How often do you really engage with Facebook?
“Engagement” doesn’t mean listlessly scrolling through the News Feed and watching a video or two.
How often does the average young person post or interact with other users on the platform?
The answer is not very often. That reality is beginning to take shape in cold, hard data.
The social media behemoth actually lost daily users in North America for the first time in its 14-year history, dropping from 185 million to 184 million engaged users from quarter three to quarter four of 2017. These numbers come on the heels of Facebook’s new initiatives to reinvigorate the News Feed and engage more with users. Total user growth is still up thanks to growth in the Asia-Pacific region, but the lack of engagement with young people can be pointed to as a cause for concern for Facebook’s future.
According to Pew research studies, the percentage of Americans who use Facebook has flatlined at 68 percent for almost two years after a 10 percent spike in growth between late 2014 and early 2016. Among the 18 to 29-year-old demographic of Americans, Facebook usage fell seven percent from 88 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2017. Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter all experienced growth in the same demographic over the same time period.
So why is Facebook losing its edge in the arena that it built? And do they really have anything to be afraid of?
In the short term, yes. In the long term, also yes.
The News Feed is obviously broken. Not only is there widespread fear about the fake news that exploited Facebook’s algorithms to appear to viewers, but the logjam of uninteresting news and clickbait is an unquestionable problem.
In an effort to recapture some of the user base that has been turned off by the fake news and bland posts that clog their timelines, Facebook announced a reimagining of the News Feed algorithm in January. This is supposed to revert back to more personal content from actual friends and family on your News Feed and less public content from businesses and news agencies.
The results will have to be significant in order to change the future of Facebook. Twitter and Instagram offer unique approaches that cater to the tendencies of the younger demographic. Both focus their content on short attention spans. Twitter uses short formats to condense information and keep user attention from tweet to
tweet. Instagram focuses on strictly visual presentation and has built up a loyal user base that has clearly grown into a prosperous following.
Facebook has gone as far as buying Instagram to appeal to more of the masses. They have shamelessly adopted key components of the products that make Snapchat and Twitter stand out. And yet, the younger demographic has remained loyal to a variety of social networks that do one particular thing well, instead of bowing to Zuckerberg and his total social media domination.
Facebook’s blatant attempts to copy these more successful entities obviously have not worked, as their user engagement among their longest-tenured users (North America) has stagnated for years now. That is not a recipe for short-term or long-term success.
The corporation is not in any particular financial trouble and has deep reserves to survive through this round of uninspiring returns. But if Facebook’s flagship continues to lag behind the competition, some heads will have to roll in the world’s largest social media network.
Jonah Baker can be reached at email@example.com