In this post, GlobalWebIndex's Senior Trends Analyst, Katie Young examines how social media has evolved over the last decade, how user behaviour has changed with it and the opportunities for brands online to engage audiences online.

Over the past five years, social media’s coming of age has seen a lot of shifts that are becoming the new norms. In a relatively short timeframe, social platforms have evolved from pure social networks where people keep up with their friends, to somewhere to carry out a myriad of behaviours that aren’t so social. As a result, there’s been some changes in how and why people are using social media.

Social time has now overtaken TV
Every year we’re seeing more and more time being spent on social media. It’s increased so much that it’s overtaken TV, with the average internet user spending about 15 minutes longer each day on social platforms than watching TV, according to GlobalWebIndex data. In fact, a higher proportion are using Facebook daily (50%) than are watching TV (39%), with an even bigger gap seen among Millennials (54% vs. 33%). Crucially, this means that TV and traditional media no longer offer the widest or most efficient reach.

Personal sharing has dipped
Back in 2014, “sharing opinions” was a top motivation for using media. Fast forward to 2017 and this motivation is much further down the list. Now just 30% say this is a key reason why they use social media, compared with about 40% three years ago. Similarly, there’s been a fall in the percentages using social to share opinions and details of their daily lives.

Instead, entertaining and time-filling content has become more important than sharing. So while the proportion updating their statuses, tweeting and sharing photos have dropped, the proportion watching videos and reading news stories have risen. In short, there’s been a transition from sharing content to consuming content.

Social behaviours have become more purpose-driven
As networking behaviours have become less centred around sharing content about daily lives, they’ve become more orientated around fulfilling purposeful activities which have traditionally laid outside the social arena. Via their social media accounts, consumers can access a wide range of information and services – whether that’s news updates, customer service agents, or details on a brand’s latest products.

Passive networking does not necessarily translate into social disengagement, however. Since 2014, the percentage using social media to research products to buy has risen, and Passive Networkers* are a lot more likely than average to be using social media for more meaningful behaviours like product research, keeping up with news and watching sports content.

This shift in social behaviours actually presents some opportunities for brands and marketers. With less content creation but more content consumption, brands can fill the gap. One example of this done well is the promotion of Netflix show Orange is the New Black. By hosting a Twitter event, creating a hashtag for one of the characters, and giving shareable content to fans through a custom app, the campaign earned over 98,000 social mentions in one week before the Season 2 premiere.

These changes pave new rules and ways of interaction for brands, media companies and consumers alike. Although users are becoming less ‘active’, brands can at least be sure that users are scrolling through content and seeing their brand online. It’s important for them to adjust to the changed landscape and consider the new, evolved opportunities for interaction that have arisen.

*Passive Networkers are those who use social media to fill up spare time, because their friends use them, or say they have logged into either Facebook, Twitter of Instagram in the last month without commenting on or posting anything themselves.