1st April, 2011
Like many people I use social media. In my case it is the seemingly omnipresent Facebook but I’ve also subscribed to Friends Reunited, MySpace and for a while to Bebo. Now I don’t know about anyone else but at times it feels like I’m being force fed a diet of social media marketing to the point where it is becoming quite obnoxious. To me it seems you can’t buy or watch anything without it coming with a Facebook page or Twitter address. Indeed many seem to view having a social media presence almost as a business necessity. Recently however I’ve begun to question the future viability of the social media sphere and wonder if it’s over promoted and becoming a bubble waiting to burst.
Concerns over the future of social media websites are nothing new. As far back as early 2010 there were reports of a sharp decline in Bebo subscribers, which led to its eventual sale by AOL. Around the same time a similar decline in membership led to ITV selling the Friends Reunited website. However the future of social media websites is potentially called into question by the findings of research conducted by comScore which showed that the News Corp owned social media website MySpace has seen its membership drop during January and February 2011 had fallen by 10 million subscribers to now stand at 63 million; down from 110 million in early 2010 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/12862139).
So what is behind the declining memberships of MySpace, Bebo and the like and is this the sign of things to come? Well the short answer is that the social media space is like any other competitive market, with winners and losers. In the emerging world of social media the likes of Friends Reunited, Bebo and MySpace caught the attention of the public and because there were only a few providers were able to grow their membership and they became takeover targets for already established media companies. As the market developed new players entered the market, for example Facebook, which not only offered all the usual features to connect with ‘friends’ but also offered a wide range of applications for people to select from. The likes of Twitter and LinkedIn filled an important niche for the business user and those interested in current affairs; while YouTube offered the ability to upload video.
The problem then for the social media pioneers seems to be that they were a victim of their own success. By that I mean they showed that a market existed but arguably became complacent thereby opening the door for new and innovative service providers to further develop the existing social media model. Faced with increased competition for members the pioneers have tried to re-invent their original offering but as the evidence of a falling membership suggests these changes have been too little too late. So back to my original question on whether the social media market is a bubble waiting to burst. Well at the moment it seems the social media world is here to stay but in a Facebook dominated world it seems likely some of the existing providers may well fall by the wayside; while potential new entrants could find it a hard market to crack.
However, speaking from my own experiences I think the social media world faces a potentially greater threat than the level of competition. The threat I’m thinking about is the number of requests, status updates and applications increased demand on my time. Recently I’ve noticed more of my time is taken up trying to keep up with changes made by applications I subscribe to. Now I realise developers need to earn a living and maintain subscribers’ interest but the seemingly endless range of new features offered takes up more time resulting in me becoming increasingly frustrated and less satisfied with the whole experience. Indeed I’ve made a conscious effort to cut back on the time I actively spend using social media. I’ve got to the stage where I’ve deleted some apps and no longer respond to all the requests I receive. Now I’m only one individual but I can imagine my experiences are being mirrored across the globe and while people will still engage with social media many may do so less frequently; thereby reducing the attractiveness of social media websites to advertisers. In turn this could lead to a decline in revenues and a contraction of the market.