Social media usage in the US is changing as a result of trends including the growth of “lean-forward” behaviour, greater concerns for privacy and the rise of niche sites based around personal interests.
Kevin Moeller and Heather O’Shea of UM, the media agency network, discussed these themes in their paper, Cracking the social code: Aligning consumers’ need states to marketing objectives, published as part of the Experiential Learning series of articles from the ARF’s Audience Measurement 9.0 conference.
Their research drew on data from 4,000 active web users in America, and found there was a “progressive shift from lean-back to lean-forward behaviour” on social media, fuelled by smartphone usage and exemplified by multiscreening.
Working simultaneously with this increase in activity, however, is a heightened emphasis on privacy, and precisely which information should be available for anyone to view.
Two-thirds of UM’s American panel were worried about their “online persona” being public versus only one-third who were unconcerned – a negative imbalance that represents a “sea change” in perspectives on this topic.
“While this may seem like a disconnect from the very idea of a social network, it proves there are nuances in what consumers believe is publicly fair game compared to what they actively would like to share,” Moeller and O’Shea suggest.
Another indicator that user habits are becoming more nuanced is the uptake of newer or smaller social networks reflecting specific passions and interests.
Examples of niche platforms include deviantART, a site for art lovers, Ravelry, a community for crocheting enthusiasts, and Medium, an offering from the founders of Twitter that hosts longer-form content.
“While Facebook remains the main internet presence for audiences to connect with one another, niche social networks are becoming a driving force in the growth of the social sphere,” say Moeller and O’Shea.
Given that UM’s figures indicate that the creation of new social media profiles has effectively “stalled” even as usage grows, the major mainstream players may soon move to acquire their smaller counterparts.
“This could be the beginning of the ‘Profile Wars’ in which a battle for new sign-ups ensues with larger networks increasingly buying out niche cousins,” say Moeller and O’Shea.