August 23, 2017
“Facebook is for old people,” I was told by a 17-year-old last week in San Francisco at the Startup Societies Summit.
He doesn’t use the social media platform. He’s right too. About half a million fewer teens aged 12-17 will use Facebook this year compared to last year.
Facebook depends on older people for its advertising revenue. But it needs to get users while they are young in order to keep them coming back to the social media website when they are older.
Facebook may be busy cooking up ways to attract the younger crowd, but they will inevitably fail at doing so. It is too late. If I am being told by a teenager that Facebook is for old people, the company probably suffers from an insurmountable branding problem among teens.
If parents are on Facebook, kids aren’t interested.
It’s not time to dig Facebook’s grave just yet.
Instagram is the preferred alternative to Facebook among youngsters. And Facebook owns Instagram.
But Facebook and Instagram are totally different platforms. On Instagram, you share pictures. Sure, you can write a caption and use some hashtags. And plenty of people still share memes. But it is not the personal information clearinghouse that Facebook is… or was.
Facebook is struggling with how to get people to share more personal things on their website. That was the main feature for a while, and probably what made Facebook popular. But now people are moving towards sharing more images, memes, and videos… things you can do on Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat.
Ironically Facebook’s attempts to compete with other platforms helped depersonalize it. The engagement which made it popular is in the process of evaporating.
…sharing of original, personal content on Facebook declined by 21% between mid-2014 and mid-2015, and by 15% between April 2015 and April 2016, according to the Information.
Facebook addressed this decline in the sharing of personal content as “context collapse.” As users’ networks ballooned and their feeds became crowded with an ever growing pool of links and multimedia content from brands, who could blame them for not sharing? What’s the point of writing on a friend’s Timeline or posting a status update when it won’t be seen?
For me, Facebook is basically just a directory. People I have met and want to network with are added as friends, and then if I need to contact them, I can always send them a Facebook message.
It is also considered necessary to have Facebook pages for businesses or websites. This just adds to the impersonal feeling. People are seeing Facebook as more of an advertising machine, and less as an online social club. They are seeing more news–sure sometimes with their friends’ terrible opinions thrown in–and less about how their friends are feeling.
Facebook needs to know how you are feeling… it is how they advertise to you.
And this highlights why owning Instagram might not be enough for Facebook’s business model. Yes, they will still be alive as a company. But being alive isn’t the same as being an advertising powerhouse.
The reason Facebook is such a good way to advertise is because of the data. They know your “likes” and dislikes. They know what time you are most likely to click, and when you just want to be shown a cute cat video.
In Zuckerberg’s quest for world domination, Instagram just cannot deliver.
Facebook is in the power game by manupulating emotions, and making you feel a certain way. Facebook actually performed a study which manipulated the emotions of over 600,000 users in January 2012. For a week, they showed some people only negative news and status updates, and others only positive stories.
What the targetted users went on to post corresponded with whether or not they were being shown negative or positive things. They even were more likely to post emotional status updates when shown friends’ emotional updates. When they were shown mundane, boring posts, they were more likely to refrain from posting at all.
Facebook basically demonstrated that they can shape your worldview based on the information they throw into your feed.
But Instagram is different. On Instagram, you don’t have “friends.” You can follow someone, and they can follow you back. But they don’t have to. You can have one way follows. And it isn’t that easy for the other person to tell if you follow them, except at the very beginning, or by tediously looking through their follow list.
Sure, Instagram could serve up, or withhold certain images. But it is easy to unfollow friends who are posting stupid political memes without them ever knowing. People want to see beautiful places, architecture, animals, and pictures of friends.
It is a photo platform. Most of the time I don’t even read the description. Most of the time I scroll right past an image with words on it. Yes, they are still going to advertise to me, but my brain immediately recognizes it as an advertisement. They can only go so far without taking me out of the experience. In Facebook, that is all part of the experience, and it is relatively seamless.
So is Facebook going the way of the dinosaurs?
Probably not anytime soon. But I would be surprised if their influence didn’t shrink significantly over the next decade. They are not immune to industry disruption.
Even mighty behemoths of companies are not as safe as they might think. Remember MySpace?