This social life

Breaking up is hard to do: Are users really leaving social media and what does it tell us about the future?

Have you ever had posts appear in your feed, where someone you know (usually very remotely) describes how great they feel after having “detoxed” from social media? Maybe you’ve read articles by journalists revelling in how it has changed their life for the better. Perhaps you’ve noticed the trending #DeleteFacebook campaign and wondered whatever that was about.

You’re not imagining it. Something in the way we talk about social media in public is changing fast. Becoming more ambivalent, questionable, problematic. After having been the antidote to loneliness during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, soaring by 44 per cent worldwide in March 2020, there is a growing movement to step away from social media altogether.  Celebrities like Selena Gomez and Megan Thee Stallion are leading the way.

But is it all just empty noise? Is there a social media exodus underway? As it turns out, the answer is a resounding ‘kind of’.

Facebook made me do it

In the case of Facebook, many users seem to have one foot out the door already. In a 2021 Statista study of UK social media users, 43 per cent report that they have considered leaving – the highest of any platform. But why is Facebook leading the stampede?

Well, a number of reasons. Its privacy policy sticks in the eye of many, as the company tracks users’ personal information and even sells their data to the highest bidder. Did someone say Cambridge Analytica? Some left when massive data leaks were reported and Facebook subsequently downplayed the incident. Yet others are unhappy with how content is moderated – or rather not moderated – on the platform. Many have called on Facebook to curb misinformation and extremism—and yet the social media site was instrumental in allowing pro-Trump rioters to organise and plan the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, 2021.

But alas all doomsters and gloomsters. When sociologists speak to Facebook deleters, they rarely raise political concerns as their primary motivations for leaving the network. It’s rather down to something more flippant: it’s just no longer cool. As social media use has spread across all demographics, it’s primarily young people who feel like they’ve ‘outgrown’ Facebook.

What happens when your nan likes your profile picture

We may be seeing the next evolution in digital media. Just as young people were the first to migrate to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they are now the first to move on to greener pastures (i.e a platform where their elderly relatives can’t find them).

These digital nomads are turning to Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, or seeking out more niche platforms for special interest groups – suggesting that publicly accessible social media will take a turn towards more restricted, smaller messaging services in the future. We are also seeing a shift away from sharing text towards sharing images and videos. The future of social media is, in short, looking considerably more private and restrictive than before. So where does this leave social data analytics?

The end of an era

The fall of Facebook and the rise of hipper private chat channels means businesses will face issues with targeted advertising and how they conduct social intelligence research.  Companies need to begin to seriously contend with this growing reality and find workaround ways of accessing authentic data – but crucially do so in a way that respects ethics and user privacy.

Where to start? Familiarise yourself with our step-by-step guide to social media research ethics here and get creative. Recalibrate towards the open platforms that are growing and that trade in raw, authentic and revealing responses – think Reddit.  Agencies like Listen + Learn Research can help you navigate this turn and future-proof your insight research in the process.

So, buckle up. Users may not be leaving social media, but they certainly are deserting Facebook and its open-ended cousins in droves. With people’s online behaviour changing rapidly, brands need to follow suit.

So dust off the old boombox or your collection of handwritten cardboard signs and let them know you’ll change. It always works in movies, right?

 

By Louise Alestam

 

To find out how you can best conduct your social intelligence research in a responsible and ethical matter, get in touch with us at contact@listenandlearnresearch.com.

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