The Social Media Landscape
When I joined Facebook as a fresh faced teenager back in 2007, I did so because that’s what all my friends were doing. I wanted to see what was happening in my friends’ lives (nothing very interesting it turns out). Now, as a still fresh faced 25 year old, I’ve been thinking about quitting the platform altogether after slowly losing interest in the past few years.
And I’m not the only one.
One reason for this is the rise of more visual platforms in the way of Instagram and Snapchat which allow users to easily take in information, especially important in an age where 70% of U.S. adults will use a second screen while watching TV. It isn’t a stretch to assume this number is even higher in younger audiences. Another reason is the rising popularity of Facebook with the older generation as a way of preserving memories or rekindling old friendships. This is clearly less important in the younger demographic with the advent of disappearing stories. Most importantly, no teenager wants to be part of something their parents thinks is cool.
Facebook recently announced that for the first time since their launch they had seen user numbers decline in the US and Canada, from 185 million down to 184 million. Despite this, there is still steady growth in the Asia-Pacific market and ROW which may influence Facebook’s longer term plans. This isn’t accidental as Facebook have deliberately focused on introducing their service in areas with lower internet penetration. ‘Facebook Lite’ is a more basic, less data intensive version of the platform designed for regions with poor internet connectivity and lower end devices. It is this accessibility that will allow them to continue to sustain growth in these markets as competitor Snapchat has focused on more developed markets.
With the introduction of stories on Facebook this gives them a huge advantage over their competitors in capturing this market first.
Changing the way you look at things
One reason for this decline is their recent change in algorithm, prioritising your friends updates over viral videos and shared content. Facebook say this is to improve users wellbeing and overall experience. We will have to wait and see whether this is a one off fluctuation due to this change or a sign of bigger problems. Regardless, it is going to be more important than ever for sponsored content to be of a higher quality to promote interaction and make the most of Facebook’s new format.
Less of this:
More of this:
As a result of this update, organic reach is going to become harder to obtain and costs for a paid post are going to increase as brands reconsider their strategy. All of this begs the question, is it worth it for advertisers?
The potential reach of Facebook cannot be denied, with 2.2 billion monthly average users as of Q4 2017. But there is another issue, it is expected that two million people under the age of 25 will stop using Facebook in 2018. While the older generation are being drawn to Facebook, teenagers are spending more time on Instagram (800m monthly users) and Snapchat (300m monthly users).
Is 2018 the year of Instagram?
It is expected Instagram will reach 1 billion users in 2018, and with higher engagement rates than Facebook and Snapchat, Instagram should be considered one of the first stops for reaching the millennial audience.
Facebook is also playing catch up with the popular ‘stories’ feature which allows images to disappear after 24 hours. This was originally the unique selling point of Snapchat but it is now being effectively utilised by Instagram, with brands uploading twice as many stories to Instagram as Snapchat. This trend is likely to continue following Snapchat’s recent redesign which users are not happy about, gaining 1.2 million signatures petitioning them to revert the changes. Snapchat are standing by their decisions though which may cause more users to look to similar competitors, spelling even more good news for Instagram. That being said, downloads have actually increased since this recent uproar, potentially due to pure curiosity of what the fuss is about. It’s unknown whether these new users will continue to engage with the app or if they simply want to be part of the conversation, but it may not be the end for Snapchat afterall.
Are there any other options?
Another area to consider is the growth of mobile messaging apps. Two of the most popular social messaging apps are both owned by Facebook, Whatsapp and Messenger. These products both offer the unique ability for users to have direct conversations with businesses and provide a great way to engage and convert users. Now with the introduction of ads in Facebook’s Messenger app there is potential for a shift in focus from social networks into social messaging. Whatsapp say they never plan to have any in-app advertising on their platform, but Facebook have recently introduced ‘Click to Whatsapp’ as a call to action on their ads allowing immediate contact with businesses. Who knows if Whatsapp will stand by their word in the coming years, but this is the start of Facebook finding other ways to monetise the service.
As with Facebook, Snap are confident that the changes to their platform are going to benefit their users greatly in the long run. Only time will tell, but if they aren’t able to convince their user base to stick it out then there may be a great shift in audience in the coming year. With platforms dying and being reborn so often in this social media age (Vine and Musical.ly for example), brands need to stay on top of where their audience are spending their time and be able to reach them at critical moments.
This isn’t to say that brands should suddenly start ignoring these platforms. They obviously still have huge potential, but it is certainly important to be aware of any changes made and what this means for your business.
After all, there’s no difference between a permanent post and a disappearing story if there is no audience to view it.