There’s no denying that Facebook has had its fair share of haters. It’s the goliath of social networks and, far from floundering as many have predicted over the years, it continues to grow at an impressive rate. Last week’s Q4 2015 earnings announcement included some striking numbers. The site has 1.59 billion users, up from 1.55 billion in the previous quarter, with much of that growth originating in developing countries. And these aren’t just vanity figures. The daily user count in Q4 was 1.04 billion, which means that 65% of registered users are logging on every day.
Everyone loves to hate Facebook
That’s not to say there haven’t been concerns. The site has been hauled over the coals for a lack of clarity around privacy settings, removing photos without fair reason, not removing photos with fair reason, alleged data breaches…the list goes on.
Unfortunately Facebook isn’t completely in control of its own destiny when it comes to the social network popularity contest. Much of the ire directed towards the site is actually stirred up by the way people use it, rather than the platform itself.
There was a point when I seriously considered going cold turkey
Back in 2014, Buzzfeed published an article titled ‘22 soul crushing Facebook habits that need to be stopped’, which included all too common transgressions such as cryptic status updates, social experiments and the good old humble brag. We’ve all been guilty of some of these at one point or another, but that doesn’t stop us from having a good old moan when someone else does it.
I must admit that there was a point not that long ago when I seriously considered closing my account and going cold turkey. But I didn’t. I stopped posting as often but I still logged on every day to see what was being said – often a large amount of not very much. I particularly remember a lively and highly disparaging conversation that took place with a bunch of colleagues around this time last year about how bored and weary we all were with Facebook. And then something changed.
A new era
It didn’t happen overnight. This has been a gradual shift that only recently registered with me on a conscious level. Where once my newsfeed was full of posts about the minutia of people’s lives, I now see links to breaking news and important social causes. Just last week I signed a petition via Facebook in support of a chap who was at risk of extradition to stand trial for a terrible accident in which two people died, despite it being completely out of his control. Just days later his extradition notice was rightly cancelled in the face of a public outcry.
I now see links to breaking news and important social causes
I know more than I otherwise would about the crisis in Syria because of the comprehensive articles and moving videos people have shared on Facebook. I heard about Bowie’s death on Facebook, and in the days that followed I learnt more about his incredible life thanks to Facebook. Of course, it’s not all worthy causes. There are more cat videos than you can shake a stick at, but I’m OK with that. Cat videos are pretty funny.
My point is that where once Facebook was the home of banal chatter, it’s slowly turned into an enjoyable source of information and entertainment. I don’t even mind the advertising in my news feed. It’s usually fairly well targeted and, while I don’t think I’ve willingly clicked on a banner ad in my life, I have actually bought and signed up to things that I’ve seen advertised on Facebook.
Opportunities for marketers
This is an important point because Facebook advertising has been another contentious issue over the past couple of years, as the site has systematically reduced the organic reach of brand pages, forcing marketers to pay for advertising and content promotion. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago in which I discussed the fact that this might be a blessing in disguise in light of research that shows only 1% of fans who like the page of a major brand ever actually interact with that page.
Surely it’s more effective to pay to promote content that might deliver results than to amass thousands of followers who will never engage in any kind of meaningful way? Rather than bemoaning the loss of organic reach, marketers should embrace this change and work to produce relevant, targeted content that people are happy to see in their newsfeed.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Facebook over the next few years, as marketers and users adapt to the new world order. User growth will slow at some point, as markets in developing countries become saturated, but the key will lie in whether the site can retain its stickiness for existing members. Facebook might not be the coolest social network, and it’s certainly not without its issues, but I for one will be sticking around as long as it continues to provide me with a compelling reason to visit.