Social Media Saturation (or why Snapchat is so successful)

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People have been arguing that social media has reached saturation since at least 2007. But recently, the argument has a little more oomph to it.

We looked into the numbers to see if the story holds water, and what this might mean for the social media world.

 

What the numbers say

So what’s the health status of our existing popular social media networks? Where are users (and thus money) flowing to? We looked at the growth of three critical social media companies – Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

From Q1 2014 to Q1 2015, Facebook’s active users grew by 11.5%. Twitter grew a little more in the same period – 15.5%.

Snapchat, on the other hand, doesn’t release active user stats, but we can still glean enough information to get a pretty good picture. In August, 2014 the company reported 100 million active users, and TechCrunch reported in December the same year 200 million. That’s 50% growth in six months. 

There’s clearly still growth in the social media sector. The reason we’re labouring this point is that while we can’t know for sure, it seems clear that Snapchat is growing at breakneck speed, even though they have fewer users than networks like Facebook and Instagram, and Twitter, while others are growing at far more moderate rates.

 

So is social media saturated?

We’d argue no, it’s not. If it was, there wouldn’t be room for a new company like Snapchat to experience the numbers that they are. And sure, they’ve so far only captured a small percentage of total social media users in the US (18% in 2014). But their projected growth based on past performance tells us that people are still keen to share and connect with an online community, which is the crux of social media.

However.

While the market isn’t saturated, it’s definitely changing. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel argued that social media used to be about accumulation, to post things that then collectively reflect your identity and personality online. Think about a MySpace page or a Facebook photo album.

However, social media has changed, and now focuses on sharing your thoughts and emotions in real time, leading to products like Twitter, and now Snapchat. While the accumulation model still has a place (Tumblr, for example), the instant sharing model has proven enormously successful, particularly among younger demographics.

We’d argue that social media isn’t saturated, just changing. Maybe the traditional style of accumulation will eventually fade. Maybe that segment of the larger pie has reached breaking point, and will begin to lose to the instant sharing themes driving Snapchat forward at 16,666,666 new active users a month.

 

How this affects business

With this shift in mind, businesses need to be on top of their social media strategy, both companies developing the tools of social media like Hootsuite and SproutSocial, as well as those who are hoping to connect with new customers.

Businesses who are hoping to use social media need to focus less on total content and micro-content creation and more on engaging on an individual level at just the right time. For a long time now, content strategy has been at least a little bit of a throw-everything-at-it-and-see-what sticks situation.

But that needs to change. The focus now needs to be much more on what your customers are talking about right now rather than what you want to say.

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Summary

Social media isn’t saturated – it’s growing. But it’s growing in a new direction. The shift from accumulation to instant sharing has driven mobile-based, instant share networks to the forefront, while accumulation platforms have for the most part slowed their growth.

For businesses to respond to this shift, they need to focus on producing content and engaging on social media in a relevant and timely way, and less on massive content creation for the sake of it.

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