The last year has been a rough one in terms of social traffic growth for heavy-hitting sites such as Buffer and a decline in engagement can certainly be seen on sites like Copyblogger, Moz and Social Media Examiner. While any number of reasons could contribute to a lack of engagement on previously popular social media brand pages, content shock is a likely culprit.

But what is content shock? And more importantly, will it affect all brands?

Basically, the theory goes that there are a finite number of hours in the day for which people can consume online content. While technology makes it possible for an increased number of people to consume more content online than they used to, content creators are adding to the supply of content at an exponentially higher rate than it can be consumed.

In economic terms, the increase on the supply side of the equation has outpaced the growth of the demand side, throwing the equilibrium of social traffic out of balance across the most read brands.

In fact, Mark Schaefer has reviewed various studies that agree that what’s available online will increase by 500% over the next five years.

Since other websites have already felt the impact of content shock over the years, Buffer’s Kevan Lee believes it’s logical that social platforms are now experiencing the same thing. This led BuzzSumo to crunch the numbers, determining that half of all content shared on social sites receives no more than eight shares. At the same time, the data shows that there is now 78% more posts published through social channels.

Combined, these numbers indicate a drop in per-article engagement of 60%.

Although these numbers can make businesses wonder whether content marketing through social channels is dead, the data itself doesn’t quite show the whole picture. The founder of WordStream, Larry Kim, offers alternative factors to the content shock hypothesis, including:

  • Attribution errors
  • Difficulty in maintaining organic social engagement
  • Google+ traffic can drop by nearly three-quarters without cause
  • Importance of ads on Facebook and Twitter
  • Overwhelming supply of low-quality content online

It also bears mention that Twitter recently changed its API, wreaking havoc on third-party applications used by content creators and consumers alike.

The attribution issue seems to be one of the major contributors to social traffic loss because of tracking problems. When a social media site is accessed via an app—which is increasingly common—instead of the website itself, the source of the traffic isn’t always visible to the webmaster, which can make it appear that social traffic is down when, in fact, it may be just as strong as it’s ever been.

In order to obtain harder data, Social Media Today revealed that its social traffic had declined year-over-year by 17%. While that wasn’t much of a shock based on the social traffic decreases other sites were reporting, what was surprising was the increase in direct traffic to the site. The increase wasn’t a dead-on match for the social traffic decrease, but it was close enough (within 100 unique visits) that it could strongly indicate where the missing traffic went.

So, all may not be lost when it comes to social media and content marketing. Unfortunately, content shock is still a very real issue with which to contend. This means that pumping out as much content as possible onto your website and social media sites may not be the way to increase social engagement.

Since social media users tend to tune out what they see most frequently, posting a continual stream of content on the various platforms could turn your posts into background noise. While maintaining current content levels may not be an issue, ramping up your production too much could mean fewer shares per piece, even though your overall shares remain the same.

As the year winds to a close and business owners reevaluate their marketing strategies, it’s worth looking at all sources of traffic before determining that social media is a lost cause. Creating a reasonable amount of high-quality content and sharing in moderation on social media could still be keys to success in 2016.


Pollitt, Chad. We’ve Lost 17% of Our Social Traffic in the Last 12 Months, but… SocialMediaToday. November 18, 2015.