Audience Engagement Guest Columns
4 mins read

Consumers are tiring of social media: How independent communities can keep them interested

OPINION

A decade ago, social media served as a simple platform for connecting with and making new friends in virtual spaces, however, it has evolved to a point where it has become so pervasive it now permeates almost every aspect of our daily lives. Despite unprecedented growth across the sector over the last decade, there has been a gradual but marked change in attitude amongst individuals to this once burgeoning technology; a movement from connection to distrust. 

As the current practice of social distancing moves individuals away from physical spaces and pushes them towards virtual ones, this distrust and dissatisfaction has become more evident. Our inaugural Passion Index whitepaper report revealed that over half of locked down Brits want to spend less time on social media, with 60 percent also noting they do not trust platforms like Facebook and Instagram. 

The same survey highlighted that they’re wasting, on average, 2 hours 45 minutes a week viewing low-quality content and that younger Brits were worst affected, spending three and a half hours a week. This low-quality content tends to be non-specific and aimed at the widest possible audience rather than being tailored to the community. As a result, there is an increasing scarcity on these platforms of content that users can meaningfully engage with. 

This shift away from social media platforms has forced marketers to reassess these channels as a viable option for engaging effectively with their communities, whilst ensuring brand safety in an increasingly turbulent market. This has seen marketers revert back to their roots, adopting a more customer-centric approach which requires delivering content that is of true value. They’ve begun to build niche community networks that they control, diverting their advertising spend and taking back the power they once held in order to maintain the relationship with their community. 

Platforms Aimed at People

In contrast to traditional models, niche communities are aimed at specific audiences with common interests. As such their content is user-centric and only aimed at those who will likely want to see it. 

The aim of niche community networks, and what sets them apart from traditional social media giants, is the value they place on the community. Our research shows that over half of respondents would join communities built for their personal passions, and over a third would like to see new communities from their favourite brands and influencers. The data shows businesses may be wise to invest in their own community apps rather than building networks they don’t own on Facebook. Without change, much of social media ad spend could be wasted – the data shows that 43 percent of Brits feel social media is an unnecessary distraction and 52 percent want to cut the cord with generic platforms like Facebook and Instagram. 

Niche community platforms fundamentally promise to provide these passionate individuals with deeper access to the content they can engage with and the ability to connect with others who share their passion. These smaller communities are also beneficial to content creators, entrepreneurs and those leading their respective communities, with 34 percent of Brits noting they would be willing to pay for exclusive content or offers. 

A big added benefit of communities that cater to a niche passion or interest is that even on the rare occasions that readers are bored of the content itself – they are far more engaged in the actual community and so tend to stick around for longer. It also means that, in thriving communities, publishers aren’t required to constantly feed in new content – as members of the community start to engage with each other.

We have already seen several entrepreneurs and YouTube creators moving to micro-networks in order to better connect with their communities where they can turn the social capital they have built into valuable, independent businesses. As such, a reciprocal partnership is built.

Potential Obstacles

Given that social distancing is encouraging people to spend more time in virtual spaces and communicate with like-minded people online, now is a better time than any for these communities to get started. Forced changes in social conditions are compelling social media users to change how they use platforms. 

These users, given the amount of time they are spending on social media, are increasingly discontent with what they have and are looking instead for what social media can deliver. They want a user-centric approach that treats them as members of a community and not as capital in the attention economy. As people reach out during lockdown, increasing numbers of niche communities will be formed and grow at an accelerated rate, creating boundless opportunities for both brands and members.

Benji Vaughan
Founder and CEO, Disciple Media

About: Disciple is building a global network of independent valuable communities powered by passion. In practice, this means creating digital communities where people can coalesce around a single idea across apps on web, iOS and Android. The data created by these networks is owned entirely by the host who built the network – not Disciple. Since launching in 2016, Disciple currently has over 157 thriving passion communities all around the world, and well-known hosts include the Rolling Stones, Luke Bryant, and Matt Hancock MP.

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