Can social networks regain momentum in 2019?

“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place.” -- Hilary Clinton

Mark Zuckerberg may have spoken prematurely. Yes, yes, the appetite for social media may have seemed like it was a bottomless maw. But now some social media companies are starting to look desperately for new users. Or any users.

Why would we say that? Well, at Brand Keys we track social networking sites in our annual Loyalty and Engagement Index and incidence levels have dropped. That means it makes it harder to find users to interview. We couldn’t find nearly enough to assess Google Plus in 2018.

What’s also dropped have been social networking sites’ engagement and loyalty rankings. Facebook is down. Pinterest is down. Twitter is down, and Snapchat is down.

Snapchat lost 3 million daily active users in the second quarter of 2018. That’s the first time that the company has reported a decline since it went public. Twitter -- despite its presidential notoriety -- has struggled to increase platform engagement. It posted a decrease of one million users, year over year.

The loss of users raises a question: Has social media reached a saturation level? Security issues, charges of misinformation, foreign hacking and misuse of user data have compounded all this. Consumers may be social, but they’re not stupid.

What happened?

Facebook had what it calls a “mixed” third-quarter earnings report. Results fell short when it came to revenue, daily active users and monthly users. The brand had few answers for how it planned to change the trajectory.

The company created a war room to prevent disinformation and Russian trolls on its site. But already facing scrutiny, had to admit that an attack on its network exposed personal information of nearly 50 million users. The breach was the largest in the company’s 14-year history. There’s an ongoing crisis of trust in the brand.

And Congress is now asking questions about how Facebook entered into dozens of data-sharing partnerships, like the disastrous collaboration with Cambridge Analytics, and its loosey-goosey approach to oversight, what’s being called the “3 D’s” -- delay, deny, deflect.

Facebook says it is “committed to protecting people’s information.” But when officials from nine countries met in London at the end of November seeking answers to Facebook’s privacy breaches and role in spreading propaganda, Zuckerberg was a no-show.  He was represented at the international conference by an empty chair, which was appropriate. Facebook has done nothing but make empty promises and consumers have come to understand that!

Come to it, Facebook employees are coming to understand it too. Just over 50% of employees said they were optimistic about Facebook’s future.  That sounds good until you grasp the fact that this number is down from 83% last year.

Twitter and Snapchat continued to lose users. Twitter reported its first consecutive quarterly drop in users signaling additional declines to come as it culls fake accounts. Snap lost two million daily users and said it expected the trend to continue not, apparently, recovering from the widely-panned redesign of its platform.

Google Plus, launched in 2011 as a challenge to Facebook, exposed a half-million users’ private data, but they didn’t bother to inform them. Seven years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, Google abandoned their consumer effort and shuttered the social media site.

That’s what happened to specific social networking sites. Generally speaking, and for the first time ever, fewer Americans are using social media than the year prior, down nearly 4%.

Any drop in social media usage is unprecedented, and it indicates Americans are not wholly satisfied with social in ways they may have been in the past.

Feel free to share that. Just be careful which social network you use.

Robert Passikoff, is the founder and president of Brand Keys, as well as a speaker and thought leader on engagement, loyalty and predictive metrics.  Dr. Passikoff’s best-selling book, “Predicting Market Success,” provided marketers with a 21st-century perspective on loyalty. His new book, “Reports of My Death: Branding in the Digital Age,” will be published in fall 2019.

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