/// Facebook’s Reality Check: Death By A Thousand SnapChats?
Friend and collaborator Tom Lowery pointed me to an article this morning that set me back on my heels. Reuters reporter Alexei Oreskovic presents evidence that at nine years old, Facebook FB +1.4% is facing not just its “awkward teens”, but a full-on mid life crisis.
Statistically and anecdotally, Facebook continues to ride the charts as one of marketers’ most fruitful platforms. I’ve reported here that 66% of marketers have plans to market through Facebook in the coming months, topped only slightly by YouTube (at 69%) as the social media platform of choice.
Repeatedly, marketers report Facebook as the number one source of referral traffic for both consumer and B2B business. But could that equation soon change?
The newest data from Nielson Media Research shows consumers spending more time on Facebook by a significant margin than they spend on competing properties such as Google GOOG +1.75%, Microsoft MSFT +2.06% and Yahoo YHOO +3.21%. 59.9% of Facebook users visited the site every day in Q1 2013, an increase of 1.6% over the final quarter of 2012.
A recent Pew report verifies that teens use Facebook more than any other social service; however, focus groups for that report also warn of waning enthusiasm by many teens who cite the increasing number of adults on the site as an impediment to their interest, as well as the growing number of frivolous posts.
This factor speaks to the threat that is starting to set some analysts’ hair on end: that the appeal of the newest messaging and photo sharing apps such as SnapChat is starting to siphon Facebook users’ time and attention away. USA Today reports there are currently 150 million SnapChats being shared daily, up from 60 million in February. (By comparison, USA Today reports that Instagram, snapped up by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, currently generates 40 million photos per day.) By Facebook’s own admission in regulatory filings, some younger users have reduced their engagement with the site to spend more time on other products such as Instagram, Reuters reports.
Could Facebook be facing “death by a million SnapChats?” (A quick nod to fellow contributor Eric Jackson who also used this terminology in his own article on Facebook earlier this week. His opinion: eventually and potentially, “Yes.”) Or worse, could it “pull a MySpace” and disappear from relevance entirely as the next shiny viral opportunity comes into play? A sudden shift could wreak business havoc on the plethora of companies currently investing in Facebook marketing plays.
For now, most financial analysts (Eric Jackson perhaps to the contrary) are downplaying the impact a dampening interest in Facebook could play. Even if the company falls short–perhaps even far short–of its goal of becoming the ultimate consumer destination for messaging and shopping, Facebook’s current mass and scale (and its ubiquity) will likely ensure its staying power for years to come. “They’ve gotten so big that it’s one of those things you have to use,” Dan Niles, chief investment officer of tech-focused hedge fund firm AlphaOne Capital Partners, declared in the Reuters article. “You may not like the electricity company, but I guarantee you you’re still getting electricity.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg pooh-poohs the notion of Facebook’s role decreasing as well, noting at the recent AllThingsDigital conference that Facebook continues to grow even as other newer services are also expanding. Furthermore, I will add my own observation that while teens are certainly a prime demographic for a number of businesses, the adult audiences that comprise the bulk of the B2B audience (and the majority of consumer spending) show no sign of diminishing interest in Facebook. In fact, to the contrary, their participation, currently at least, is continuing to grow.
Eventually, the erosion of Facebook’s audience to other services could chisel away at its network, according to Chuck Jones, founder of technology research firm Sand Hill Insights. But, he acknowledged to Reuters, it would be a slow process: “Death by a thousand SnapChats could happen in three-to-five years, but not in the next six-to-12 months.”
What should marketers do with this information? As always, it’s important to remember that social media users (and consumers at large, and at every age) can be impulse driven and fickle. It’s critical to watch the movement of all online platforms and trends. Furthermore, while youth and teen demographics may move to the trends of the day with far greater speed than the general populace, it is vital to watch these steps with care as a potential harbinger of the trends that may ultimately have an impact on the consumer market at large.
Smart marketers should watch the analytics of their online activities closely to be aware of where their efforts are generating the most and the best return on investment. Even in the cases where Facebook is the current highest source of customer engagement and referral traffic, businesses can’t afford to invest their entire effort on a single platform. At a minimum, marketers should be looking heavily at Google+, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn strategies as well.
Pinterest is also a community that is growing in stature as a means to communicate visual information. In a prior article I spoke about the ways those wtih mental illness diagnoses are using their unique strengths to excel. As marketers, consider the ways that platforms based on visual media may serve as the medium of choice for sectors of your consumer audience by these individuals’ very nature, as opposed to making a decision based only on data suggested by the overall trends.
In summary, the SnapChat wave is unlikely to sink the Facebook juggernaut for now. Worst case, any major shift in the social media landscape would be happening over a course of 3-5 years. But as always, marketers should be making the effort to stay alert and aware.
Forbes – Cheryl Connor, Contributor