This post is by Edward Kitchingman.
Despite the strong performance of rivals such as Instagram, whatsapp and Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook are fighting back in the social war.
Social is becoming a more visual medium full of images, gifs and emojis. The growing strength of these image based platforms was highlighted in the recent GWI 2014 Social Report, which found that Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram were the fastest-growing platforms in 2014 and Snapchat the fastest growing social messaging app in 2014.
Facebook, of the eight main networks, was the only platform that had a decline in active usage (a 9% decline globally; 7% UK decline) and that growth has stagnated to 1%. Of course, Facebook has got so big and all-encompassing that it was bound to reach a plateau – and it is still miles ahead of its rivals in terms of active users (1.39 billion to be exact, compared with rivals who can muster 300m at best) and members. With numbers like that, it will remain the biggest platform for years to come, but the grip of Facebook on our daily lives is loosening.
Another established social network, Twitter, had a healthier return: a 10% growth in members and 7% increase in active users. This, however, doesn't correspond with the platform's recent quarterly report, which found that user growth had practically stagnated from 284m in Q3 to 288m in Q4 2014, blaming and then retracting an IOS change. Ushering this in, as social networking continues the transfer from PC to mobile, was a recent report that showed Twitter was the ninth most-downloaded social app in 2014, it was seventh in 2013. By contrast, Instagram was the fourth most-downloaded app in 2014 and announced it had 300m active users (a metric that Twitter questions).
What's behind the decline?
Social is becoming increasingly fragmented. People, especially young people are not choosing just one platform, but preferring a myriad of networks for different specialist functions. GWI research found that 16 to 24 year olds are at the forefront of this trend and have an average of 6.55 accounts each. Instagram, for example, has become the platform of choice for many for uploading and sharing images, impacting on one of the functions that had helped make Facebook so dominant. Then there's the social trend towards more private, select peer groups over the more 'public' networks Twitter and Facebook, evident in the growing popularity of mobile messaging apps, whatsapp, line, wechat and Snapchat.
Twitter, is competing against a deeper problem of encouraging people to keep on using the platform, or use it in the first place – as its limited growth suggests, the company is struggling to move into the mainstream and not just the preserve of news media and public figures. The social network is inhibited by what is considered a confusing terminology, a limitation of 140 character communication and how to motivate people to tweet if they have few followers. (research from twopcharts in 2014 found that 44% of the then 974 million existing Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet and just 23% have tweeted sometime in the last 30 days).
How are these platforms fighting back?
Facebook is evolving, Mark Zuckerberg believes in five years 'most of (Facebook) will be video', which places it in direct competition with YouTube and what has been its monopoly over video space. To this aim, Facebook was boosted with user adoption of video for causes like the ALS Challenge, where social sharing lent itself towards Facebook in a way that YouTube could never match. Since then, it has made a move towards premium content: signing a deal with the NFL to show video clips – to include game highlights and NFL news – ABC News, Access Hollywood and YouTube's top news channel, The Young Turks Network.
Twitter is also moving into native video, as it seeks to remain competitive with other networks like Facebook, the potential reach of this when you think of the tweets that are embedded on websites and appear in more traditional forms of media: newspapers, magazines, is an exciting proposition for a marketers. The greatest impact on increasing users, however, is the visibility Twitter will gain from its recently announced partnership with Google, which will see tweets appear in search results. This will expose its content to an audience that is bigger than even Facebook. Twitter obviously hopes that the added benefit of this extra visibility is an increase in users.
The evolution of these platforms signals an exciting start to 2015 to see who see can best stay abreast of the changing demand of their audience. What is clear is that Twitter and Facebook are determined to evolve.