Have you ever thrown a sheep? Or poked someone?
These might sound like ridiculous questions, but if you have, chances are you were using Facebook in the mid-noughties. It’s fair to say social media has come a long way since then.
30th June is World Social Media Day. A day created by Mashable back in 2010. In their description, it was launched as a day to recognise social media’s impact on global communication and celebrate it.
Social media has had a bumpy journey since then. It can make us feel more connected, but it has been in the spotlight more recently as people scrutinise the impact on our mental health and the risk of spreading political messages and fake news.
Those who do celebrate their online world enjoy how connected it makes them feel —connected to friends and family and what’s happening in the world, not just in ‘serious’ news but also what’s trending and making us laugh (or cry).
A Brief History of Social Media
In the twenty-plus years since social media became more mainstream, there have been plenty of landmark moments. Early adopters of social and younger generations at the time will remember Myspace, which launched in 2004.
In fact, Myspace wasn’t the first social media platform. Although there is some debate about who was first or what even constitutes a social media platform, Six Degrees is widely credited as the first channel back in 1997.
It wasn’t until the early-mid noughties that social media became a global phenomenon. Classmates (also known as Friends Reunited), Bebo and Myspace were early popular platforms, but nothing prepared us for the popularity of Facebook.
Facebook also launched in 2004, but it wasn’t until 2006 that it started to gain traction. By this time, LinkedIn was already established (launching back in 2003), and YouTube and Twitter were launched.
There was something for everyone on a social media platform. Whether it was videos, short snippets of information, photos or messaging, you were, and still are, catered for.
Social Media Usage Today
We are a connected world. It’s estimated that over 6.6 billion people have smartphones and are online. Of these, over two-thirds are social media users – a figure estimated at around 4.6 billion by the end of 2021 by Hootsuite.
The amount of time we spend on social media varies globally. In the UK, we spend an average of 1 hour and 47 minutes on social media daily (more if you work in marketing like us!). That might sound like a lot, but in some countries, including South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, the average is over 3 hours. The Philippines tops the chart with an average of over 4 hours spent on social media daily!
Content, content everywhere
Today it can be difficult to know Tumblr from TikTok. There are so many platforms and so much content to digest that it’s no wonder health experts question how much time we spend online.
Arguably it’s excellent news for marketers because, in theory, it is far easier to reach potential customers every time they pick up their phone or are online. In reality, so many businesses are online and actively marketing through social media that it becomes a case of shouting into a noisy room.
That’s not just an assumption. Research has shown that our attention span is getting shorter because we spend so much time online. As recently as the year 2000, it was an average of 12 seconds. By 2015 this had dropped to an average of 8.25 seconds. Some scientists are now suggesting that humans have a shorter attention span than a goldfish (estimated at 9 seconds). If that’s true, the fact you’re still reading this is no mean feat!
How can you attract attention on social media?
It is increasingly hard to stand out on social media. That’s why we often see celebrities shunning the spotlight and posting so infrequently that it becomes a newsworthy event when they do.
To grab and hold people’s attention on social media takes a strategy, and it takes patience. Unless you are David Attenborough or a Kardashian, you will not amass a million followers overnight.
Video content is the theme of the moment. The amount of video consumed online is vast. It is predicted that over 82% of the world's internet traffic will be video-based by the end of this year. The average length of a video watched is 2.7 minutes - far longer than many are likely to spend reading an article.
As users, we also like to see behind the scenes. We want to see authentic, real-life people and feel a connection to them. Brands that perform well on social media typically have identified their target audience and connect so beautifully with them that it feels like a 1:1 conversation.
Eye-catching, bold designs; real-life photography (as opposed to stock images); well-placed memes and gifs. These are what will feed your success on social media.
Some of the most memorable social media moments from the last 20 years have been unpredictable and can’t be replicated (much as people try, they can only piggyback on the subsequent memes). Remember the Oscar Selfie from 2014, Bernie Sanders and his mittens at the Presidential Inauguration in 2021, Gangnam Style – both the song and dance becoming a global hit, Squid Game memes, and the Ice Bucket Challenge? They have all been viral social media moments seen by millions worldwide.
The diversity of these moments reflects what a weird and wonderful place social media can be when it’s used correctly, of course.
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