We’re living in the heyday of social media, with everyone from individuals to the world’s biggest brands investing much of their time and resources into the various platforms.
It’s a sector that has grown and grown exponentially, especially over the last 10 years, with various new entrants emerging from time to time to shake up the market.
But what does the future hold, and are we about to see the decline of some of the biggest names in the social media space?
That’s certainly one possibility highlighted in an intriguing new report from social media analytics company Rival IQ, which says that declining engagement rates on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter reflect the increasing trend for social media to become a pay-to-play space.
This was one of the main findings in a report that also found that brands have increased their posting frequency on all three channels, that contest and holidays topped the hashtag charts, and that companies were struggling to keep up producing enough video to compete with the popularity of TikTok and YouTube.
Looking at the engagement rates in closer detail, Rival IQ found that 2022 median engagement rate was 0.67% on Instagram, which was more than 10 times bigger than the average engagement rate of 0.064% on Facebook and 0.037% on Twitter.
Intriguingly, these rates have been trending down over time, with Instagram posting the largest declines. In 2019 the platform had an engagement rate of 1.22%, then 0.98% in 2020 before its current level.
Facebook has seen a decline from 0.09% in 2019 to 0.08% in 2020, to today’s 0.064%. In contrast, Twitter held at a steady 0.045% through both 2019 and 2020, before dropping to today’s 0.037%.
For all three platforms, the drops from 2020 to 2021 were larger than the preceding drops from 2019 to 2020, suggesting the rate of decline is accelerating.
One possibility for this is that the content provided by brands was getting worse, but the data does not back that up. When viewers actually saw content, the average engagement per impression averages were in the 5% to 6% range, which was relatively consistent from previous years.
Instead, the team at Rival IQ suggests that reach is the culprit. For example, between 2020 and 2021 there was a large decline in the organic reach of the average brand post from year to year on Instagram. The post reach rate, the reach of a post expressed as percentage of followers, declined from 24% to 17% for brands with 10k to 50k followers, and from 18% to 14% for brands with 50k to 200k followers.
As Rival IQ states: “If people aren’t seeing your content, it’s pretty hard to generate engagement.”
One possible reason for this, discussed widely on the web, is recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm. As The Lovely Escapist site put it, only about 10% of Instagram followers are now able to see your posts, because of changes that were brought in to help Instagram monetize the platform. How? By rewarding posters who keep followers engaged on their app for as long as possible.
The new reality is that the longer you can keep followers engaged on the app, the more Instagram will favour you. This means there is now an even greater requirement to post engaging content, but also to reply to comments and DMs. As the site says: “Post your photos, reels and stories daily, go live a few times a week, answer your DMs as soon as possible, and reply to comments on your latest posts immediately.”
This imperative now creates an even heavier burden of work for brands, meaning they will have to be on the ball and hyper-responsive if they are to maximise the potential Instagram offers, and also if they want to maintain their reach and keep their numbers growing. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, and may see some brands seek other platforms to invest in.
Turning to a related issue, one other interesting aspect of the Rival IQ report was its analysis of which industries are generating the highest engagement rates on Instagram. Leading the way, by a long way, was the higher education sector, with engagement rates of 2.99%. Sports teams took the silver medal with 1.84%, while influences came in third at 1.18%.
Non-profits took a creditable fourth with 1.04%, and were followed by alcohol at 0.76%, hotels and resorts at 0.70%, and media at 0.64%. Perhaps surprisingly, fashion was way down the list at 0.36%, retail at 0.33%, and health and beauty at just 0.32%.
On the other platforms, the winners mostly remained the winners, but in varying order. On Twitter, the top four were sports teams at 0.08%, higher education at 0.07%, alcohol at 0.06% and non-profits at 0.05%. On Facebook, sports teams came in at 0.27%, influencers at 0.23%, higher education at 0.15% and non-profits at 0.11%.
All this data goes to show that brands need to be very clear on their goals and strategies when devoting precious dollars to social media. What’s more, they need to find platforms that best suit their industries, and also be very aware of changing algorithms and other technicalities that may affect their plans.
In short, it’s becoming more complex than ever to build successful engagement across multiple social media platforms simultaneously, and the resources need to do so will only increase in the years ahead.