Are we jumping the gun on social media?

Keeping a trend in perspective is very difficult to do, particularly when it is on the upswing. Throughout 2011 in Mediatrack Research we held to our course that some would describe as heresy. We have said – and we say again – the jury’s still out on one of the critical questions of our time: just exactly how, when, where and why does social media bear upon the more important aspects of reputation in business life?

We know so much more about how mainstream media and authoritative news organisations (even if digitally based) make an impact, and so much less about how non-consumer opinion-formers use, react to and rely upon social media platforms. The fact that they do is not in doubt, but the importance they attach to such sources and platforms is unclear and inconsistent at best.

Now, new research by YouGov suggests that even with consumers, while uptake and usage of social media remains high, as many as 41% of the UK online population claim to be getting bored of social media and say they will use it less. While Facebook is still king with an almost universal usage among 16-20 year olds, the research suggests that it’s starting to plateau and points to the rise of niche social sites. The findings also flag up the view that ‘there is less benefit to brands than originally thought’.

For example, 44% of the UK online population would not be more positive about a product their friends follow or ‘like’, 43% are unlikely to talk about a brand on social media sites, and 47% positively do mind seeing ads on social media services based on their profile.

Most interestingly perhaps, the research found that the consumer financial advice site www.moneysavingexpert.com has as many active users as Twitter. Is this the signal of a new trend with people tuning in to sites with a definite purpose rather than simply to ‘connect’?

The biggest winner seems to be LinkedIn with over half (53%) of the British online population who actively use LinkedIn claiming to use it more now compared with 12 months ago, and 30% expect to use it more in a year’s time.

Now, I do believe that social media is more than a just a trend. It is a fundamental, visceral game-changer and it is the most significant development in communication since the advent of the internet. However, social media’s true significance is still shaking out, and its impact on the communications agenda must be seen against the backdrop of the whole media landscape.

If that’s heresy, burn me tomorrow.