Facebook has been in the news a lot lately because of their report which stated that they observed a decline in daily users, especially among teens. Two posts on the subject stood out for me.
I liked Alyson Shontell’s Fear The Technology Sluts And Appaholics. I could not help but notice that we are running out of letters – we are already talking about Gen Z. Shall we use numbers after that?
Alyson cites Wall Street Journal’s Farhad Manjoo, whose post I read and it left me wondering. His point of view is valid and he may be right but unless I see a convincing study showing that kids’ fashions and trends have no impact on sales and purchase intent of older generations whatsoever, I remain convinced in the opposite. I think young people are at least to some degree a predictor of the next big things in fashion and tech. There must be a study out there showing that quest for novelty decreases with age, hence supporting my point above.
Or I may be wrong.
James Delves’ Why Teenagers Have Given Facebook A Bloody Nose And What Does It Mean For Marketeers provokes further thought (other than listing a helpful list of ‘what’s next’ apps, my little sister already asked me if I was on WhatsApp).
Everything I read on the subject is interesting but also narrow focused. I believe that Facebook’s challenge is bigger. It is not that teenagers are leaving, it’s that them leaving could be the sign of things to come. From observing dramatic Facebook exits of some of my Gen X/ Y friends, and having recently left Facebook myself, I believe the problem is bigger – Farhad Manjoo sums it up well, it’s us getting tired with ‘the whole public sharing thing’.
There are so many times you can share your plate/ purchase/ travel/ baby photos and cat videos, and there are so many cool/ glamorous posts you can write without becoming obnoxious to your friends and being clicked Hide All From User on or, worse, put on a restricted list.
The longer you are on Facebook, the more you discover about your connections, and while there is plenty of good, there is also quite a bit of bad. One friend turns out to be a racist. Another one a homophobe. This guy hates women and that girl is very religious and suddenly you have all sorts of God inspired likes in your newsfeed. One friend is bitter about a break up, another one does not believe into climate change, the third one just hates everything. All this drama becomes too much.
Facebook is like a party where you got stuck with people a few of who are quite obnoxious, but you just can’t escape. It makes you realise the extent to which humanity is flawed (and hence the size of probability of us being doomed) and how disconnected and lonely we are.
For me, Facebook’s problem is threefold. For one, Facebook stores all of your data indefinitely. Which becomes a problem because, second, they provide no efficient tools to sort, edit and delete your previous posts. There are some third party solutions but they are, to put it nicely, emerging.
Facebook could create an app which would allow to easily view, delete and modify all of one’s historical posts, as well as arrange them into something of a product on its own – imagine that in almost like a spring cleaning ritual, you could go through your posts in a given year, choose the best ones and produce some sort of a summary graphic or a compilation, then share it with your friends, print it out as a wall poster or save as a memory snapshot.
The third problem is also Facebook’s strength – you become too easy to find. There are ways to manage this but still. All sorts of people want to be your friends, and deciding who to accept, who to decline, managing Restricted list, hitting Hide All From User and deleting people, then dealing with their sad messages and undercover politics (as in deleting a girlfriend of a friend) becomes too much. It becomes an almost full time admin job.
So what does the humble self believe is in store for Facebook or social media in general? Two things. One, people will start leaving Facebook, not just teenagers. Perhaps, some researcher will invent a social media fatigue curve as a result and social media marketing strategists will go to the drawing board on the whole engagement and retention thing.
Two, the world of social media will become more fragmented. Instead of one Facebook and one Twitter, a plethora of apps/ platforms serving a specific function in connecting (eg messaging, picture sharing or video sharing) will emerge (have emerged already?). Instead of using one behemoth platform which does a bit of everything in a mediocre way, users will use individual apps which focus on one thing and do it well. This will also allow users to maintain different personas on different platforms. The world of social media will become more fragmented.
And it’s a good thing.
The morale? Your target audience or not, however large you are, if young people are abandoning your platform/ product, take notice. Dig deeper. Understand the reasons. It could be a temporary fad. It could be irrelevant. Or it could be a sign of things to come.