For years, Facebook has been the golden child of social media. It’s outlived obsolete competitors like MySpace, it’s held a wider audience and greater utility than contemporaries like Twitter, and it’s even circulating enough advertising to make it a truly profitable company.
By all accounts, it’s one of the biggest powerhouses in tech, rivaling Google and Apple in terms of brand visibility, functional scope, and even earning potential.
But as we’ve learned from the digital world, not every great tech breakthrough lasts forever — in fact, most are merely fads, destined to die within years. Brands like MySpace and Yahoo, which are still around but are shadows of their former selves, are evidence of this.
Facebook’s popularity among teens and young adults is dropping consistently, year after year, yet they’re constantly trying to introduce new functionality and unearth new streams of revenue.
And, if it can outpace its falling popularity, how long will it be able to last?
The Popularity Problem
Obviously, as long as Facebook continues to have a dedicated user base, it will continue to remain relevant as a social media platform. Despite dropping popularity numbers among teens, it still has a dominant retention rate for users already signed up for the application. Still, if the next few generations consistently avoid Facebook in favor of newer, more innovative apps, it won’t be long before Facebook finds itself outdone.
There are three main reasons Facebook is falling out of style.
Trust and Safety
The ways people are interacting with each other online are evolving. Facebook was created in an era when Internet access relied on a desktop or laptop computer, and the majority of shared experiences online were in text or link format. Today, everyone has at a tiny computer in their pocket –a smartphone—and can access a camera or video recorder at any time. People want to share their worlds visually, immediately, and easily—and while Facebook doesn’t lack these capabilities, there are other platforms that do this better.
An Old-World Image
You know teenagers. If their parents are doing something, it must be uncool. Today, most teenagers’ parents are using Facebook regularly, meaning teenagers are distancing themselves from the platform accordingly. Believe it or not, Facebook is starting to earn itself an image of being an “old world” technology, doomed to the kind of obsolescence that MySpace once faced in the breadth of new competition.
Facebook’s New Changes
Facebook isn’t taking this drop in popularity lying down. They’re listening to their users and are striving to make meaningful changes to the business and to the platform. In time, these changes could help sustain Facebook as a long-term player like Google or Apple, but they could also be the last-ditch efforts of a company doomed to irrelevance.
Soon, Facebook will support videos shot with 360-degree cameras, including support for Oculus VR headsets. This is a major step forward for the app and could revolutionize the ways that people share experiences on the platform. It certainly meets the needs of younger audiences who need more visual, immediate ways of sharing information and experiences, but it’s still uncertain whether it will be as functional or as useful as some other competing apps.
App and Customer Service Integration
Facebook is also looking to integrate functionality from other messaging apps, as well as customer service platforms of major brands. For example, it would theoretically allow a user to send a message through any other message-based app through a Facebook interface, essentially streamlining the multi-app communication process into one location. On the other side of things, it’s hoping to introduce new messaging elements so that companies can communicate directly to Facebook users about inquiries, orders, and other routine communications.
These new modes of communication are interesting, but it’s hard to say whether they will be enough to keep Facebook relevant in the wake of new social apps.
Greater Advertising Potential
Of course, Facebook is constantly improving the way it sells and offers advertising to companies. Part of this is improved functionality, but the bigger part is more accessible data. While this might be appealing to advertisers and marketers, it won’t mean anything if the user base drops so low that the reach of Facebook advertising is crippled.
There are forces on both sides of Facebook’s fate, pulling it toward longevity and irrelevance simultaneously. The company is taking itself very seriously as a business, and is striving to make meaningful improvements to its application, but it may be too little, too late for a new generation that’s looking for more private, more visual, and newer technologies.
Facebook isn’t going anywhere in the next five years or so, but if this latest round of updates fails to impress younger generations, it might never recover from the blow. In order to stay relevant in 2020 and beyond, Facebook will have to continuously reimagine and reinvent itself to please younger and older audiences alike. Without that commitment to evolution—and success in executing it—Facebook will ultimately fall to the same fate as MySpace and the countless other failed social platforms before it.