We as marketers have heard of—and feverishly studied—the “cord-cutting” phenomenon: a mostly rational consumer response to high TV provider costs amid a content-democratized environment. But what we’ve seemingly ignored is a similar behavior, provoked by an emotional response in a completely free and (mostly) unregulated space: social media.
WHAT AND WHO
In today’s tech-dominated world, where if you’re not thinking about the end user, you’re dead in the water, social media users are voluntarily taking breaks—or full-on break-ups—from some of their most beloved social media platforms: 45% of them, to be exact. This behavior, let’s call it social suspension, is even more common among social’s biggest pioneers and source for growth: Gen Z and Millennials.
WHY AND HOW
As already mentioned, this behavior is emotionally driven but the top reasons for social suspension may surprise some in today’s politically polarizing and privacy-aware climate. Overly political content ranked as the number four reason for suspension, while ad volume and personal data usage concerns ranked even lower. Instead, the number one reason for social suspension was being annoyed by friends’ posts, followed by the simple need to cut back on the amount of time spent with social. That’s right. The people we CHOOSE to follow and the time we CHOOSE to spend on social media bother us the most. Our love-hate relationship with social is self-inflicted, not externally forced. Most importantly, users are aware of their social addiction and destructive usage patterns and acknowledge that they need to kick the habit.
Likely because they are more emotionally driven, most users take only semipermanent actions to combat their frustrations with social media. Only 12 percent say they’ve permanently suspended an account while the majority of social suspenders (36 percent) partake in social media avoidance. Like we said, it’s a love-hate relationship.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR MARKETERS
Social suspension—or at least social avoidance—is a trend likely to grow that marketers need to not only recognize, but maneuver tastefully and empathetically, considering the emotionally charged environment. Because the top reasons to suspend are under the end-user’s control, brands need to take on a role that is supportive and empowering of the user’s goals. Furthermore, as sensitivity to overtly negative content grows, brands have an opportunity to flip the social-space script by injecting positivity and fun into it to bring satisfaction back to the user experience.
With social suspension being more common among an already elusive audience (Gen Z and Millennials), marketers will have to not only ensure an authentic voice in the space, but be mindful of the cohorts’ unique feelings. For example, these younger users are up to 50 percent more likely to agree that social content can make them feel intimidated/bad about themselves. They are also more likely to be sensitive to how the platform’s experience changes.
As media professionals, we must especially befriend data partners who can assist us with:
- Following our consumers across the digital universe as walls go up on certain fan-favorite sites.
- Understanding the seasonality of social avoidance.
- Listening for “red flags” that can emotionally degrade the user’s experience (e.g., negative, annoying, or intimidating content/commentary) and offer an opportunity to flip the script.
Data Source: GfK MRI/MullenLowe Mediahub Scout Fusion, 2017 (Base: Social media users 18+)