By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
With our usual focus on quarterly profits, we often miss the big picture.
Facebook is certainly one of the dominant players in the highly profitable social media field.
But off on the horizon a storm is coming.
And, for Facebook, that storm is demographic.
According to a recent study, teenage users of the Facebook app in the US had declined by 13 percent since 2019 and were projected to drop 45 percent over the next two years, driving an overall decline in daily users in the company’s most lucrative ad market.
And that’s not all. Young adult users between the ages of 20 and 30 were expected to decline by 4 percent during the same time frame.
Making matters worse, the younger a user was, the less on average they regularly engaged with the app.
The bottom line could not be more clear: Facebook is rapidly losing what it needs most; primary attention from younger generations.
The odd thing is that I’ve been talking about this for years.
How “cool” could it be?
I spent most of my working years with college level students. For 99% of my students, one guiding principle holds true in every area – especially technology – how “cool” could it be if your mom uses it?
Facebook is a definite “mom” if not “grandmother” technology.
You don’t need major research grants to come to this conclusion.
But it’s worse than that – Facebook has become central stage for every lunatic theory and crazy-uncle conspiracy.
Facebook, to use a common term, is becoming “radioactive” – something to be avoided as assiduously as possible.
Facebook-owned Instagram is still strong with young people but rapidly losing engagement in key markets, including the US, Australia, and Japan.
And the average age of Facebook’s user base is increasing rapidly.
To put it mildly, this is not a good sign.
Much to no one’s surprise, most young people see Facebook as a place for people in their 40s and 50s, and keeping with the script of out-of-touch old people, most young adults perceive Facebook content as boring, misleading, and negative.
Other in-house Facebook research shows that people older than 30 in the US were spending, on average, 24 more minutes per day on Facebook than younger users.
Losing a generation is not something most companies – especially high tech companies – can survive.
This is not a trajectory any business, and certainly a tech-based business, wants to be on.
But it is a journey several tech companies have made before. From MySpace to Netscape to Friendster to MTV, several companies have made a splash as an unstoppable force and then declined/evaporated abruptly.
MySpace has been described as the first cyber-Ghetto.
Will Facebook follow suit?
Many former, (and a few current) users describe Facebook as a “dystopian hellscape of a site”.
This is not how any company, in any industry, wants to be defined.
There are a hundred reasons to drop Facebook; it’s too intrusive, too commercial, too predatory, too crude or any other reason that appeals to young people, older people, advertisers, investors or anyone else.
Of all the problems, challenges and investigations, few have complained or have concerns about the name – but that is what Facebook is changing.
To focus on “the virtual world”, what we have known as Facebook will become merely one of the company’s three major platforms — which also includes Instagram and WhatsApp — rather than the overarching brand, in response to whistle blower revelations and regulator recriminations.
As Mark Zuckerberg put it, “The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied Internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it, and we call this the metaverse.”
Is this a distraction, an evasion or an introduction to a “virtual” world we all may (or may not) want to be invited to enter? Could this be singularity, the cyber-merging of humans and machines that sci-fi writers have been warning us about for decades?
Or is this, as one critic put it, the outright colonization of the entire online and mobile experience?
Rebranding is always tricky – “New Coke” fizzled faster than a stale bottle of the product, but the company kept it anyway for almost twenty years.
Meta will certainly be the butt of late-night comedy shows, but whether it will lead us into a less “dystopian hellscape” is an entirely different question.
Changing a name is far easier than instituting fundamental organizational changes.
But will rebranding make any difference to anyone?
I’m not in the teen-age preferred demographic of Facebook/Meta, and I’m not even in the de facto/accidental 40-50 year old demographic, but I’ve used Facebook since those barbaric days when it required an edu extension (.edu).
But as to the question of who killed Facebook, it appears that the wounds, perhaps mortal, were entirely self-inflicted.
And then there is why Facebook should die – or at least be constrained – besides being illegal, monopolies are all-powerful and all-consuming.
Unlike most monopolies, however, Facebook’s stranglehold on the internet wouldn’t merely control one industry: it would control the portals through which virtually all products and industries are filtered.
This isn’t just bad business – it’s terrible FOR business.
Business, after all, thrives in as free a market as possible. When Facebook owns or manages every aspect of a market, that’s not a market, that’s a captive audience with no real choice.
And for a platform like Facebook, credibility and good will is everything.
The end of Facebook just might be the beginning.