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Digital marketers and content creators love to speculate about the Next Big Thing. How will audiences change how they consume content, what newfangled technology will they adopt, and where can we best reach them tomorrow?
The topic is intrinsically bound up with what will happen to the digital technologies of today. After all, the old must make way for the new, or so the world expects. Not all digital platforms go the way of Periscope, however. Folks planning marketing budgets for the long term want to forecast the future as much as possible, which includes trying to predict the fate of old platforms. Understanding the past, present, and future can help inform your digital strategy.
First of all, “old” is a highly relative term when talking about the internet. At 15 years old, Twitter seems like a dinosaur. Facebook is even older, as it launched in 2004 and became available to the masses in 2006. Don’t forget the business-oriented social network LinkedIn, which first started in 2002 but didn’t reach 100 million members until 2011. Email marketing is also older than many people who currently do it for a living. It dates back to 1978, though you might say it really only became popular starting around 1999.
Pinterest came along in 2009, Instagram in 2010, Snapchat in 2011, and TikTok in 2017. Other digital channels for reaching audiences include Google Ads, question-and-answer sites like Quora, blogging sites like Medium, streaming sites like Twitch, and review sites like Yelp.
As a marketer, you may wonder if you need to continue keeping up with all of these channels, in addition to your own website, blog, podcast, SEO strategy, and other owned media. Or, can you relegate some of the older platforms to the ancient history museum?
Technology platforms grow and change inevitably, as technology develops and new generations of users pick up devices. In addition to this natural evolution, sometimes cultural forces shift usage habits. For example, during early COVID-19 lockdowns, mainstream America discovered TikTok. Around the same time, a backlash against social media reared its head, due in part to recent social and political events.
Sixty-four percent of Americans say social media has a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today, according to a Pew Research Center survey from July 2020. Survey respondents cited misinformation, hate, and harassment as the reasons for their answers. Other users have expressed concerns over privacy and mental health effects, sentiments ignited, in part, by the 2020 Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.
Despite these misgivings, 2.89 billion people use Facebook around the world. That’s a full 53% of the world’s social media users. Youtube follows closely behind with 2.29 billion users. Other platforms aren’t quite as widely-used as those two. There are 1.38 billion users on Instagram, 732 million on TikTok, 397 million on Twitter, and just 180 million on LinkedIn.
As even skeptical individuals seem more-or-less loyal to the “big four,” Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, those older platforms continuously offer new features in order to keep them trendy and relevant. Instagram has made several updates over the years to keep up with other platforms such as Snapchat (the ‘Gram introduced the very similar Stories feature in 2016) and TikTok (against which the ‘Gram struck back with Reels in 2020).
Smaller companies that once believed they could rely on Facebook in lieu of a website are now turning to Wix and other DIY web platforms to build simple sites that give them far more control than a social media account. Facebook’s response has been to make it easier for businesses to sell goods directly within its platforms. It, like other digital media companies, continues to provide new offerings that may or may not serve your business goals.
It’s no secret that businesses have to work harder and spend more every year to get their message seen on Facebook. At the end of 2020, the average reach for an organic Facebook post was just 5.2%. (Down 0.3% from 2019, and down 2.5% from 2019). While some companies are getting more creative in their use of Stories or Groups, the upshot is they must rely more heavily on paid advertising. Facebook warned that Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update will limit the amount of information it will collect on users, in turn making it harder for its advertisers to target specific audiences. Should you keep advertising on these platforms? The answer, as to so many questions, is “it depends.”
Old platforms are not necessarily dead or dying. Even for email marketing, the pendulum has swung wildly over the past two decades between calling it a “must” for business and declaring it DOA. Another popular see-saw is the one between Google ads versus SEO. And much as thought leaders love to throw around predictions about the death of Facebook, don’t plan the funeral just yet. After all, MySpace still exists, believe it or not.
The best response is to use whatever platforms, new or old, that your audience uses. Smart marketers have long understood that it’s not efficient to blanket every social media platform with your brand message. Use your time, talent and ad spend wisely. With the rise of younger-skewing platforms like TikTok and location-specific ones like the increasingly popular Nextdoor, targeting takes on even greater importance.
Despite its reputation as the favored social media platform of older folks, 65% of Facebook's users are under the age of 35. No matter their age, if your intended audience uses the platform, that’s where they’ll see your message.
The bottom line is, any given digital platform is going to look different a year from now, or five years from now, than it looks today. Platforms age but your audience ages right along with them. Continue to reevaluate your digital strategy every six months or so, review your KPIs, test new opportunities, and ditch the platforms that are holding you back.