Greg Consiglio, COO of social media network as a service Connectt, on Google+’s recent shutdown and how other social networks such as Facebook can avoid the same fate.
After warning investors to expect slower revenue growth, Facebook announced a quarterly revenue of $13.73bn last week. The results, albeit an increase on Q2 performance, were below the estimated value of $13.78bn. With the loss of one million European users in the past three months, it’s an inescapable fact that the platform’s growth is slowing down, and users are increasingly becoming alienated.
The roots of Facebook's problems
Following a summer of data protection concerns, GDPR and a botched apology campaign for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the loss in earnings and users is no surprise. In fact, a survey earlier this year found that 81% of Facebook users have little to no confidence in the platform protecting their data and privacy.
However, while the increased lack of trust does explain Facebook’s fall in users, there is a perhaps a more fundamental reason for the sharp drop in Facebook’s appeal. Even before the data protection concerns, a report from Pew found that nearly a quarter of Americans and half of millennials have deleted the Facebook app from their phones this year.
The root cause of this loss is the rise in tech-savvy consumers, familiar and comfortable with social networking, and who are increasingly apathetic towards the brand. These consumers are alienated by communicating on broad monolithic social networks designed to harvest their data, and instead desire niche community experiences that allow them to connect with other like-minded users in a meaningful way.
Why Facebook can’t adapt to consumer trends
Facebook itself isn’t oblivious to this change. Earlier this year, the platform launched chats up to 250 people on Facebook Groups to create “meaningful groups,” and counteract consumer trends. While the intent of Facebook Group chats was to try and create a community experience – with people planning events or talking about common interests – the platform falls short of creating a genuine experience. Instead, it tries to replicate a community platform within a catch-all approach – failing to note consumers’ desire for a true community experience that unites people with the same interests in an enclosed digital space.
Facebook isn’t the only platform facing these challenges
Facebook isn’t alone in failing to create a genuine digital community experience. Google+ suffered lacklustre growth and eventually was shut down last month. The problem for Google+ was that, like Facebook, it tried to be all things to all people without developing a tailored online experience.
This was compounded by the fact that it was primarily created with Google’s own business needs in mind, with user experience relegated to a secondary objective. When consumers signed in to Google+, they are automatically connected to all other Google products. From a user’s standpoint, that’s not how they want to use social networks. They don’t want everything they are doing populating into their network and shared. Modern consumers desire choice and control. You don’t need to look back too far to see a long line of platforms that had strong momentum with millions of users (MySpace, Bebo…), now gone. The warning here, of course, is that Facebook and others are not invulnerable.
The future of social media is niche – community-based
Rather than going on platform sites like Facebook and Google+, consumers now desire community platforms. Community-based social media platforms offer people something different and refreshing online. Human beings like to group together around interests; be it music, cars or anything in-between. Community-based sites, therefore, connect users with likeminded people and create genuine experiences – as these experiences are connected to interests.
You only have to look at the ever-increasing number of tweaks, updates and new features that Facebook announces monthly to see how the platform is trying to address this increased appetite for a relevant social experience. New features like the 250-person group chat option don’t go far enough to gulf Facebook’s inability to enact effective change due to its sheer size and surface area of user’s news feeds.
It is no longer possible for social media platforms to be all things to all people. Catch-all sites like Facebook provide a basic level of engagement that appealed to users 10 years ago. If it doesn’t want to go the way of Google+, it needs to start taking serious steps to appeal to individual groups with shared interests. Only true community platforms can now provide a meaningful and engaging experience as they bring like-minded people together as social mindset shifts from the ‘me’ to the ‘we’.