The term social media can be a misnomer. While the term contains the word "social," it might not be the case
Social networks of the past had genuine human interaction -- such as a bowling club, sewing club or a Masonic Lodge. Now, some people sit at home typing on their computers and smartphones for human interaction through social networking. As of 2023, there are 302 million social media users in the U.S., according to Statista, although many of those users have multiple accounts such as Facebook and Twitter.
Social media has affected our society in ways both good and bad. People can communicate globally, and companies can directly connect with consumers in new ways. But social media can also spread disinformation quickly, create a bullying platform and giving fringe groups a way to communicate freely.
It's vital for businesses to keep up with the evolving social media landscape to take advantage of its benefits. Here's what's happening with social media in 2023 and beyond.
How has social media use shifted?
The 2023 social media landscape is different from when prominent social networks -- such as Facebook and Twitter -- first began operations in the early 2000s. Originally, Facebook was a place for college friends to connect and Twitter was a microblogging site.
There is some evidence that people have reduced their social media usage in recent years. For example, six in 10 Americans surveyed by Pew Research Center in 2022 said they have taken a break from Twitter, citing the platform's negative and nasty environment. There are also similar complaints about Facebook.
There are multiple reasons why people are leaving social media:
- They feel overwhelmed by the amount of content generated daily.
- They're concerned about privacy and security.
- They're tired of the negativity.
- They're looking for more meaningful connections.
Social media companies might have lost their way because they don't know what they want to be, said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a technology consulting company. Users are having a hard time deciding what to do with social media because of this. They need to determine if networks want to be gathering places, information hubs, news aggregators or something else. Users don't know what they want to do on these platforms, so the platforms need to figure out their end goal, he argues.
LinkedIn has been the exception to this downward trend because it knew what it was going to be and has not deviated from that path. It has remained a career site for professionals to connect with potential employers since its inception. It was able to monetize its services in a way that Facebook and others never could do by providing premium services that people felt were valuable.
"If you look at the whole role of social media, the only one that really has a significant impact is LinkedIn," said Tim Bajarin, chairman at Creative Strategies, a consumer technology research company. "I don't see a lot of heavy business activity on Facebook, other than for promotion of businesses."
Filling the void on other sites -- especially Facebook -- are advertisers. However, accusations of spying quickly popped up when people began noticing targeted advertisements for recently purchased items on social media. This further soured the relationship customers had with social media networks.
"In the end, I still think that [social networks] need to pivot away from advertising funding to direct funding from their members. They can focus on what the members want out of social media, as opposed to focusing on what advertisers want out of social media, which isn't necessarily what the users want," Enderle said.
The advertisers want user information to manipulate users into buying their products or taking other actions such as voting for candidates. The users don't want to be manipulated or have their information used against them. Users go to social media to engage with and communicate with others, not to be used as a product the social media networks sell to advertisers, he added.
Learn more about social media privacy issues.
Social media in the news
Social media firms have been in the news a lot lately, and not always for good reasons. The common problems surrounding all of them include controversy such as user privacy and online safety.
Facebook rebranded as Meta in 2021 to focus on the metaverse. However, it lost billions in R&D money as the metaverse didn't take off as originally planned. Meta has announced that it's now focusing on AI applications.
In 2022, Facebook and subsidiary Instagram began losing subscribers as younger generations moved to platforms such as TikTok and YouTube.
Facebook has been repeatedly cited for violations of user privacy and fined $5 billion by the European Union.
Snapchat recently introduced augmented reality (AR) to its application, including a new method to create custom AR lenses and a new way to share AR experiences with friends. Users can now create their own AR lenses using a variety of tools and assets they can share with friends.
In 2021, Snapchat announced a partnership with Disney to create an AR experience. This includes new ways to interact with Disney characters and watch Disney movies. It also introduced a new subscription service -- Snapchat+ -- with several exclusive features, such as being able to see who has rewatched snaps and access to a special chat feature to video chat and call other users from the platform.
But Snapchat is facing the challenge of declining user growth, most notably due to competition from TikTok.
TikTok has emerged as a popular platform for video blogging. Its success is filled with controversy, however, the most notable being that the parent company of TikTok --ByteDance -- might have connections to the Chinese Communist Party.
ByteDance has been accused of collecting and storing user data for the Chinese government. It has also been accused of being a national security risk that spies on American users. Nothing concrete has been found; the accusations mostly stem from the ambiguity of the privacy statement that comes with the software.
TikTok has also been criticized for allowing harmful content -- such as cyberbullying and self-harm videos -- that targets minors to be shared on the platform. TikTok has taken steps to address this issue, but it remains a concern.
TikTok has been banned in India and on government-issued phones in several states in the U.S. Montana moved to completely ban the service in May 2023, prompting a lawsuit by ByteDance.
Learn about these TikTok alternatives.
Twitter has faced turbulent times since Elon Musk took over in 2022. Under Musk's leadership, Twitter has seen changes to its platform that some consider damaging, such as cutting content moderation staff and loosening moderation rules. Users scrambled for Twitter alternatives and advertisers suspended or canceled ad buys.
Many startups have attempted to capitalize on user dissatisfaction -- including the right-wing leaning Gab and the techie-oriented Mastodon -- but none have gained any real traction. Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter, started Bluesky, which is similar to Twitter, but is currently in beta testing for only those with invites.
Musk named Linda Yaccarino, former head of advertising at NBCUniversal, as Twitter's new CEO in 2023. She will face the challenge of regaining advertiser confidence to boost the company's revenue.
How the changing landscape affects businesses
One of the challenging issues around doing business on social media is its fragmentation. Conservatives have long complained about being stifled or censored on social media and have begun creating their own platforms.
Former President Donald Trump created his own platform, Truth Social. A conservative-friendly Twitter clone called Gab was started in 2016. And two other Twitter-clone startups -- Bluesky and Mastodon -- have emerged as alternatives to people leaving Twitter.
There is also a YouTube alternative called Rumble. It was established because its founder felt YouTube was prioritizing influencers and not giving independent creators enough attention.
The problem with that strategy is that it quickly devolves into echo chambers where people of the same political stripe sit around agreeing with each other.
"I guess a certain number of people want to do that, but I got to believe that gets pretty old pretty quick," Enderle said.
There is now a split in social media networks along generational lines -- Facebook leans toward older users, while TikTok skews to a younger audience -- so companies need to choose where to spend advertising dollars based on network members. Despite all the complaints about woke culture, most companies are cautious about offending customers.
While social networks are ad-driven, their ad algorithms tend to be reactive. Enderle notes that if a consumer buys something online, they'll get a bunch of ads on Facebook for that item as opposed to ads for complementary products.
"You don't need a bunch of ads on buying that same thing that you just bought, so their algorithms are badly broken with regard to ads," he said. "They've really got to get their arms around it."
And since some social networks -- most notably TikTok and Twitter -- are becoming more controversial for their content, it's time to rethink advertising on those platforms, Bajarin said.
"Be much more careful if you're placing ads on social media. It really needs to be placed on a neutral medium or site as opposed to a controversial site," he said.
Social media best practices for businesses
There are some social media best practices businesses should follow to maximize the effectiveness of reaching customers and to minimize any potential damage to the company's reputation.
1. When in doubt, don't say it
Even if you don't intend to offend someone, it can happen. For example, in 2018, Kellogg's tweeted a picture of a bowl of cereal with the caption, "When you're trying to be healthy, but still want to eat cereal." The tweet was criticized for being insensitive to people with eating disorders. Kellogg's apologized for the tweet and removed it. However, the company's stock price fell and people boycotted Kellogg's products.
2. Have fun
Fast food burger chain Wendy's has become legendary for its teasing and taunting of competitors and noncompetitors on its Twitter feed. It invented a holiday -- National Roast Day -- and routinely roasts the competition and anyone else who asks for it. The campaign has helped generate positive buzz for the chain.
3. Mind the CEO
Your CEO doesn't need to be on Twitter for the company to be successful. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang has no online presence, for example, and the company has a $1 trillion market valuation. On the other hand, a CEO's words can cause trouble. In 2017, Papa John's CEO John Schnatter made a controversial statement about NFL players kneeling during the U.S. national anthem. The statement was widely condemned, and there were calls for a boycott. The company's stock price fell sharply, and Schnatter was forced to resign.
4. Don't rely strictly on younger generations
Younger generations have grown up on technology and use it regularly, but companies might want to think about hiring someone with more experience to handle their brand. Businesses need someone with impulse control on the Twitter feed.
5. Set clear goals
List what you want to achieve with your social media marketing, such as increased brand awareness, lead generation or more sales. Then set goals to help track your progress.
6. Know your target audience
Know who you're trying to reach with your product and it will reflect in your social media marketing efforts. Not knowing your audience can blow up spectacularly, such as the backlash on Bud Light's use of influencer Dylan Mulvaney on social media.
7. Post regularly
Nothing sends a bad message like a dead social media feed. It creates doubts about the company. The more you post, the more likely people will see your content and interact with you.
8. Engage your audience
Social media is not just about selling, it's about answering customer dissatisfaction. Respond to comments or questions and participate in conversations. This will help build relationships with your audience.
9. Use social media analytics
Use social media analytics to gain insight into your viewership and readership. All social media sites have analytics tools that can tell you what's working and what isn't doing so well. Then adjust your strategy accordingly.