Is Social Media the New Internet?

Online content is experiencing such exponential growth that IT leaders are estimating digital traffic will go from over a zettabyte this year to 2.3 ZB per year by 2020. But this growth is not without its downside. Advertisements, viral content, and sponsored content have such click-through power that the most innovative and exciting research missed out on audience views.

So how do you reach an audience with so much competition? Enter social media.

AilverV/iStock/Thinkstock

Facing a tidal wave of incoming content, audiences are increasingly relying on social proof and crowdsourcing to help them filter through these vast collections of information. Social media sites, already among the top contenders for search results, are slowly becoming the new Internet filters.

This trend has been actively encouraged by the social media goliaths themselves as they evolve to meet online needs and drive engagement. Facebook’s evolution from a social network to publishing platform (with Instant Articles) is among the more visible examples. Experts pinpointed YouTube as the second largest search engine as far back as 2013, suggesting that the trend is long-tailed. Hashtags, categories, and tagging across all platforms are becoming increasingly refined to help audiences find and engage with top content voted on by peers.

Social media platforms are betting on becoming one-stop shops for their audience’s internet experience. The difference for 2016 into 2017 is how nakedly apparent Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, to name a few, are in staking a claim in overlapping territory to gain dominion over audience eyeballs — Facebook is growing their family of apps; Twitter is working to become more secure; Snapchat elements are being worked into Instagram and WhatsApp; all platforms are riding the wave of video.

And there is evidence that this tactic is working. As social media platforms become more feature rich, audience shares have fallen away from established search engine giants. Google still reigns with 3.5 billion searches per day, but Facebook is not far behind with growth from 1.5 billion to a reported 2 billion searches per day across their apps in the 2016 Q2 earnings report.

The growth of social media is also reflected in monthly active users. For active users alone, Facebook dominates with 1.4 billion active monthly users compared to Google’s “billion users globally” in their 2015 third quarter statement, yet Facebook claims to have surpassed Google with 1.4 billion active monthly users. Other social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest are publishing impressive growth as compared to search engines which are stagnant or lagging.

“Presidential” rubber duckies who are now the stars of the USA.gov Snapchat account.

All of this suggests that federal agencies should refocus their attention on content created for social media in 2017 and use the platforms as one of their primary communication strategies. The best performing social media accounts will be populated content that is authentic, timely, value-adding, and speaks to, not at, the audience on that particular platform. This is not to say that traditional online content sources such as websites and blogs are going extinct just yet, but if we create messages, images, and video that marries content on our websites, in reports, and is backed by amazing research, we will all have a happy new year.

By Julia Jackson, Program Specialist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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All references to specific brands and/or companies are used only for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. federal government or any federal government agency.

On DigitalGov, learn more about how agencies are using content strategies and social media. If you have a .gov or .mil email account, visit our Communities page to find out how to join SocialGov, Web Content Managers Forum, Digital Audio/Video Production and Strategy, User Experience (UX), MobileGov, and others.