Facebook’s continued decline seems inevitable. One social marketing expert I trust, perhaps prematurely, goes so far as to describe it as a “graveyard.”
So, if you haven’t done so already, now may be a good time to cut back on the time and resources your organization invests in the world’s leading social network.
But make no mistake: Facebook is still #1, and its resurrection isn’t impossible. Tempting as it may be, don’t completely give up on it. Yet.
This year in particular, frustration with Facebook seems to be peaking. It’s not fun to spend more than a few minutes at a time on the social network anymore, the cool kids are gone and I’m not sure a tech giant has ever recovered from these sorts of stigmas.
Here’s how one client recently put the problem to me, and friends in social marketing (their quotes are appended below) tell me they have been hearing versions of this on a regular basis in 2018:
“The number of people following on Facebook has dropped off dramatically… why am I bothering?”
The client’s impression is correct, and marketers can no longer sugar-coat the reality that organic growth on Facebook isn’t what it once was. Follows in general have leveled off and interactions, particularly meaningful interactions, are plummeting.
(People briefly rejoiced at the addition of “love” or “angry” interactions on Facebook. These features may be clever and desirable for users, but it is also a sign that the company is increasingly desperate to produce new marketing metrics to appease their data-hungry advertisers.)
What is making the Facebook experience so unpleasant? Theories abound. Mine is that it seems fundamentally impossible for a social network to succeed long-term as a publicly-traded company.
Facebook today reminds me of what the Yahoo! homepage started looking like 15-20 years ago, after it went public: Cluttered, overwhelming and designed to monetize virtually every pixel on the page.
We are only beginning to understand through emerging science that a person can only spend so much time on social networking platforms or in front of any screen before their productivity declines and even significant health problems arise.
It’s important to acknowledge that too much online content is making us sick. My recent blogs on post-Trump web clutter and the benefits of what we call #thinkbait over clickbait get into this health angle a bit more (I am even writing this blog on an amber screen!). Diversifying one’s sources of content would seem to be physically healthier and, in the long run, more appealing for users.
Canadian political commentator Jen Gerson cited Dunbar’s Number in a discussion (below) on TNKR’s The Goldwaters podcast; as per Wikipedia, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s “suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.”
In sum, I believe the theory would be that the larger one’s social network becomes over an average threshold of about 150 close friends and acquaintances, the more useless the network will be. Research like Dunbar’s suggests we can’t engage meaningfully with more than a couple hundred people (or, I’m adding, “influencers” and perhaps brands) at most.
A 2007 Wall Street Journal analysis of Dunbar’s work breaks down the science:
“This limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size […] the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”
Well-run, privately-held social networks that incorporate Dunbar’s theory into their business models, I predict, would find the sort of sustainability that seems out of reach for Facebook at present.
On top of fighting against this network effect, the list of top-level resignations at Facebook is growing due to privacy scandals, and serious concerns about data security remain. Last month, Oculus’ second co-founder left the parent company, joining the founders of Instagram and Whatsapp.
The best thing for Facebook, I suspect, would be for it to hit rock bottom, be bought out by private investors and its organization and leadership overhauled.
Until then, most of us are stuck adapting to the clutter and occasional toxicity that have become staples of our experience with a networking behemoth that still helps measure much of our social capital.
Algorithm changes to Facebook, particularly one major change in summer 2017, are essentially hiding most of your posts from most of your audience. These changes affect professional “like” pages most and are designed to convince you to pay to boost the reach of your posts.
This is difficult to accept for many users, particularly artists and others with limited marketing resources, since real-time access to one’s hard-earned audience didn’t previously require spending money. Facebook’s audience is dwindling, the product is becoming less appealing, and yet users are expected to now pay for the privilege of a service where the only cost previously was the personal data of users. If the course isn’t reversed, this won’t end well.
Time to delete your account?
Despite the grim outlook, however, it (probably) isn’t worth deleting your pages or pulling all investment from your business on Facebook.
Given Facebook’s troubles and the cluttering of social networks in general, we decided nearly two years ago to adjust our strategy, including the drastic decision to abolish our “community manager” position and redirect resources to producers creating content that clients can retain ownership of, like blogging and podcasting.
We believe video is an important component to many marketing plans but producing endless clips for social media is a costly and often fruitless proposition. A new lawsuit against Facebook claims the company inflated video statistics to force advertisers to shoot more content. Even if Facebook wins this latest battle, what’s indisputable is that the vast majority of videos on social media do not provide anywhere close to a return on investment for creators.
I predict our web experience will begin to look more like it was before Facebook: Decentralized, forcing users to check in on their favourite content providers sporadically without necessarily receiving a prompt from social media.
Logging on to one social network and expecting to get all the content you want simply isn’t realistic. Market forces are chipping away at these monopolistic systems.
Don’t be discouraged when you post content and receive few or sometimes even no interactions at all. It’s (probably) not you. Your content may need some tweaking, and professionals can help you maximize the impact of your messages (organic or, if necessary, paid, depending on what strategies are appropriate for the brand). But all creators, even the occasional posters, are struggling.
Content is King, the early web pioneers told us. This remains true, especially today. If you put ideas into the world, have the confidence to let those ideas float aimlessly a bit in the online ether. Today’s Facebook status or tomorrow’s tweet may not boost your brand, but an overall commitment to healthy and useful content can only add value.
The importance of the message hasn’t changed, nor has our appetite for content. What’s changing are the messengers and their platforms.
Dan Delmar is managing partner, public relations at TNKR Media.
What sales-oriented colleagues in web marketing are telling us about Facebook’s decline
“Facebook’s a graveyard. Hardly anything is working, it’s crazy. We used to measure successful posts in thousands of likes. Today, a couple hundred is a huge achievement.” – Kevin, a social marketer who specializes in retail sales
“We’ve been plugging away at our page for over two years now and our organic growth has been very underwhelming to say the least. We post quality content, regularly, but this is not reflected in likes and follows. Facebook is pushing a model where you have to pay to make an impact. And that’s sad because it discourages creativity and undermines the blood, sweat and tears we put into our platform.” – Karen, communications director for a national organization
“If you don’t have your audiences contact information, they are not your ‘friends,’ and relationships with communities should be managed on tools the business owns. I can’t guarantee visibility within Facebook, even with the best ads and events practices applied, but I can guarantee people will Google you, and find your Facebook profile as a result. Considering Facebook as an SEO (search engine optimization) opportunity for making a quick intentional impression and conversion to the channels that can actually foster increased worth and sales for your organization will keep you steadily grateful for this free tool as long as it lasts, regardless of their climate changes!” – Natalie Riviere, founder, Commetta Communications