In recent months, it feels like the advertising world’s worst fears have erupted into a full-blown panic. Use of ad blockers is running rampant (last week, Howard Stern introduced ad blockers to a whole new mainstream audience). Click fraud is even more rampant. Fears of cord cutting have finally begun to affect media stocks. And the ad money simply isn’t following the readers to mobile devices.

Social media has positioned itself as the savior to these problems, because ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest mimic the activity that regular users are already doing – they just happen to be sponsored. The ads are meant to fit in organically, and so people engage with them more. More importantly, brands pay more for that engagement.

But a new study shows that, ten years into the social media phenomenon, the noise has increased, but engagement has decreased.

According to Forrester, brands are using more social media than ever. At least 80% of the top 50 global brands actively post to the top five social media platforms, and their followings on those platforms has increased. But engagement is down over last year. Despite increasing their volume of posting on just about every social media platform, the percentage of posts that garnered interactions with users fell.


The rates at which users interact with branded social media posts has always been low, but Forrester’s 2014 study and this year’s, they’re looking even worse. Last year, Instagram posts from brands created interactions with 4.2% of a brand’s followers. This year, that fell to 2.2%. On Pinterest, interactions fell from 0.1% to 0.04%.

In order words, brands are doing more work and getting less attention for it. (On Facebook, interaction rates increased from 0.07% to 0.2%.)

A slight drop is to be expected to some degree – early adopters will always get the most attention, and over time, users will become desensitized to ads. That’s why savvy brands have rushed to adopt emerging platforms like Vine, Kik and Snapchat, even though their advertising products are relatively young and unproven. It pays to be first, even if it’s just experimental.

Social networks should worry about the desensitization, though. There was once a time when banner ads were tolerated. Then people started ignoring and the term “banner blindness” was coined. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have long touted the superiority of their ads over banner ads, which have miserable click-through rates of less than 0.1%. But if Forrester’s study is to be believed, the interaction rates on social media aren’t much better, and they’re only getting worse.