Published: 02 February 2018
As reported by The Verge this week, Facebook has had its lowest quarter-over-quarter growth since 2015, with active usage dropping by “roughly 50 million hours each day”.
After a year under political scrutiny and foot-in-mouth moments (Zuckerberg claimed Russian-paid-political-ads wouldn’t have influenced anyone, causing advertisers to ask why they should bother paying for ads) Mark and the big blue social platform are right to be sweating.
I’m no industry analyst, but I do believe in the power of Content and the importance of striking a balance between fulfilling the needs of business vs user. Simply put, any business’ content should sit in a “sweet” spot of being useful/entertaining/relevant to the user, while providing value to the business in return.
I think Facebook has (accidentally) tipped this balance too far away from their users in their constant meddling with news feed algorithms.
Facebook succeeded for so many users because it became one of the most vital and beneficial pieces of content marketing in history; almost entirely made up of user-generated-content: the lives of the users themselves, with updates and photos flooding our feeds.
Ads inevitably came soon after, of course, and they’ve existed “peacefully” alongside genuine content for well over a decade, but over the past few years (and especially over the past quarter) people’s attitudes and affection for Facebook have waned.
Here’s what people are saying on forums about the Verge news post:
“I don't want Facebook algorithms to manage what I'm seeing and when. I want to see it in chronological order as it happens. I used to love the fact that I could see what my friends were up to in real time, and join them if they were doing something interesting. Now I see it the next day, or days later and it's useless.”
“I have like 1,500 friends on Facebook. That may sound ridiculous but I actually have met them all at some point. I still only see about 25-30 people’s stuff. It’s ridiculous and has made it an utterly useless tool.”
“Instead of seeing friends and family all I see is ADS!”
“Myspace was super popular. And they kept messing with it. And eventually people stopped because it got so bloated and twisted that it wasn't what they used it for anymore. FB will do the same eventually.”
These comments weren’t cherry-picked outliers. Virtually every comment echoed these sentiments.
While there are gripes about the number of ads, I can’t help but notice that there’s an overwhelmingly negative attitude towards the change in overall benefit Facebook brings to its users, no longer showing them what they wanted to see when they first joined – what their friends and family were up to – these updates now too difficult to find amongst swathes of ‘old news’ and content Facebook thinks they want to see.
It gets a bit more worrying for Facebook when we remember that it is a free platform. This anger at a zero-cost service is indicative of just how useful and essential is for people around the world and how easily interest in it can be lost.
Facebook-hating isn’t a new thing. I bet we can all name someone we know who has proudly claimed that they’ve “deleted Facebook”, but in-light of all the legal controversy, constant changes & now a confirmed drop in usage, Facebook might have finally “fixed things” too much and big cracks are starting to form.
So what’s the answer? Well, more “fixing”, I suppose.
In the middle of January, Zuckerberg made this announcement:
“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.
“But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content -- posts from businesses, brands and media -- is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.
“The first changes you'll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.
“As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.
“For example, there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We've seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.
“Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”
It seems like they’ve gotten the message. But whether or not they can tip the balance of content back to what the users really want, and not what Facebook thinks they want remains to be seen. And if they succeed, will it be before they suffer more drops in active users? We’ll have to wait and see.
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