Study suggests that future social media marketers must be agile

When Universal McCann released data from their Wave 6 study of active social media users late last year, they described a social media landscape that differs slightly from the conventional wisdom.   The growth in social media appears to be in the expansion of current user profiles rather than in recruitment of new users.  Tastes vary depending upon age, category and by nationality.  And although people are concerned about their privacy, they’re not especially compelled to take action about it.

The dynamics of social media appear to be changing, if they were ever what we thought they were…..

State of social media 2013

That increasingly loud noise you’re hearing may be chatter in your perpetually expanding social network.   The Wave 6 study showed that the velocity of social media account growth has decreased dramatically, even going so far to suggest that 2010 might have been the peak for some social networks.  They go on to note that social media is still growing as existing users increase the size of their networks.  The consequence of this for users is that it is increasingly difficult to navigate through their voluminous content.  The consequence for social media marketers is that paid content becomes a more attractive means to reach these users.  Of course, social networks are more than happy to “encourage” brands towards paid advertising.

Another insight was the way that users perceive the value of social media.  For instance in the U.S., Canada and U.K. most users see social networks as a place to have fun, yet in places like China and Vietnam they see social as a means of personal development.  Probably not a coincidence then that microblogging is far more prevalent in China than it is in the United States.  Wave 6 also points out that users will perceive the same marketing tactics differently depending on the category of what is being sold.  Not good news for people who advocate a “one strategy for all” approach to social.

Wave 6 also shows that brand website visits are on the decline, and that users are finding other ways to connect (most prevalently social media).  This is especially true for younger users: the elusive Generation Z.  Consider that Leaders West gets much more traffic than the official Britney Spears website.  Does anyone want to argue that I have more influence than the number one user on Google Plus (5.7 million fans)?   And what does it mean for social care when people could be complaining almost anywhere except where you want them to direct their concerns?

CRM solutions, social advertising will grow increasingly important

So how does a marketer approach a digital landscape where it’s increasingly unclear where customers are?  How do they reconcile the fact that national borders and product categories are important factors to how a product is perceived, and that social signals are increasingly muddled by the noise of a perpetually growing audience?  The role of CRM products (HootSuite, Radian6, Vocus, etc.) are going to be an increasingly important solution for businesses in the future, particularly those with the power to integrate into email and content-driven campaigns.

It also appears that social advertising is going to increase in importance, especially with tools like EdgeRank and Twitter’s rumored content filter.  If everyone’s’ online network is expanding, it will be increasingly difficult to cut through the noise to reach customers.  Not to mention that they’re on social primarily to have fun.  As AdWords value is for search, social advertising seems to be for social media: a viable means to cut through the noise.

Do you think this assessment of the future is correct?  Have you seen customer perception of social colored by nationality, age or category?  How important will social CRM be for the future?  How important will social advertising be?


Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.