What is Facebook doing wrong? Guest columnist Amber Dermoudy interprets the signs.
At the beginning of November, a top Facebook executive, David Ebersam, revealed that engagement with the popular platform was declining among its teenage users, with an overall growth of monthly active users slowing to just 18 per cent.
Steve Tappin, founder of World of CEOs, attributed this decline in youth activity to Facebook’s inability to compete on a global stage with up-and-coming international social messenger apps such as China’s WeChat (formerly known as Weixin), owned and developed by market leader Tencent.
“WeChat users have almost tripled from the 85 million of the year before,” said Tappin in his recent LinkedIn article about the rise of Tencent.
WeChat differs from previous social platforms by combining the open approach mastered by Twitter with the closed social networks of the likes of Facebook, while maintaining innovation and interest through its in-app sticker shops and games as well as its shake-to-connect model of social interaction.
Tappin believes that Tencent is definitely on its way to conquering the current king of social networks. “I’m confident that Tencent will overtake Facebook,” he says.
With WeChat continuing to extend its global reach and almost doubling its international users from May to September it raises the question: what is Facebook doing wrong? Or rather, what is WeChat doing right?
Parmy Olson, technology writer for The Guardian and The Observer, believes that with a pool of active monthly users reaching nearly 1.2 billion, being on Facebook is no longer a choice but rather an “obligatory tool that younger people maintain because everyone else does”.
“The mums, dads, aunts and uncles of the generation who pioneered Facebook [are joining] it too, spamming their walls with inspirational quotes and images of cute animals, and (shock, horror) commenting on their kids’ photos,” Olson wrote. “No surprise, then, that Facebook is no longer a place for uninhibited status updates about pub antics.”
It seems young people are now increasingly moving away from traditional social media models and embracing personal web and photo messaging apps such as WhatsApp (hugely popular in the UK), LINE (Japan), WeChat (China) and Kakaotalk (South Korea).
But the appeal they hold for the youth of today lies in the fact that they are more than just messaging apps and have developed into living, breathing social networks with ingenious ways of building communities and providing revenue. Income pours in from the buying of stickers (with a small fee to download, it is Asia’s answer to emoticons), in-app games that can be played in real time between users and music sharing with agreements between platforms such as Spotify.
“It is worth noting that with so many of these apps getting into games, stickers and now music sharing, it is becoming harder to define them as messaging services,” Olson said.
With a lack of a solid definition being beyond us at this point, it seems the future of these social messengers is still up in the air. “Still, it’s hard to imagine these players consolidating to create a global social network as big as Facebook,” he said.
So can there be a future without the current big power players?
David Berkowitz of the MRY agency, writing for AdAge Digital, believes there might be. After spending a weekend in the company of his 10- and 14-year-old nieces and observing their media consumption and habits, he speculated there may be a time in the future where Facebook and Twitter are completely missing.
While the girls did have an “overwhelming digital life centered on a mobile device”, Berkowitz was surprised at which apps were engaged with most often.
Facebook and Twitter were notably missing, with a strong focus on photo and video editing and uploading technology such as Snapchat, Instagram and Vine.
“Snapchat is more like a passed note or doodle that the friend laughs at and throws out,” Berkowitz wrote. “Not because it’s provocative, but because it’s meant for certain people in a certain moment, and those moments pass.”
Alongside these photography and videography apps, these young girls were fully immersed in mobile games, mostly of the makeover and food variety, which are often developed by major brands.
For these girls and others their age, their online social experience is already being molded into something those of us currently using social media are yet to fully understand.
“Brands are games, media disappear and celebrities star in six-second shorts,” Berkowitz wrote. “It’s amazing how much can change so quickly.”
Amber Dermoudy is a Sydney-based marketing professional with over seven years’ experience in interactive media and now specialising in social media and digital marketing.