In a recent conversation with my teenage niece, I boasted that I had over 1,000 friends on Facebook. She looked at me like I’d just told her I’d punched Harry Styles in the face. It seems that for today’s young people, staying connected with everyone you’ve ever met is just not that impressive.
The future of Facebook as the central social network in consumers’ lives will be dictated not only by who is on it now, but also who will adopt it in the future. Facebook use has been a habit for the over-25s for the past 10 years, it’s almost beyond a choice, more of a reflex.>
But for the people who haven’t grown up with the platform, like my niece, the world of social media is much broader - and will remain so as they get older. How Facebook looks in the future will be very much influenced by whether it appeals to this audience.
My niece and I communicate on WeChat and Snapchat where she moans about having to go to school. She is clearly very emotional about being a young teenager using social media platforms. She uses a number of different social media networks, each with a different purpose.
She’s smart about what she shares, and with who she shares it. There are whispers in the playground amongst her peers about which use social networks they use, and what they use them for. Facebook is known as the network where you share everything. And everything isn’t always a good thing in her eyes.
When social media first emerged, it was all about having a broadcast mentality: over-posting, syncing accounts and shouting about our lunch choices to our nearest and dearest. But the future of social media will be more considered. It has to be.
We only need to look at the amount of content being produced at the moment to know that the current way the Facebook newsfeed operates has a shelf life. The average time spent consuming digital media in a day went up to 5.6 hours last year. But there are never going to be more hours in the day, and the amount of content being produced is still exploding.
With hundreds of friends and a growing pot of brands vying for eyeballs on the average Facebook newsfeed, the competition is fierce. For brands, this means that great content and paid media investment are both essential. And for Facebook, this means making money, but keeping that balance between friends and brands for consumers, so as not to turn them off.
So, where does this leave the future of Facebook? In order for Facebook to be to go-to social network for the next 1bn people on the internet they will have to work to appeal to young people the world over. This will be the mobile-only generation with a natural inclination to do things differently than the older generation. Facebook has already made good progress in driving revenue from mobile, and it will remain a key area of focus.
Facebook may decide to invest in a more enhanced private experience as well as a public one. The likes of WhatsApp and WeChat are growing in popularity, challenging Facebook’s messaging app. Facebook needs to be more creative with its messaging offering, and provide something different - and better - than the competition.
Facebook advertising will evolve. We can certainly expect more targeting features - such as reaching users on their anniversaries, at specific times of day, when it's hot and sunny outside. Its biggest strength as an advertising platform is its incomparable wealth of user data - as long as engaged users are there to mine this data from, of course.
And Facebook will be just one of many, many brands in the Zuckerberg powerhouse. As with the acquisition of Instagram, the team have showed that if you can’t beat it, you can buy it. They are in a strong position now as a global leader, and with an increasing pot of cash, comes the power to absorb, or stamp out, the competition.
But there’s a bigger picture than the nitty gritty details of what’s coming next for the platform. Ten years down the line, Facebook will not be defined by the people who are on it now, but the people who are on it then.
Teens like my niece want to be loved, respected and most importantly, be independent, and the communication platform that allows them to do this with the greatest ease, will win their support. Facebook needs to adapt and evolve, else there’s a whole world of creative minds and clever businesses not yet even conceived that will be dying to chip away at its dominance.
The author is marketing director, We Are Social (UK)
The article first appeared on www.marketingmagazine.co.uk