When I first got Facebook, seven years ago, I literally thought it was the coolest thing to have. If you had a Facebook account, you kind of fit in better, because all the people we wanted to keep in touch with had one. Back in the days, it was cool to expose details about yourself: what movies you like, what you are doing right now, and who you’re in a relationship with.
What about now? Our newsfeed has become a lot more boring, and we often open Facebook not because we want to see our friends’ posts, but simply because we have nothing better to do. At some point, updating your Facebook profile (like adding hundreds of photos from a recent vacation and or status updates about a new job) amounted to bragging —that is, force-feeding our Facebook friends information they didn’t ask for. What was once cool was now uncool.
If Facebook users leave, or even check in less frequently, its revenue growth would suffer: in fact, the company depends on targeted advertising for most of the money it makes.
Other social media apps have to deal with this trend, too. A recent research by market intelligence firm SimilarWeb found that the average time spent on the four leading social networking apps, namely Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, has dropped significantly during the last year.
The trend is the same across all the countries examined ( USA, UK, Spain, Australia, India, Brazil, Germany, France and South Africa) and it considers data from Android apps.
Concerning Facebook, the time spent on the app has sensibly decreased in every country, except a slight increase in Spain. People got used to the contents posted, and realized that the lives of those around us, after all, are not as exciting (despite all our efforts to share only the coolest parts of our daily lives). Maybe it has just become too messy: how many posts in our newsfeed are updates from the people we really care about?
The SimilarWeb research also highlighted an overall 9% drop on installs of the four main social networking apps by Android users since last year. However, Facebook was not as affected as, for example, Twitter or Snapchat. In fact, despite users spend less time on Facebook, everyone we know is there: worldwide, there are over 1.65 billion active users, and the number of profiles is steadily increasing.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Zuckerberg’s site is still a one-stop shopping for all our social networking needs. Simply, it’s not as cool as it used to be, especially among the youngest users. Teenagers do not feel like they can be themselves on Facebook, not only because their relatives are there, but also because everyone’s family is there. In fact, researchers observed notable increases in Facebook usage for demographics above 35 years of age.
It remains true that teenagers are fickle and what is “in” one day might be “out” the next; anyway, they are often an accurate barometer for what is cool and what is next, and recent statistics seem to indicate teens are moving on.
But where do young people spend their time online? Data analysts see a trend toward privacy, individual communication and smaller communities. Smaller and more niche social media apps, such as Periscope for livestreaming video, Tumblr for content sharing and Telegram for encrypted messaging are competing for users’ attention.
There has also been a huge surge in popularity of messaging apps like WhatsApp, which have begun to replace public social networks. Together, the five biggest messaging apps – Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, WeChat and Line – account for more than 3 billion accounts globally, with WhatsApp alone accounting for more than 1 billion users.
Facebook is starting to be used as an address book, in the same way that people use the email or the telephone, because nearly everyone we know is there. Thus, the company has been particularly agile about following how people are using the platform and trying to anticipate what will keep people using it. Therefore, Facebook shaped its messaging service into a functional and useful cross-platform communication service, which most teens use, and even added free calling to its Messenger app.
Mark Zuckerberg’s baby is still a long way off from the precipitous decline of Myspace, but the data gathered from teens show Facebook needs to be nimbler than ever to stay relevant to the next generation.