As social media growth stagnates, companies need to be more engaging

P COMPUTER.gifThe vertiginous growth in social media must inevitably be followed by a period of cooling, and then stagnation. So says Forrester Research in a new report, Fight Social Media Stagnation.
Forrester estimates that 58% of US online adults use/visit social networking sites monthly, compared to 90% using email monthly, and 37% watching 'any type of video'. However, Forrester believes this 58% is saturation level for social activities: beyond this are online users who are by their nature are unlikely to engage in chit-chat or create content. This is what the analyst Augie Ray says:
"Saturation of a behaviour doesn't always mean that 100% of people engage in that behaviour. In the real world, a minority of individuals are creators -- writing, composing, or snapping pictures for anything other than personal enjoyment. It is not surprising that social Creator behaviours plateau well below 100%. In 2010, 23% of US online adults exhibit Creator behaviour, and unless human nature changes, we won't see rapid increases in these behaviours in the future."




It's unlikely another wave of rapid growth in social media will be fuelled by tapping into older users because privacy becomes a barrier. For 18-29 year olds, only 30% are concerned with privacy: for 30-43 year olds, it rises to 33%, 44-53 year olds it is 39% and for 54-64 year olds it tops out at 50%. Privacy is more than security: it's a belief that your life is private and should not necessarily be displayed to all and sundry. 
Facebook has encouraged more people to be creators (i.e. contributors) to social media rather than just being consumers of it (i.e. watching YouTube videos or reading blogs). The more we use Facebook, the less time we have available for other user-generated content or web browsing activity. According to Forrester: 
"The only Spectator behaviour that demonstrated growth in the past year was reading other people's updates on Twitter."
So what nuggets from this research can feed into corporate social media strategy? 
Influencing the influencers: Forrester suggests that because we cannot expect to create, or have new influencers emerge, we need to tap into the ones with existing mass influence. Forrester notes: 
"Eighty percent of the influence impressions and posts about products and service come from just 16% of consumers in the US."
Don't just listen, engage: while more companies are listening to social media sentiment (or paying PR agencies to do it), too few are actually engaging with those social media users who are commenting on them. The best companies use this opportunity to start a dialogue, particularly those with negative opinions.
Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.