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Has Social Media Achieved Scale?



Reading this article today about the volume of Super Bowl-related social media posts, and the plethora of articles about Super Bowl ads, caused me to circle back on Super Bowl posts of my own from years back.

In 2007, we discussed whether B2B lead-gen ads made more financial sense, in terms of generating immediate payback, than B2C branding ads.

In 2010, it was around whether using Super Bowl advertising to drive consumers to social media, and then hopefully to the store, made sense.

In early 2012, I wondered if there was scale to social TV, because the six-month volume of chatter about TV programming was probably less than the verbal amount of chatter just during the Super Bowl. Later in 2012, I put that in context, suggesting that there was less than 2% chance that any given viewer would ever post a comment on social media on something related to TV programming.

Where does that leave us in 2015? According to various reports, 65MM unique people interacted with Facebook about the Super Bowl, with over 265MM posts, comments, and likes related to the game. (They didn’t break down the proportions, but probably heavily weighted to likes…) Twitter recorded 28.4MM tweets, up from 24.9MM in 2014 and 24.1MM in 2013, but did not report the number of unique people involved. Neither reported what proportion of these people are in the United States and targetable by local advertisers. Finally, the highest volume of tweets occurred after the game-saving interception, at 395K per minute. This compares to 720K that were recorded at the peak during the 2012 game, which equated to ½ of 1% of the viewing audience.

My take on this:

  • It confirms that Twitter is starting to bump up against a ceiling, which has been well-scrutinized in the financial press with each quarterly earnings statement. Most likely the same size audience posting more frequently rather than a larger audience with fewer posts per person.
  • I find it hard to believe that all of those Facebook posters are in the United States, because that would mean more than ½ of the television audience of almost 115MM posted something on Facebook. If true, it is staggering. But I take some of these stats with a grain of salt, when presented without context.

So has social media achieved scale? Its getting closer, but it still seems television advertising is still more efficient, because it delivered billions of sustained impressions over a three-hour window, while social media would achieve only a fraction of impressions over the same period, especially given the realities of consumer interactions and algorithms that limit the number of views each interaction would receive.