A recent study by Forrester Research suggests that engagement with branded posts on the major social networks is falling across the board - even as social communities are growing and more brands are advertising there. Fortune, covering the study, noted:
Last year, Instagram posts from brands created interactions with 4.2% of a brand's followers. This year, that fell to 2.2%. On Pinterest, interactions fell from 0.1% to 0.04%.
Facebook, however, experienced an increase in brand engagement - 0.07% up to 0.2%. Still, when paired with another stat from the study - the fact that 80 percent of top global brands post regularly on the top five social sites, more than ever - paints a portrait of a social universe polluted with noise that's garnering little response from audiences.
It's not like someone flipped a switch and suddenly social media marketing is ineffective. For brands starting out, social is still a great place to connect with audiences. But, there may be a limit, or, a moment when followers have had enough. People have been asking for years if social media has reached its saturation point, but clearly brands online have come to Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest since then and experienced success finding communities.
A Generational Shift?
Yet, as the Forbes article notes, consumers are increasingly ad avoidant. Just last week Howard Stern dedicated a segment on his radio show to learning how to download ad blocking software. The segment inspired a million people to do the same.
Yet, while Stern's rants against ads might have inspired the boomer set, it's still the millennials that marketers are watching for signs of saturation. Having grown up in an image-heavy world, traditional advertising doesn't really work on them. In a survey by NPR, millennials were most likely to enjoy ads that are subtle, weird, creative, and to put it more clearly: ads that don't look like ads. And as we well know, it's millennials who dominate pretty much all pockets of social media given that many of them grew up as native users.
So, perhaps the real message we ought to take from the study is not that branded content is on the decline in social media (though, for all intents and purposes, it is), but that brands are going to need to start thinking outside the box if they want to keep reaching audiences on social. What worked in print is not going to work on Instagram. Instead, brands should look at these new technologies and methods of communication as opportunities to flip the standards of days past. How they do that? Good question!