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Report: Social media is growing less social as revenue opportunities grow

Social media is the foundation of many a current marketing strategy. But though the number of social media platforms available to consumers is increasing and there is a rising desire from users to discover brands on these platforms, social platforms are losing their social appeal yet still have the potential to become even greater revenue generators.

GlobalWebIndex has released its flagship report on the latest trends in social media. It draws insights from GlobalWebIndex’s Q4 2018 and Q1 2019 waves of research across 45 countries, with a global sample of 278,359 respondents (including 3,650 respondents in Hong Kong). 

According to the report, digital consumers globally are now spending an average of two hours and 23 minutes per day on social networks and messaging platforms. In Hong Kong, the average time spent engaging with and staying connected to social networks during a typical day is one hour and 52 minutes.

The report found that social media users are comfortable maintaining a presence across a number of platforms. The average internet user had about four social media accounts in 2013. That figure has now risen to 8.1 on average. In Hong Kong, the average number of accounts users maintained in Q1 2019 was 8.5. 

“This multi-networking is a response to the widening choice of platforms, but it is also being caused by a degree of specialisation, where some users are turning to particular platforms to carry out certain types of networking behaviours,” the report stated.

The role that social media plays in the lives of its users has evolved. The top motivation for digital consumers using social media was following the news at 40%, followed by keeping in touch with friends at 39%. In third at 38%, entertainment also now plays a key role in motivating digital consumers to engage with social media and was the reason that experienced the highest growth.

In terms of demographics, 16-24s are the most likely audience to list “‘finding funny or entertaining content” (47%) as a main reason they use social media, followed by using social media to fill up spare time (46%) and to keep tabs on what their friends are up to (43%).

The report further explained that the opportunities for social engagement, at all times of the day and in various locations, have facilitated the evolution of social platforms into entertainment hubs. It’s no longer just about “social” activities in the purest sense, but more purposeful activities, particularly those based around content consumption. This helps to explain why motivations like news consumption, finding entertaining content, researching products, and watching sports have seen increases over the past few years. 

With Generation Z and millennials showing less interest in other people’s updates – and the growing desire by them to actually extricate themselves from the social aspects of social media – social media as an entertainment hub will likely become the dominant form of engagement across the most widely used open platforms.

Apart from being an entertainment hub, social media is seen to have the potential to become a major revenue generator and an important way to diversify revenue streams beyond advertising. Globally, more than a third of internet users said they follow their favorite brands on social media, while 27% follow brands which they are thinking of making a purchase from. 

Across Asia specifically, networks like WeChat and Line have successfully facilitated commerce via their platforms, allowing consumers to carry out a range of commerce activities from booking taxis to paying for restaurant bills or items in-store.

And in Hong Kong, 46% of respondents followed brands they liked, 40% researched products/brands using social networks, and 23% discovered brands through comments on social media. Interestingly, 23% of respondents said they were motivated to purchase items through the number of “likes” (or similar upvote mechanisms) they had on social media while only 10% were motivated to purchase through any kind of “Buy” button.

A final set of findings from the report related to the ominously named “Dark Social” phenomenon. Coined in 2012, Dark Social refers to nearly untraceable web traffic that comes from internet users sharing content directly and privately with each other, instead of posting or sharing it publicly. It often takes place on private messaging apps and email and it means that brands may be overlooking a huge portion of social sharing about their products.

In order to deal with the challenge of dark social, interacting directly with younger consumers in these spaces is one of the recommended approaches from the report. Creating more relevant, shareable content that encourages sharing with friends and family in these private environments using “sharing buttons” is another. However, what is essential in both these cases is that respect for user privacy must still be maintained and respected for any marketing tactic or campaign.

But while these private spaces absorbed a larger share of the “social” aspects of social media, a silver lining is that public platforms have expanded on the “media” offering. More and more activities, from sports event viewing to news consumption, have found a welcome home on users’ newsfeeds as a result. And brands should not be missing out on taking part in the show.

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