Social Media’s Decline Creates Opportunity for Events


Have I said that 2023 has been a weird year? I opened my keynote at this year’s Content Marketing World with that observation, and I feel like I say it on every catch-up call with clients.

One of the weirdest things is the pronounced decline in social media participation. Some of it has to do with a certain multibillionaire making odd decisions about a particular platform. But something else is going on, too. 

Similar web data (gathered into a chart by Axios) shows organic clicks to websites from Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) have collapsed – dropping to (in some cases) one-sixth of what levels seen just a year ago.

I’ve seen articles attributing most of this change to Meta and X actively discouraging people from posting news articles on their respective platforms.

But this steep social plunge involves more than news sites. Other data indicates a general decline in people posting and commenting on Facebook and Instagram.  

And you don’t need formal research to see that business and marketing content is down on X (but we have that, too, as you’ll see in our latest B2B research, out tomorrow). My experience at Content Marketing World convinced me.

For the last seven or eight years, I’d leave the keynote stage and see hundreds of tweets and images in my feed. This year – I counted about 20.

Still, social platforms aren’t dying. Facebook content consumption is up (though B2B marketers tell us they’re using it less than they did). Instagram Reels use is up. And TikTok continues to be a juggernaut in user engagement.

My conclusion: The gap between the number of people who create content on social media and those who only consume content on social media is widening. Put simply, social media is becoming just media.

#Social platforms aren’t dying – but they’re becoming less social and more media, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

People want to be social (in person and online)

It’s conference season as I write this, and publishers, event companies, software companies, and all manner of associations are evolving their in-person and digital event strategies.

Data shows the desire for in-person events is strong despite headwinds such as inflation, health concerns, and the ongoing recovery of the hospitality industry. CMI saw that desire in the growth of Content Marketing World attendees and sponsors this year.

Meanwhile, virtual and digital events are also growing. Our research shows sustained interest in webinars and digital events. (As you’ll see in the new research, webinars trailed only in-person events in the tactics that produced results.)

The takeaway: People want to be social, and they want to consume newsy content in a social way. So, it makes sense to prioritize events.

Just avoid this mistake with your (digital or in-person) event strategy. 

People want to consume content in a #social way. That’s an opportunity for events, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Don’t devalue digital options

In the early 2000s, before social media took off, media companies found themselves forced into new digital business models (e.g., moving their print publications to digital formats). At the time, people considered digital real estate subpar compared to the analog media of print, radio, or television.

Media sales teams often sold digital as a “make good” or “value add” to convince brands and agencies that their print ad buy was worth it. They gave away digital advertising for free.

What happened? Well, it worked. Brands valued digital media for precisely what they paid for it. That, of course, made it hard for digital teams to monetize content.

In 2008, NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Zucker famously said the entertainment industry was “trading analog dollars for digital pennies.” A year later, he upgraded the statement to “digital dimes” and then “digital quarters” (you know, inflation). But the sentiment remained for years – digital is less valuable and should be a less expensive way to consume content.

Product companies did essentially the same thing as media companies. Holistic digital content strategies didn’t exist in the early days of websites, blogs, and social media. Most companies simply looked at their website or content marketing approach (to the extent one existed) as a digital stop on the information superhighway. They saw digital media as the cheaper alternative.

Over the next decade, everybody from software vendors to media and content brokers selling digital-over-physical solutions extolled digital as easier, faster, and cheaper than analog alternatives.

Guess what? It worked. Many senior leaders in the C-suite still view digital costs through a much more critical eye than any alternative.

A television ad should be more expensive to produce than a YouTube video. Right? Isn’t an e-book easier and cheaper than a “real” book? It must be. Coverage in a digital magazine is worth less than getting an article in the printed The Wall Street Journal. Isn’t it?

Of course, social media democratized the ability to reach consumers organically. So, it must be cheaper than paid promotion.

An online event featuring speakers and education must be cheaper and easier to create than its physical counterpart, right? The speakers and audience don’t even have to travel. It must be cheaper, right?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

#SocialMedia democratized organic reach. So, it must be cheaper than paid promotion, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The medium doesn’t make content valuable

If the decline of organic posting (but not content consumption) on social media says anything, it’s that the platform (physical or virtual) is not what makes the content valuable. All content – created and published from any number of functions in the business – has a common goal: To create a positive experience for the people who consume it.

Events (in-person and virtual) are as big an opportunity as they’ve ever been. They create the social opportunities people want. They are, by definition, scarce. And they’re an opportunity to develop organic relationships with customers.

So, here we are in the fourth quarter of 2023. Brands and publishers face a dilemma: How can they evolve event content strategies to take advantage of digital at the same time all the social is getting sucked out of media?

We’ve begun to hear from a few brand teams on this topic.

In most cases, they treat events such as sales-kickoff meetings, customer events, thought leadership summits, etc., like much larger versions of the other assets they create. If they’ve been doing them year after year, they have a good process for assembling each one. They have down the basic components, costs, and efforts.

But, for the most part, there’s no content strategy. No effort goes into considering how the content might be reused, repackaged, aggregated, managed, or activated in different digital experiences (especially if attendees aren’t sharing and amplifying the content on social as much as they once did).

No one is asking these questions:

  • How can we capture all the presentations to present an on-demand version?
  • How should we structure the content to make it easily findable and reusable in other formats by other teams and in other channels?
  • How should we leverage the power of digital to make an online version of the event different than its physical counterpart?
  • How should we adjust our measurement to track which sessions people watch online, how long they’re viewed, and other metrics that show value to event sponsors?
  • How might we ask for different speaker presentation formats to create something (e.g., contextual e-books) that provides a better digital experience than PowerPoint slides?

But let’s be clear: THE VALUE OF THE WORK IS NOT DIMINISHED BY THE MEDIUM!

Yes – I just yelled that. It’s my mantra, and I have it printed and taped to my computer because I’m as guilty as anyone of forgetting it.

A virtual event is no less valuable, should be no less expensive, and should provide no less an experience than an analog event. Different? Yes. Less than? No.

If social media is becoming less social and more media, then content teams should approach talking about events on social media in a different way. Instead of relying on audiences to share their experiences, plan to post the insights and highlights from the event itself.

In other words – instead of encouraging attendees to share their experiences, tell them they can experience some elements of the event through social media. Keep in mind that this content should be no less valuable than the physical or virtual event itself.

From a practical point of view, for example, you could do a live social media interview with a speaker just before or after the event. 

Executing an approach like this requires treating all the work (and the medium it’s designed for) with care and strategy.

Media guru Marshall McLuhan long ago noted, “When any new [media] form comes into the foreground of things, we naturally look at it through the old stereos … We’re just trying to fit the old things into the new form, instead of asking what the new form will do to all the assumptions we had before.”

Social media perfectly illustrates his point. For the last decade, people treated it as a place where people become the media. And its decline may prompt us to settle into what social media will ultimately be: another form of creator-focused broadcast media.

But no matter what the catalyst – a disruptive business change like the development of digital media or the evolution of any buzzy new interface – don’t let anyone see the evolution to new ways of delivering content as an easier way.

Having audiences share content on social media was a highly efficient way to reach new audiences organically. Now that it doesn’t happen as much, brands will have to become the media for new audiences to discover.

You’ll have to treat social media as its own platform, with just as much thought, care, and quality control as any other content channel.

Think expansively. Digital events, physical events, social media, and content aren’t side projects. They’re THE project.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute





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