What’s next for Facebook?

I deleted Facebook and Instagram’s apps from my phone almost a year ago which is an odd thing for a digital strategist to do but given that I’d spend several minutes, multiple times a day, scrolling aimlessly through memes, Brexit videos and friends’ holiday pictures, I was keen to reclaim that time. Quitting Facebook, in particular, came about because I realised I had no idea what I was looking to be informed about anymore. I had lost control.

Addiction and wellbeing

Some people I have spoken to about this agreed they were ‘addicted’ to social media, and that Facebook and Instagram had gradually contributed to an increase in anxiety and a lowering of their mood. Last year comedian Russell Kane disclosed he was being treated for internet addiction, saying he, too, was ‘no longer in control’.

Last month a study from Stanford University measured the changes in mood in people who had ‘quit’ Facebook. The study found that Facebook deactivation really did help to improve people’s wellbeing and consequently reduce their use of Facebook after the study period. Respondents also reported spending more time with friends and family as well as experiencing a drop in feelings of political polarisation.

User Trust

And it seems I’m not the only one who has quit Facebook recently – approximately 4 million users in Europe abandoned the social network from Q1 to Q3 2018. However, reports suggested this had less to do with trying to fight addiction and was more likely related to the Cambridge Analytical scandal and GDPR.

Unfortunately, user trust hasn’t improved. A survey commissioned by Facebook themselves earlier this year showed most people still do not trust the internet with their personal information and, as a result, Facebook is not just losing users, they’re also losing the confidence in the stock market.

So what is Facebook doing to combat this trend? Well last week, Mark Zuckerberg shared his ‘vision’ for a privacy-focused social networking future, highlighting that he believes the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services – in which he naturally hopes to be a key player. Of course, this conflicts with the business model of his two largest businesses – Facebook and Instagram – and the ability for advertisers to target users based on their interests and behaviours. That said, he may be in the best position to deliver this future with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Younger users are deactivating their Facebook accounts in droves, which offers an early indication of a potential trend among internet users of other ages. There seems to be three main reasons why the younger demographic are turning their backs on the platform: an increase in older generations using the platform, an increase of advertising within the feed and other platforms being more visual and fun.

Will others follow?

We may very well be witnessing the slow death of Facebook, and the inevitable fate of Instagram too – but not for some time yet.

Facebook is still very useful, and with its large population and investment in ‘connecting people’ there are fewer ways for me to get in touch with aunties in New York, friends in San Francisco or strangers in my area who are willing to ‘sell or swap’ bedroom furniture.

For marketers, Facebook is still one of the most effective ways to reach and target large populations of their audience and they still maintain a large share of advertising dollars, which is set to increase again this year.

Marketers should become less reliant on the news feed and instead focus more on Stories. Both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have included the Stories format into which advertisers are already starting to position themselves. More and more brands are creating Stories – with users actively viewing their content – and Mark Zuckerberg “expects Stories are on track to overtake posts in feeds as the most common way that people share across all social apps”.

Finally, brands should start thinking about including messenger platforms within their direct marketing strategy to communicate with users on a one-to-one basis. To this end I recommend brands sign up to WhatsApp for business.

Either way, I certainly believe it makes good business sense to prepare for a future in which Facebook is not king. Young people are moving elsewhere and, if they (or indeed me) are your target audience you would do well to start fleshing out a strategy that will allow you to find them on their new, preferred, platforms.

By Nick Graham, Digital Strategist