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Hi, and welcome if you’ve not visited our site before – with the number of stats-hunters coming our way every year, it’s probable that you haven’t. We don’t do annoying popups begging you to subscribe to anything, as if you’re in the UK and needing any support with your social media, we’re sure you can figure out how to use the menus

So, on with the stats. This is the 2019 edition of our annual roundup of social media user stats for the UK.  We started these reports because most of our clients are UK focused, entirely or primarily, and Global data can hide pretty much all the useful details. So everything we’re quoting here is United Kingdom specific.

UK Social Media Stats – general thoughts

We’re very happy to report that this year’s post might just feature some of the most complete and up to date figures that we’ve been able to find in quite a while. That’s largely due to some smart use being made of the built in advertising audience tools that are now available from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – if they want us to be wowed by their ad capacity, they have to tell us who we might be able to reach, right?!  There are also one or two organisations in the UK who are doing their own regular research work which helps a lot, too. We’ve listed all our major sources at the end of this article, and we are grateful to all of them.

That still doesn’t mean the numbers are necessarily perfect (anyone who regularly deals with Facebook’s advertising stats will be choking on their tea right now at the understatement!) but they should at least give us a clear idea of the direction of travel.

Additional note – there’s too much detail in most of the graphics here to be easily read in the thumbnail, but click them and you’ll get a clearer view!

UK social media usage – overview

This is a really nice graphic to show both the relative rankings of the social media sites in the UK, and also where there are major differences from the US. What IS the thing about Pinterest that stops it being as loved by Brits as it is across the pond? Who knows, but it just doesn’t seem to be getting the traction over here.

We should also give a dishonourable mention to Google+, which was finally put to rest in 2018, to the distress of absolutely nobody and the delight of social media agencies who no longer have to explain to clients why it was largely a waste of time..

So, these figures are based on the percentage of adults surveyed who said that they used each of the platforms, and were released in early 2018:

Another interesting aspect that we saw for the first time this year, was a breakdown by Ipsos MORI showing not just age and gender propensity for social media use, but also social grade – look at that peak around the C1 class!

Now moving on to the individual platforms:

UK Facebook Users and Demographics, 2019

We were broadly convinced that Facebook had pretty much done with user base expansion in the UK, as the numbers have been fairly static for a few years now. But.  Figures from the advertising audience tool suggest a total UK base of 39 million users; this is something of an increase from the stats we’ve had in previous years.  Taking into account all the negative publicity around privacy and targeting, and with its “cool” period way behind it, could Facebook really be still taking on users?

As this is the first time we’ve measured the user base in this way what will be most telling is where than number goes in future years. But having said that, if we put the 39 million number in the context of the demographic figures below, maybe it IS correct.  This survey shows a strong level of usage (or perhaps just registration?) amongst the youngest interviewees, and of course a much higher proportion of that age group are online than the older age groups who will be experiencing, shall we say, natural wastage. So maybe, as time goes on and the “less connected” generation die off to be replaced by an “always on” younger generation, the ubiquity of Facebook means that it is still able to show user growth.

UK Twitter Users and Demographics, 2019

Twitter, however, is definitely in the user growth plateau phase. Statista gives us a figure of 13.7 million users for the UK, which is there or thereabouts what we’ve been seeing for years.

The platform has become ever more closely identified with campaigning, politics and causes, which in itself can cause issues around potentially off putting aggressive or inappropriate user behaviour. It has introduced easier ways to report this during 2018, and also reportedly made headways against blatantly spammy behaviour such as multiple identical tweets.

However, many of Twitter’s most prominent users have become frustrated with the way it seems to pick and choose the topics where threatening behaviour is taken seriously. General awareness of bot networks using Twitter to spread misinformation has also become more widespread in the last year or so. As yet it’s hard to tell how or if these issues will impact on user numbers.

In terms of the demographics, we have the below survey-based information from we are Flint;  perhaps the least intuitive figure is the relatively large proportion of younger age groups who are still reporting that they use Twitter, despite the huge inroads of Instagram into that space recently.

UK Instagram Users and Demographics, 2019

Based on Instagram’s stratospheric rise in 2017 and 2018, we might have expected this number to be higher…but we’re getting a monthly active users figure of 23 million for the UK here, which is still enough to place Instagram comfortably ahead of Twitter in the usage rankings:

The introduction of the Shopping feature must have gone a very long way to driving Instagram’s growth this year – from both a user and a marketer’s perspective, providing a direct link feature that (slightly) makes up for the inability to include links in individual posts. It’s still restricted to certain countries though, and has a number of potential barriers – including forcing the seller to load their inventory to the Facebook catalogue.

If you need your demographic fix, here it is: once again, the 15-34 age group is really dominant on Instagram, and it appeals to women significantly more than men.

UK LinkedIn Users and Demographics, 2019

And finally, LinkedIn. Good old LinkedIn, we can always rely on them to release some data straight from the horse’s mouth, and this year was no exception.  Here we have a lovely global dataset which was provided in August 2018, and gives us 25 million plus users in the UK – just pipping Instagram to the post for second biggest UK platform!

It’s also no surprise that LinkedIn are majoring on user registrations and not Monthly Active Users however, as we know from past years that LinkedIn has the highest gap between registered users and regularly active users – industry estimates tend to be between 10% and 25% of registered users who actually log in in any given month. It would be very interesting to know if LinkedIn is working on a cure for that…

There’s also been a major upgrade to LinkedIn’s advertising system in the last year, making it look much more like the google adwords / Facebook Ads manager setup and introducing some richer ad types such as carousel ads and video. Which is great, and would be truly epic if it was possible to increase the visit rate in certain sectors too, so that more of our intended target market would actually see those lovely fancy ads!

Sources

Ipsos MORI , Hootsuite, We Are Social, Statista, we are Flint .

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Is unprofessional the right word here? Partly, yes. But it’s more than that – there are a few little “tells” which undermine the credibility of your social media streams from a user’s point of view, particularly the more savvy users who have an innate understanding of how organisations tend to behave when it comes to marketing.  Things that suggest that just maybe, you’re ticking a box or desperate to fill a content void (an imaginary one – less is, increasingly, more in the social media space!), or just trying to cut some corners. Here are our Top 3.

First up: Retweeting without reading.

Always, ALWAYS click on the link of anything you’re about to retweet and at least give the content a quick read through. Of course, that should go without saying, because you’re only retweeting items you think are high quality and worth the time of your audience, right?!

Just this morning, I saw two eminently retweetable headlines pop into my feed, from two different very high profile social media-related content creators. Both of them already had multiple retweets, perhaps 5 or 6. I still clicked through to check that they delivered what I was expecting.  The first one lead to a broken link, giving a 404 Page Not Found error.  Oops. So immediately we know that the five previous retweeters hadn’t even got that far, or presumably they wouldn’t have bothered promoting a bad link.

The second was a slightly more subtle issue. The headline referred to “social media best practises” that need to be retired. Sounded interesting, if only as an indicator of how things have changed over the last few years. Clicking on the link, though…not so much. The article was both thin and very much phoned in – the tactics mentioned were about mass following, and automated messaging. These are things most of the industry put to bed years ago, if they ever went there in the first place.  So in that instance, retweeting would be both disrespectful of our audience’s time and intelligence, and also potentially make us look “behind the curve” – “oh look, this agency thinks these are great new ideas”!.

There are other issues that can hide behind those links though, ranging from misleading headlines introducing views you actually wouldn’t endorse at all, to phishing scams or similar.

Always. check.

Secondly: Cross posting to multiple sites – or just failing to customise content

If you’re serving the same audience with the same content on multiple social media sites, it can be very tempting to bulk schedule through one of the third party services, allow one site to cross post to another (eg “share to Twitter” when you create an Instagram post)  or even just copy and paste mindlessly between sites.

Some of the time, it’s possible that nobody will notice. But it’s a risky game, and can have results that will either irritate users or just make it look as though you’re not really that committed to the “afterthought” channel.

The worst example is direct cross posting from sites. Post from Instagram to Twitter, for example, and your users get an annoying link needing clicking, instead of being able to view your image within their Twitter timeline. But some of the bulk scheduling tools aren’t very helpful, either  – as things currently stand, that multi-image post you’ve set up on Hootsuite and scheduled for Insta and Twitter will lose all but the first image when it posts to Instagram. If you’ve referred to the other images in your text, you then have a dead giveaway that something’s gone wrong!

Creating content directly into the channel it’s going to be posted on, will always be the optimum approach. It also allows you to make use of the site-specific functionality – telling your Insta audience to Swipe Left on your post for your additional images (nonsensical in the context of any other site), or tagging other pages  in Facebook (doesn’t work if you try to do this from Hootsuite).

Thirdly: Hashtags on Facebook

A small one, but there are still articles knocking around on Google which suggest this will give you some advantage, so it refuses to die.

The reality is that most users don’t, and never have, use hashtags on Facebook – except occasionally as a joke, a subtextual commentary on whatever they’ve just posted. Nobody is using them for discovery in the way that they might on Twitter or Instagram, simply because most of the interesting content is behind privacy settings anyway.

So really, sticking those hashtags on just tends to suggest a scattergun approach to marketing techniques (chuck some mud, it might stick!) or perhaps that you’re bulk scheduling alongside Twitter and just haven’t bothered to delete the hashtags for the Facebook version of the post.

So those are our suggested areas for improvement – feel free to comment with yours if there are any huge bloopers we’ve missed!

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You may have heard in the news this week that Unilever have called out the amount of fraud within the social media industry, and Instagram in particular. Their Chief Marketing and Comms Officer, Keith Weed, has stated that none of their brands will buy followers, or work with influencers who do.

From a brand of this size, this is very significant, for a few reasons. Firstly, because they are acknowledging that misleading practices are widespread – and in our own experience, the beauty industry is at least as bad as any in this respect, maybe worse. Secondly, they are admitting that brands have a role in perpetuating that fraud, by creating the demand that “influencers” respond to.

From a marketing professional perspective, this is fantastic news. If more PRs and brand clients had been making educated decisions about who they pay for influence within the social media ecosystem, we would very likely not be having this discussion at all.

But here we are, and mainly because of the longstanding practice of setting influencer payscales mostly or entirely according to their number of followers, rather than, say, rewarding them with a proportion of any sales resulting from their work. As a consequence, it’s wise to regard any social media account with unaccountably large numbers of followers, or whose every banal uttering on Instagram is met with disproportionate enthusiasm, with great suspicion.

That has had a massive and toxic impact on the whole sector. Clients look at these (literally) unachievable numbers, apparently generated by doing nothing particularly clever or out of the ordinary, and they demand that marketers achieve the same thing for them. Potentially, marketers are put in a position of choosing whether to pay their own mortgages or stick doggedly to doing things the right way – which will pay dividends eventually, but often well after a client has lost patience.  Other social media users ( your would-be Influencers) have to choose between a lucrative push-button option to bulk buy followers, and the slow and arduous route of building a genuine following through creating great content.

Everything gets distorted by those “dishonest business practices” that Keith refers to.  I know we as a business will have lost potential clients in the past, because we don’t have an enormous Facebook following. The reason for that is that we have chosen not to invest in the resources required to build one honestly – ie, ongoing high quality content creation in the social media space. That takes time from good people, and those good people need to be paid, and those costs would have to accrue to the fees we charge our clients. We hope that our potential clients will look beyond those particular numbers, take time to chat with us and evaluate our expertise and approach in a more meaningful way – but there’s no doubt that somewhere along the line, some won’t have done. Is there a temptation to cheat the numbers? Of course there is!

The illusion of widespread but inexplicable popularity on social media itself spawns other scams. People who want it to work for them can’t see any explanation for others’ success, which makes them easy prey for practitioners who claim to have a “secret formula” that they can either teach or deploy at will – for a price.  The truth is, there is no secret formula, and success depends on the same basic factors that have been around since God was a boy – understanding your audience, having a great product, consistently generating good quality content that your audience enjoy, and ensuring that you take best advantage of the opportunities for visibility that each platform offers.  Quite often, this news is surprisingly unwelcome…

So where does this leave social media marketing? The thing is, that none of this changes the fundamental uniqueness of what social media marketing can do. There has never been a single, unified communication platform of the size of Facebook or Instagram, since time began. There are real opportunities for effective marketing and laser focused targeting that can’t be found anywhere else, and at a cost which is very hard to equal through other channels.

BUT

As marketers and as clients, we have to be satisfied with “just” those unparalleled opportunities. Stop trying to believe in the unicorns, and take the word “viral” out of your vocabulary (in most cases, at least).

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