Facebook is no longer a social network. The ever-growing behemoth has, under Mark Zuckerberg’s watchful eye, in many ways abandoned its genesis and become a more corporate space. And you didn’t hear it here first - a number of publications have mused on the giant’s morphing into something far more ‘media’ than ‘social’. Ask any teenager and, as a place to connect with friends, Facebook is on the way out.
The once great social network has seen its core components mimicked and bettered by its competition. For photo sharing, young smartphone users will head to Instagram - indeed, the only photos that seem to make their way onto Facebook these days are posted via Instagram - while WhatsApp and Messenger are also tearing people away from the Facebook app or the desktop site. For opinion-sharing, users head to Twitter. And Snapchat has continually resisted Facebook’s advances; up until this point, the many attempts by the giant to create a more successful ephemeral picture sharing app have been unsuccessful. It’s important to remember that Facebook owns Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, but the matter of the original Facebook surrendering functions is a real one.
Part of the problem is the ‘one-way mirror’ - so called by the New York Times - approach to privacy. The information Facebook expects you to surrender is not reflected in transparency, and many are turned off the idea of sharing too much in what is now considered a fully public space. Privacy settings mean little when the information you share is shipped off to the highest bidder, repackaged and presented in product form. The anonymity of this data does very little to appease public opinion, too.
Facebook has ways of knowing if a user is pregnant, if they’re in a relationship (with or without the status update) and, more obviously, where exactly they spend their time and money. Some of the stories are apocryphal, yes, but that’s not really the point. If users believe them, it’s a problem. As gimmicky as you may consider WhatsApp’s recent end-to-end encryption to be, it stands in opposition to the lack of trust users of Facebook hold, and the company were sure to push the news of this encryption to every user, in every new conversation.
Essentially, what Facebook has seen is a shift away from ‘original sharing’ and toward external content, with users less inclined to share personal information, updates, or pictures, and much happier sharing content they find elsewhere. The decline of personal content is, according to Bloomberg, as much as 21% since mid-2015, and five minutes on the site can tell you Facebook is now for content sharing, not content creation. With measures like the ‘On This Day’ feature - which brings back to the surface shared content from yesteryear to encourage nostalgia-sharing - and the big deal made about events like Mother’s Day on the news feed, Facebook is doing all it can to encourage users to drop their cynicism and reconnect with it. Perhaps this is a natural point for a social media as ubiquitous as Facebook to reach - as the site grows, so do users’ friend lists, and the knowledge that everyone from your colleagues to your young family members could be watching what you post makes sharing a very considered activity.
Either way, though, this doesn’t seem to have affected the giant. This is because of one thing: Facebook isn’t a social network. People are using the site just as much as ever; Facebook has 1.65 billion active users, 1 billion of which log in each day. The company has a mind-boggling valuation of $340 billion as, according to Marketwatch, ‘investor sentiment moved sharply in the direction of the world’s largest social network’ in the first quarter of the year.
Go on Facebook and you’ll see sponsored posts in among your friends’ content, live video from brands and even e-commerce posts among the feed. Facebook is seemingly keen to push links over user-generated content to its masses, despite its desire for more of the latter. In part, this allows the site to boast a higher click-through rate to advertisers, and it serves also to diversify the content to keep users engaged. It’s why Facebook is set to change its news feed to be a more categorized news compiler. We should stop calling Facebook a ‘social’ network - it’s far more than that.
As put by the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, ’The foreseeable future of digital media—both measured by attention and by ad dollars—belongs to Facebook. Facebook is a media company, but more than that, it is a utility, an integral piece of information infrastructure upon which hundreds of publishers and media companies rely to reach their audience.’ Companies will focus huge chunks of their marketing budgets on a ‘social media’ campaign, but Facebook has to be approached differently. Consider content marketing as the way to ‘do’ Facebook - forget trying to get pally with customers, save that for Twitter. You should be the ones sharing the stories that the users aren’t, and create a narrative, be it an engaging video or a sharable article. It’s no longer enough to simply have a brand page and post links to your e-commerce site - on a content aggregation and sharing site, users expect just that.