality.
Instagram added the ability to post photos directly to other users, while Facebook accidentally released a new application—Slingshot—that directly rivals Snapchat by allowing users to send and react to photos and videos, promoting Twitter-like engagement that is based on spontaneous content creation rather than carefully crafted status updates.
Major social networking sites are responding to the growing popularity of smaller, newer sites and applications, such as GroupMe, that function more like advanced text messaging services than traditional social networks.
These sites offer a simple, uncluttered user-experience, and allow users to interact with individuals or smaller groups of users in a private setting and with little to no brand presence or advertising.
Brands trying to figure out if and how they can use these sites to engage with consumers, especially younger audiences, may want to consider influencer outreach programs where individual consumers can carry forward the brand message.
Some brands, such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell, have successfully used social networking sites like SnapChat by hosting contests and campaigns to engage consumers.
Still other sites, like Instagram, are offering ads, which is attracting more brands, and brands (advertisers and non-advertisers) are using direct messaging for campaign management and social customer service.
Key will be segmenting your audience to determine exactly who you’re trying to reach and using social media analytics, such as social listening data, to determine which social networking sites those groups are using; how they’re using them; and if and how your you can join the conversation in a way that adds value for the audience and fits with your brand voice.
By Jennifer Polk - Analyst, Gartner