If Facebook were an episode of Dukes of Hazzard, right now you’d be seeing a freeze frame of Zuckerberg and hearing the narrator, Waylon Jennings, saying something like, “Now things weren’t looking too good for those Facebook Boys. They had a real pickle on their hands …”
That’s because (aside from the huge piles of money the social media titan rakes in on a daily basis) it would seem like Facebook can’t seem to do anything right. Starting in late 2016, all the way through 2017, allegations of fake news and Russian bots being allowed to hijack American democracy abounded. The backlash against fraudulent news articles and political meddling has even carried over into 2018, with some entire countries considering banning the site.
And now the story of the massive data breach via Cambridge Analytica has broken, along with implications that the social media platform intended user data to be accessible to third parties, sparking a revival of the hashtag “#deletefacebook.”
We say a revival, because people have been calling for a massive exodus from the social media platform almost since its inception. From the introduction of the timeline to Facebook's seemingly constant whittling-away at our collective privacy, people have been predicting the end of the social platform for years. Yet now Facebook actually seems to be losing ground.
Is social media in decline?
While Facebook itself is losing ground for the first time in its existence, other networks are picking up the slack. For example, the time users spent on Facebook declined 5 percent per day in the last three months of 2017—totaling 50 million hours lost per day—and, for the first time, total North American users went down. However, many of the younger users who are abandoning Facebook are moving to Snapchat, which now has around 43 percent of social media users.
Young people are a big part of Facebook’s losses, and according to eMarketer, 41 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 24 are considering quitting social media altogether. The reason they state: They are wasting too much time on it.
Another 35 percent say the level of negativity makes them consider quitting. Privacy is a concern for 22 percent. Some 18 percent say that social media creates undue pressure to get attention, and another 18 percent say it has gotten too “commercialized”—not a good sign for marketers.
Yet despite the declining popularity of Facebook, its ad revenue is still going strong. In fact, the network raked in $40 billion in 2017 for ads, an increase of 47 percent from 2016. Does this mean marketers still have faith in the platform, or are they just behind the curve when it comes to knowing where their audience can be reached? In truth, it still depends on how companies plan to target and analyze their results, and for these reasons Facebook still presents a pretty enticing solution.
All told, there are two morals to this tale for marketers. The first: Go where the people are—the real people, not the bots—and customize your content to fit what people are looking for on that platform. And speaking of content, the second lesson: Make your social media content entertaining, educational, helpful and desirable. In an age when people are railing against the increasing commercialization, marketers can stand out by leaving the hard sell at home and building a base of fans, not “targets.”