Are we suffering from social media fatigue?
Tired? Sure? Leaving? Not so sure
Facebook is finally feeling the full weight of its actions and inaction over the past 18 months. The dislikes –never truly a thing on Facebook — have finally come home to roost.
The social media company’s Q2 earnings report, which arrived on Thursday, paints a none-too-pretty picture. Overall growth has slowed, and membership even declined a bit in the U.S. The company is still making a ton of money (it had 42% year-over-year growth) but has cautioned investors that, as it shifts development focus away from core services to Stories, monetizing Instagram and WhatsApp, and, especially, improved privacy, revenue could take a hit while costs potentially skyrocket.
A day later, Twitter, which had finally been on a growth roll reported a speed bump of sorts as it lost one million users. More specifically, Twitter lost 1 million users in the U.S. I’m not certain how much of that is to do with Twitter sweeping for bots and clamping down on hate and aggressive trolls. In other words, is it the price Twitter pays for doing the right thing?
It’s still a concerning trend. Maybe we are getting a little tired of social media.
I get that. There are times when the connections found in social media start to feel like shackles, heavy weights dragging me down into darkness. Some nights on Twitter, it feels like a room full of angry people yelling past each other. It’s a frustrating, demoralizing cacophony and I think about stepping away.
And I know Facebook let us down, with lax data protection policies and policing, and a too-late recognition that someplace was using the platform to shape opinion and influence elections.
So, yeah, we’re tired of it. We’re stepping away.
But are we, really?
Right now, I have Twitter and Facebook open on my desktop, spent lunch cruising through dozens of Instagram posts and stories, and did a quick LinkedIn check-in where I found more random people wanting to join my social business network. For all the people desperate to leave the social media pen, there appear to be just as many pressing the gates, hoping to get in.
When I look around my house, my wife and adult children are no less engaged on social media than they were before the era of social media angst. They’re checking Facebook multiple times a day, adding posts to Instagram and Snapchat, and liking and loving just as many posts as before.
Stepping back a bit, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram appear no less active and populated with fresh takes and ideas. Granted, I’m talking anecdotal evidence. My perception of my social media reality may not be broadly applicable.
I’m not oblivious to all the people who claim to be taking a Twitter break and deleting their Facebook accounts. There’s surely a correlation here between these movements and the latest Facebook and Twitter usage numbers.
But I don’t think it’s the beginning of the end. Not yet at least.
From a business perspective, even with the headwinds Facebook is facing on the shift to detach people a bit from the platform and more attention on developing features, the company is making a lot of money. Is there a deceleration? Yes. Last year advertising revenue grew 47% year-over-year. This year it’s 42%. At least Payments and other Fees grew 23% year over year. Last year it lost 20% year-over-year. Still, if the broader revenue trend continues through next year, Facebook does have a big problem. (Not to mention the trouble it faces in the near term from a class action lawsuit from shareholders who think they were misled about the impact of, among other things, privacy changes. Am I silly to wonder who pays if they win?)
It’s more likely, though that this, the social media malaise, is a temporary situation.
Facebook, you see is not so easily replaced. Those connections billions of people have developed on the social platform over time is one of the reasons they don’t jump ship. It remains, I think, the number one place most families, friends, distant relatives and coworkers share good news, bad news, and random thoughts with their selected groups. I think they’re fully aware that Facebook hasn’t done a great job of protecting their privacy, managing extreme voices and views, and protecting our democracy from fake news and lies. They want it to do better, but I don’t know that most people understand completely or feel strongly enough about Facebook’s role in all of this to walk away.
Similarly, Twitter’s suffered through far worse than this most recent user drop, which could reflect people finally giving up on Twitter and its efforts to become a less trolly, caustic platform.
Yet, I’d say there are far more people who still find tremendous value in President Trump’s favorite platform. It’s still a major news source for me and also provides a fair amount of entertainment, and connection. I would be sad to walk away from the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made on Twitter. I’m sure others feel the same way.
I realize now that social media fatigue doesn’t necessarily lead to social media’s demise. When you tired of something, like running, playing a video game, or a conversation, you do stop, take a break, catch your breath.
That’s what’s happening here. It’s a pause, a breather, before everyone dives back in again and sticks around until they say, once again, I’ve had enough.