Do Facebook's user problems spell disaster?

Facebook UsersFacebook has had a rough go of it recently.

“Fake news” has rattled consumers’ trust of the platform. A divided national political discourse has made it less enjoyable. And the natural rise-and-fall pattern of social media is continually trying to destroy Facebook, as the undisputed leader in the space.

Facebook has started to see the fallout of those overlapping factors- a recent report said that users have made a massive cut back on time they spend on site. Overall, Facebook’s core platform (a.k.a. Facebook.com) had 18% less time on site in December than the month before. Individual users’ time on site was down 24%. (The difference was made up by new users.) 

Though almost any metric ebbs and flows from month-to-month, a 25% drop month-over-month of your most important KPI should serve as a wake-up call. 

Is it any surprise, then, that by January 11 Mark Zuckerberg had announced a massive change to Facebook’s algorithm? This algorithm change, aimed at highlighting content that users engage with more deeply, was likely in the works for a while. (As I’m also sure that, though dramatic, that loss of user time-on-site was not a one-time occurrence.) However, the timing of the two events is telling.

Facebook has a user problem. A big one.

We took a straw poll of some of our staff, and the results were not good. Are users attached to Facebook? See for yourself: 

So what does this mean for marketers in the long term? It’s tough to tell, but there are a few truths that marketers should keep an eye on in the future.

  1. Every social media platform has eventually failed.
    In the relatively short existence of social media, no one have made it out alive. The pattern of rise, dominance and fall has been a universal rule of the genre. Though Facebook has done an admirable job of resisting the laws of aging, it has been taking a beating recently. As early as 2014, popular opinion seemed to be turning on Facebook, with it being the worst-rated social media in the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey.

    If Facebook has a saving grace, it’s diversification. Users still engage with Facebook’s other properties, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. Best yet, Facebook’s advertising arm is pulling in plenty of ad money, to the tune of $40 billion in 2017.

    Which brings us to point #2. 
  2. There is no heir apparent (for marketers).
    It’s easy to see what other platforms users could embrace (new social media platforms crop up daily, it seems). It’s tougher to see where marketers will take their ad spend. No other social platform has figured out their advertising at nearly the level Facebook has, and Facebook is half of the internet-ad-duopoly with Google (who pulled more than $95 billion in 2017). It’s believed that those two companies alone hold nearly 65% of all ad spend on the internet.

    If another social media was hot at its heels, this user news would have marketers switching by the hour. But Twitter’s bot problem is well-documented, LinkedIn is largely a B2B platform, and Pinterest is still viewed as niche market play. (And, let’s not forget: Instagram is owned by Facebook.) YouTube has shown its cultural power in the last few years, but its only advertising play is in commercials and/or video ads, which are expensive and time-consuming to produce. Its few on-page ads are through parent company Google’s AdWords, not native to the system.

    So, for lack of better option, marketers likely won’t be fleeing Facebook anytime soon.
  3. Money CAN buy you longevity.
    Though internet clout can’t force users to embrace your social media (RIP, Google+), it can help you hire smart employees and – more importantly – buy out hot, new social platforms while they are young and cheap. Facebook has never been afraid to protect its dominance with a well-timed acquisition. It has also frequently gotten flack for mimicking popular features of competitors to ensure users don’t look elsewhere.

    Until and unless that advertising revenue takes enough of a hit, Facebook will likely keep the top spot on the social food chain though canny, if arguably cutthroat, technological and organizational moves. 

Users may be fleeing, but marketers need to continue to take Facebook seriously. However, the time has long since passed that anyone can afford to be a one-platform distributor. Talk to your clients and customers- where do they spend time socially online? If you’re already on multiple platforms, keep a close eye on your trend lines to see which platforms are gaining ground, and which are not producing. 

It’s certain that the digital landscape will keep changing, and your target audience will be shifting with it. Having multiple distribution channels will keep you from sinking with the social ship.  

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