A reflection on the state of Facebook today: Will it ever die?
A recent UK study has come to a startling conclusion about the world’s number one social networking site. “Facebook is not just on the slide. It is basically dead and buried,” proclaims Daniel Miller, the professor of material culture at the University College in London. Miller’s argument boils down to a simple point: Facebook has become “uncool” with teens ages 16-18. As their parents start to populate the once-youthful social domain, teenagers have taken their online activity elsewhere — moving to platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
The assumption is certainly attention-grabbing. Has Facebook really become “uncool?” More importantly, does the site live and die by its “cool” status? Many people point to MySpace, which experienced a similar bump in average user age in 2006, as the inevitable fate of Facebook. As adults join a service, younger users jump ship to the next big option.
The exodus of teens is significant for Facebook because they’re one of the most valuable demographics for advertisers. Often ripe with expendable cash, advertising to teenagers and young adults is one of Facebook’s biggest revenue streams. Retaining younger users is so important to Facebook that they recently offered $3 billion to the creators of Snapchat in a takeover bid. Snapchat turned the money down, showing just how valuable its audience is.
“Marketers are concerned about their ROI (return on investment),” said Jonathan Thomas, president of the University of Oregon chapter of the American Marketing Society. “And they won’t hesitate to close up their advertising account with Facebook and figure out a way to show up on Snapchat instead if that’s where their target audience moves to.”
Students on campus are of two minds on how older users affect their time spent on the site. Junior Kyle Crair says that his mother joining Facebook had little effect on how he utilized the site. Meanwhile, some students have found their love affair with Facebook has ended.
UO junior Keri Hagler used Facebook frequently a few years ago, but she has found herself losing interest.
“The longer I was (a user of) it, the less I found myself actually using it,” she said.
While students may find themselves using Facebook less frequently, it’s unlikely that they will abandon the service completely because no “cool” alternative exists for Facebook at the moment. Even if new social networks seem to pop up every week, the fact is that none currently hold a candle to Facebook’s ease of use, all-encompassing ability and near-universal adoption rate. Facebook is more than a social network. It’s a standard of communication on par with the telephone.
Apps like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are growing primarily because they’re doing something different from Facebook, not because they’re prime to replace it. Twitter’s format is focused on immediacy, Instagram’s about creativity and Snapchat’s about private messaging.
Additionally, the fact that Facebook already has such an established user base makes it nearly impossible to topple. Change won’t come until users have an active reason to switch away from Facebook which, ironically enough, might come from within. Frequent redesigns, increased advertiser presence and questions of user privacy prevent the future of Facebook from being a sure thing.
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