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Social media channels are not dying, they're diversifying - agencies react to Ofcom's claim UK social is in decline

Ofcom has claimed that UK adults accessing social media at least once a week dropped from 65 per cent to 56 per cent over the past year - but is that the full picture?

The research found that despite this decline, using social media remained the most popular internet activity with 64 per cent of respondents claiming it was their most frequent online activity.

But despite the suggestions that use of social is falling, names in the industry think that something different is at play.

Use of social media hasn't fallen, it's just moved elsewhere.

Jim Dowling, managing director, Cake

I have to say, I am intrigued and encouraged by this. Aside from the obvious, grating narcissism that puts us all off social media, I think there are a couple of reasons for it.

First, people are looking to find ways to concentrate again. Watching telly with Twitter on the go, is entertaining, fun and powerful for brands. If you're not careful you end up concentrating on neither, and missing everything. I have found myself watching an entire half of football on Sky, then listening to Gary Neville at half time and realised I've scarcely watched a kick, because I've been reading tweets of other people watching the same match. Much like my QPR away from home – it is utterly pointless.

Second, slightly more cerebrally, perhaps people want to learn and explore more. The snacking, content format of the variety of social channels is taking people away from books, complicated essays, and deep-seated learning. Social media is in danger of creating banks of people whose knowledge is an ocean wide, yet an inch deep. A nine per cent drop in social media usage might hint at yearning to gain knowledge, intelligence and understanding.

Ian Kirby, head of media, MHP Communications

Is the internet full? Have Facebook and Twitter managed to draw in every possible friend and follower? Ofcom’s new analysis on social media appears to show a sharp fall in the number of people using social media.

That’s not true. Far from declining, social media channels are in fact diversifying.

Kim Kardashian used Instagram to show the world her bottom. Cindy Crawford commented that the picture-sharing site allows the new generation of supermodels such as Cara Delevigne to define their own images, rather than be objectified by photographers and the press.

The communications challenge for Facebook and Twitter is that, realistically, the only way is down. After changing the way we use social media, the bandwagon is, of course, moving on, especially for younger users. Like Apple or Tesco, exponential growth is impossible to sustain forever.

Now they need to start telling the world that they were the originals, and hint they’re still the best.

Tamara Littleton, chief executive, Emoderation

Social media is still the most popular internet activity, so we have to look at these stats in context.

Ofcom says that the decline – also seen in the US – is most likely down to people’s increased use of other social media services such as messaging apps. So the type of networks we use are changing.

The report cites YouTube as a big growth network, for example. And we know from figures released this week that Instagram is seeing enormous growth. I think what’s happening is that we are all working out what networks work for us as individuals.

We’ll try new networks for a while, settle on the ones that fit best around our lives and stick with them.

Jon Davie, managing director, Zone

So, social media is dying? Should I invest in calligraphy suppliers in anticipation of rocketing demand as people go back to practising their finest copperplate?

While I’m always reluctant to read too much into a single survey, even if the trend is downwards we’re only talking about one simple metric: time spent on the major social networks. This may have been the critical indicator in the past, but as social has fragmented, the importance of single platforms has begun to dwindle. Consumers flit from channel to channel – always connected to one another, sometimes not even realising they are actively engaged in social.

It’s this, the increasingly complex interconnectedness of the social world, that poses the biggest challenge to brands and how we think about marketing: now it’s about ensuring that quality and breadth of engagement – not time – is king.

For example, it doesn't matter whether time spent on Trip Advisor is going up or down. What's important is that the likes of Trip Advisor, Airbnb and ZipCar are changing the way the travel sector operates. And that won't go away – you can't put the genie back in the bottle.

Pete Durant, head of social planning, The Social Partners

I would question how the respondents have defined ‘social media’ and how this impacts Ofcom’s study.

Is Whatsapp a social media app or a social messenger service? What about Skype or Pinterest?

Ofcom has found that people are shifting away from public disclosure and one-to-many communications to closed, smaller personal networks or platforms. Indeed Pinterest is used by many as a content discovery platform rather than a place to be publically “social”.

For marketers this will cause a rethink about what and how you want product messages shared. There will be lots of word-of-mouth tactics that’ll need to be adopted to ensure these more personal conversations and individual advocacy is harnessed instead of solely relying on broadcast brand content.

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