Have we reached peak Facebook?
A recent article in the Guardian reports that while people over 55 are still flocking to the social network in droves, a key demographic: teens and young adults, are leaving Facebook or even failing to join in the first place. Teens and young adults, according to the Guardian, are “defecting to snapchat”, and while Facebook initially managed to hang on to this group by buying up Instagram, it hasn’t been able to buy snapchat, and copying the popular features of snapchat on Instagram and the Facebook platform have not served to engage younger users.
In response to its declining popularity, Facebook released changes to its newsfeed, stating that it’s prioritizing interactions from friends and family over organizations, and prioritizing local news over more general topic areas. While the official messaging about this change indicates that it is in part, a response to the problem of fake news, and a genuine desire to make Facebook a more positive experience for people, many technology commentators, such as Mark Sweney at the Guardian, suspect that this is an effort to prevent existing users from leaving the social network.
And it is important for their business that Facebook do this. Already less than half of marketers polled by the Digital Marketing Association believe that social media advertising gives them any return on investment. Data from Forrester has been even more grim with marketers polled suggesting that they are less satisfied with the money they spend on Facebook marketing than they are with any other marketing channels including LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter. Add to this the fact that Facebook’s algorithms have been consistently tweaked to reduce the reach of people who have spent considerable time and money building brand pages with hundreds of thousands, or even millions of followers. Simply put, even though Facebook is chasing meaningful interactions with its latest algorithm changes, marketers and brands are hard pressed to benefit from these interactions. Unless they pay up, that is.
So while Facebook continues to find the magic balance of social interaction and advertising that won’t drive users away, it is being haunted by both the spectre of irrelevance and a decided lack of cool as the “olds” take over. At the same time, advertisers are questioning the value of the money they are investing in social media, and some big players threatening to pull their advertising spend. While all of these changes do not suggest that Facebook is dead, it does seem like it may be currently in intensive care. Facebook will either have to reinvent itself, acquire a company with more relevance to young people, or embrace its new identity as a gathering place for senior citizens. As for big brands, they’re in a great position right now to demand more from their investment in Facebook. I think we’ll see them flex their muscles a little more vigorously now that the cracks are beginning to show.