Bored, anyone? Welcome to the new ‘social media fatigue’

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There are signs that the world of social media is maturing. An authoritative survey has shown that some types of users are feeling signs of “social media fatigue”.

A report by US-based research house Gartner shows “some social media fatigue” among early adopters. Gartner also says that younger, more mobile, brand-conscious users are “getting bored” with their social network. Despite these signs of fatigue however, the survey found there was overall continued enthusiasm for social media.

More than 6 000 people were surveyed, between the ages of 13 and 74, in 11 developed and developing markets in December 2010 and January 2011. Users were asked about their use of and opinions about social media sites with the aim of examining usage trends and how enthusiastic users were about social media in general across a range of countries.

The survey looked at localised patterns of usage, whereby country-specific social characteristics dictate preferences. Large global brands such as Facebook are, however, making headway in countries where they have not historically been strong.

“Overall, our survey underlined respondents’ continued enthusiasm for social media,” said Charlotte Patrick, principal research analyst at Gartner.

“Teenagers and those in their twenties were significantly more likely to say that they had increased their usage, while at the other end of the ‘enthusiasm spectrum’, the age-related differences were much less marked, with fairly consistent percentages saying that they were using social media less.”

Of the respondents, 24 percent said they use their favourite social media site less than when they first signed up. These respondents tended to be in segments that have a more practical view of technology. But 37 percent of respondents, particularly those in younger age groups and more tech-savvy segments, said they were using their favourite site more.

“The trend shows some social media fatigue among early adopters, and the fact that 31 percent of Aspirers (younger, more mobile, brand-conscious consumers) indicated that they were getting bored with their social network is a situation that social media providers should monitor, as they will need to innovate and diversify to keep consumer attention,” said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.

“Branded content needs to be kept fresh and must be able to capture people’s attention instantly. The new generation of consumers is restless and short on attention span, and a lot of creativity is needed to make a meaningful impact,” Blau added.

Gartner analysts also examined whether the type of social media site respondents used affected their enthusiasm. Given that 24 percent of respondents indicated that they were using their main social site “a little less” or “a lot less” than when they first started using it, respondents were asked what negative factors might be influencing their decision.

Although none of the options given to the respondents resonated extremely highly, 33 percent said they were concerned about online privacy. Attitudes to privacy were also age-related, with teenagers citing privacy concerns significantly less often than older respondents — 22 percent of teenagers agreed or strongly agreed that privacy concerns were decreasing their enthusiasm, against an average of 33 percent.

“The level of consumer concern around privacy will require ongoing vigilance for brands concerning customer opt-in and education. Lessons should be learned from the likes of Facebook as they test the boundaries of consumer tolerance in search of more revenue,” Patrick said.

From a geographical point of view, some of the more mature social media markets — Japan, the UK and the US — corresponded to the global average trend — with roughly 40 percent of respondents using the site more than when they first started, 40 percent using it the same amount, and 20 percent using it less.

Markets where enthusiasm was higher included South Korea and Italy, where nearly 50 percent of respondents said they used their social media sites more. At the other end of the spectrum, countries with the most respondents saying they used social media less included Brazil and Russia — both with between 30 and 40 percent of respondents exhibiting less enthusiasm.

  • See the Gartner report “User Survey Analysis: Trends in Consumers’ Use of Social Media“.
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