What will replace Facebook? Six considerations

what will replace facebook

A question I often receive in my classes and talks is “What will replace Facebook?”

It’s a natural question. We look to history to see the progression of upstarts replacing established companies — didn’t Facebook replace MySpace? — and of course assume there is a new idea out there somewhere waiting to unseat Facebook as the leading social network.

But that is not necessarily the case. What will replace Facebook? Here are six factors that will determine that question … and the company’s future.

1. The cool factor

Facebook’s biggest vulnerability is that it would fall out of favor with its core audience. If it ever becomes “uncool,” its marketshare will slip away quickly. This is one reason why Google+ struggled to be mainstream. It was Tom Hanks when it needs to be JayZ.

So what is hot today? Instagram. WhatsApp. Guess who owns these? Facebook. To remain relevant, Facebook will certainly build a war chest to continue to buy platforms that are siphoning off customers and ad dollars. A smart strategy.

I think it is possible to remain relevant generation to generation. Look at Coca-Cola. Without changing the product, it has remained vital across the generations for 120 years! Can Facebook stay cool? That needs to be their number one priority.

2. The switching costs

It is far easier to change houses than to change social networks. Facebook has become a convenient hub for photos, videos, games, family, and friends. It is literally a timeline of our lives. It would be hard to give that up.

To move to another network, you would have to move all of that or start over. Not easy.

Research shows that even Millennials are diversifying their social media use but not leaving Facebook entirely. The switching cost is a huge advantage for Facebook.

3. The investment

Facebook has spent billions of dollars on software development and the extraordinarily complex processes that make it work. It has billions invested in mega-datacenters.

Facebook works really well on a massive scale. Even if you don’t like HOW it is designed, you have to admit it functionally works. Duplicating that technology and infrastructure would be an immense challenge. They have such a head start … and the gap widens day by day, patent by patent.

4. The psychology of choice

In most other places in our life we enjoy having a choice. We like lots of brands in the grocery store or may shop around town to choose between different car companies.

But when it comes to social networks, we seem to only have the bandwidth for one.  We don’t need another Twitter. The one we have works fine.

We don’t need another LinkedIn. That niche has been filled.

And we don’t need another massive social network.

5. The leadership

Here are characteristics of Mark Zuckerberg that will solidify Facebook’s long-term success:

  1. He knows what he doesn’t know. He is an urgent learner and can see his own weaknesses and vulnerabilities as a leader.
  2. Zuckerberg has surrounded himself with outstanding business leaders, not just friends and sycophants
  3. He has committed to long-term strategies and investments, even when the decisions are not popular with Wall Street
  4. He is obsessed with a vision and has a unique financial arrangement to assure he will be the leader of his company long enough to see it through.

Facebook is a well-run company and it is being built to last.

6. The future

Facebook made an investment in 2014 which I predict will prove to be one of the most impactful technology alliances in history. It bought the immersive augmented reality company Oculus (not Oculus Rift which is the company’s headset).

This is a topic for an entirely different post, but let’s just say that Oculus has patents that can potentially transform the way we connect, become informed, and entertain ourselves … just as Facebook did in the last five years.

Facebook is preparing to re-invent itself in amazing new ways.

Perhaps “what will replace Facebook” is the wrong question. A more interesting question is “How is Facebook replacing itself?”  Perhaps the Era of Facebook just beginning?

What do you think?

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  • Interesting, especially as I am tiring of Facebook. Yes, family will keep me checking in. Yes, some friends can only be reached in Facebook. But…
    It’s getting to be like NBC, CBS etc. They are the defacto choices. Facebook is a big river. I see that streams are becoming more attractive. Is it time to say, Social Media shock yet?

  • Todd Lyden
  • I am so with you, Mark (that’s why I own stock in Facebook). And in regard to the “coolness factor” I read all the time that young people are moving away from Facebook in droves, but in my own world I see that my 25-year old son logs on numerous times a day (in spite of the fact that he swears he doesn’t use Facebook anymore) and my 13-year old niece is sitting on the edge of her seat waiting for her parents to give her the go-ahead to create an account.
    Just sayin’
    B

  • Steve Woodruff

    It’s interesting that you underscore the “cool” factor, and how important that is. Just saw a news article today about how Boston Beer company (Samuel Adams) is struggling with that very issue in the craft beer category (http://www.bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/article/2015/01/05/jim-koch-sam-adams-beer/). So far, Facebook has shown a determination to keep evolving, and a willingness to move into both consolidation directions AND de-coupling strategies. Maybe, as I think you’re implying in the post, we should pay less attention to Facebook as a platform at this point in its development, and focus more on the DNA of the company. Which is still innovative.

  • Mark, what is amazing for older folks like us is how social networks such as Facebook have contributed to remove our privacy. This trend carries on with even more connectivity thanks to IoT | IoE —Internet of Things and Internet of Everything. How will Facebook integrate IoT in its portfolio? Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus is only the beginning of a shopping spree that will diversify its portfolio and offer marketers more colorful ways to promote, ideas, products and services. Facebook has to move rapidly if it does not want to become an inflexible juggernaut as Microsoft used to be. Organization such as IBM putting profit before Customer Service and Customer Experience will suffer in the years ahead. Conclusion: flexibility, adaptability, agility added to CX and CustServ are mandatory for company like Facebook or IBM to flourish. Hierarchical structures and share holder first mentalities are non longer sustainable!

  • As a person, I like that I can find out what’s going on with family and friends, but as a business person? FB has become much less viable for me with the current changes. I get that it’s free and I have no right to expect it to keep working for free, so I’m not railing against it like some. I have some author friends who are trying out Tsu, but I don’t see anyone but my author friends moving there.

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  • I am spending the majority of my (personal) social media time on Instagram. FB really bores me anymore. Many of the contacts I had were not relevant to begin with – my error in adding people who never spoke to me in high school, why would they be interested in me now? Here’s the thing: FB used to be fun and rewarding. Now it’s a huge time suck that doesn’t give you that warm, fuzzy feeling. I definitely have lost my desire to spend any amount of time on FB. I do it because I have to (for my clients), not because I want to. That’s sad really.

  • Thank you Mark!
    I am so tired of people wasting their intelligence predicting the next Facebook killer. Yes, it is fashionable to work through our love – hate relationship with the platform and whine about privacy issues. In the end the only thing counts is what we as users do with it.

  • Gillian Morris-Talbot

    Very interesting article. I wonder though if the FB platform itself will not one day die a death. I offered my 13yo a Facebook account and was told that “no one uses Facebook anymore”. Apparently, young people don’t want to be where their parents are… Her platform of choice is Instagram.

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  • This is a fantastic take Mark. And I think you hit the nail squarely on the head (with Thor’s hammer of course 😉

    I often get asked this same question by students in my classes and people in my workshops. My answer is whether we like it or not, Facebook is going to very, very difficult to supplant. And you point out the core reasons why this is true.

    When it comes to point #4, I think the relative advantage of making a switch from Facebook to another network will be a big reason people never leave. I base my thoughts on the “Diffusion of Innovations” by Everett Rogers. This is a cornerstone I use in one of my classes to help students understand how innovations become mainstream.

    When students understand the concept of relative advantage, they see that the cost of leaving Facebook for a new network is too great since we, as a whole, are so invested in the network.

    Sure G+ has many advantages, but the advantages aren’t great enough to get masses of people to invest their time and effort moving from Facebook and establishing a presence on a new social network. We’re simply too busy and the benefit isn’t big enough for this to happen. It would take a mass exodus for this to happen and with Facebook wisely investing in tools like Instagram and WhatsApp, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    Keep bringing the Thunder!

  • TheCreativePenn

    Thanks Mark, and I have been raving about Oculus & Rift for months now. I am a fiction author and my audience are too – I want to know how I can get my stories into the VR world. We think there’s so much competition right now for reading – in a world of (some) great TV and gaming – but when VR comes of age, will reading disappear? will we read virtually? Regardless of the tech, people will always need education, inspiration and entertainment – as a content creator, I want to be a part of the next wave – whether that is by FB or others.
    Personally, I dislike FB as a social network, preferring twitter – but the company itself is certainly bigger than its social platform now! Exciting times ahead.

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  • Great post. Will be interested to see how Facebook and Oculus elvolve

  • Great post Mark. It will be interesting to see the “new” Facebook. And though we all say we are tired of Facebook, we still use it pretty much daily, because our friends and audience are there! Like you said, even if you move to another network, this does not mean your friends will too.

  • Yes, exactly, It is becoming a broadcast network : )

  • Reliable data from places like Pew shows people are NOT leaving Facebook but they are diversifying into other channels like Instagram and Snapchat. Thanks Betsy!

  • Personally I do not put IBM and Facebook in the same category. IBM has thousands of people working in customer service but have you ever tried connecting to a real person at FB? Non-existent. However, I do agree with your over-arching point Bruno. I think you so much for taking time to comment today!

  • It’s a tough one. This is a hard time to be in marketing. : )

  • The beautiful thing about social media is that we can create our own experiences. We can add people, block people and more or less make ti what we want it to be. Your comment spurred an idea for a blog post. Watch for it — probably next week. See? I am your very own personal blogger Annette!!

  • Well said my friend. Nothing more to add to that great comment!

  • Yeah but FB owns Instagram, remember? : ) Your 13 year old is still streaming data to Facebook!

  • Fantastic comment. Wish I had those ideas in the original post. This take would be a good post of your own Don!

  • You are thinking the right way. What will our content look like in a virtual world? It’s coming fast. Thanks for the thought-provoking commentary.

  • I think it is going to be amazing.

  • Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Corina.

  • Fortuné Alexander

    Hi Mark, thanks for the post. I think the future of social media is more fragmentation. We’ll pick the right network to meet our specific needs. Think about it… we’re using snapchat for disposable fun, LinkedIn for professional networking, twitter for promoting content, blogs for establishing thought leaderships, vine for sharing videos..and so on…..the idea of a one-stop social network is dead…that’s why Facebook is diversifying (instagram, what’sapp, etc….)

  • You keep giving me more reasons to love you! 🙂 Mark I did in fact take my FB account down to a mere 50 individuals thinking that I was making it into the experience I wanted it to be. Turns out I still find it dull and boring as heck OR it’s a huge competition (e.g. who has the cuter kids/grandkids, nicer house, better car, more exciting life…..). My daughters ages range from 17-28 and they all use Instagram more than the other platforms. Well, one loves Twitter as well as Instagram 🙂

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  • I would agree … but with a caveat. People are diversifying based on FUNCTION, not necessarily need. Here’s what I mean. Twitter has a different function than LinkedIn, which has a different function than Instagram and so on. The apps fill a functional need.

    I had some friends who had the idea of creating a social network devoted to people in the LGBT community. Seems to make sense on paper right? Wouldn’t there be a social NEED for that fragmentation?

    What they found out was there already was a social network for LGBT and it’s called Facebook. This platform and its opportunity to segment by interests was already serving the needs of the community and the effort was quietly folded up. Hope that helps.

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  • Steve

    To answer your post question, nothing, nothing will replace Facebook. They understand their audience and are quick to adapt. They are not afraid to experiment. More importantly, they are not afraid to fail. They are also an acquisition company, as we has seen with their many purchases.

    What needs to be taken into account is what people say and do are two different things. They may say “Facebook is not cool anymore” but they they still use it. Like you said in an earlier comment. It’s become a broadcast network. Its not just about family and friends anymore. Its about getting your news and logging into certain apps. It’s literally the hub of ones social life.

    Also, Facebook is making millions on advertising, this would not be the case if people were dropping off the network.

    There will always be new networks people will experiment with. But the vast majority will always return to Facebook.

    As far as young people not using Facebook anymore, who cares. When they hit 18 they will start using.

    Facebook also continues to lead all social media in web traffic referrals and its not even close. Facebook is not going anywhere for a very long time.

    Great article as always.

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  • Ah the old “I’m leaving Facebook” scenario. You know what. Anyone who writes that never actually leaves (not a scientific statement).

    Most hate it but they can’t live without it.

    Facebook are far from perfect or unique but the were the first to get it right and that makes them big! Because they’re so engrained in our society and lives I can’t actually see us ever leaving Facebook. To beat it would be a serious victory for anyone.

  • Agree on that. Thanks for commenting Todd.

  • Thanks for taking the time to add your perspective. Much appreciated.

  • Fortuné Alexander

    Hi Mark,

    Social network fragmentation will become more problematic for Facebook regarding its attractiveness for B2B brand advertisers.

    This topic is not getting adequate media coverage. Case in point: Only about half of the marketers who use Facebook and Twitter say they’re happy with the business value those platforms have delivered. Great Forrester report on this topic here: https://www.forrester.com/Predictions+2015+Social+Media+Grows+Up/fulltext/-/E-RES119621.

    We are now witnessing the rise of specialized networks to address specific industry needs (professional function). Vertical social networks are popping up everywhere to capture entire industries – healthcare, education, architecture & design, science, legal, oil & gas, accounting, technology and many others.

    Trying to reach doctors? Great, there’s a network for you called Doximity. Targeting teachers and school administrators? Awesome, Edmodo is for you. What about the petroleum industry? Welcome OilPro to the party. IT professionals? There’s a company called Spiceworks that has you covered. (Full disclosure: I work for Spiceworks which is an IT industry social network with 6M+ active users) Architecture and design? Houzz has that market cornered. You see where this is going.

    How do these networks differ from “the Big 3″ social networks” you know and love? They tend to include three main components that go deeper than the big 3.

    • Industry-specific software or other tools that help professionals get their jobs done

    • Professionally curated content that goes deeper into industry specific topics

    • A sense of community where professionals know and care for each other, connecting with peers, solving problems, chatting with vendors, etc.

  • Fortuné Alexander

    hmmm, I left Facebook months ago and haven’t looked back. I actually don’t miss it at all. I get my social fix on other networks.

  • 😉 TY sir. And I might have to do a post on this topic as I talk about it each semester.

  • It’s not the social fix that keeps most on there. It’s the fact that everyone else is on there. Peeps love a crowd!

    What networks do you reside in now then?

  • It’s interesting that everyone thinks in a 1-for-1 scenario: As in, “Which network is replacing Facebook?” I wouldn’t think there’d be a single network that comes out that will completely devour Facebook. As you noted, FB repeatedly acquires other networks in an effort to broaden their appeal and remain relevant.

    This isn’t to say that I think Facebook will be around forever–but because technology has developed so much since the oft-cited MySpace days, it gives the company a shot at changing/evolving for years to come.

    Really great article. I enjoyed reading it–these questions are fun to think about as a user of Facebook, and as marketers, a necessity to consider 🙂

  • Fortuné Alexander

    Hi Todd, I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn, Spiceworks and Instagram (FB owned, I know…but it’s not the FB app). I personally got really tired of seeing so much promoted content in FB and less actual sharing from the friends I actually care about.

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  • Ah cool. I love a bit of Instagram. Look me up – SocialMediaTodd

  • Jack Smith

    I’ve left. Though I don’t write about it unless this counts. Was weird because my mom bought me board shorts for christmas and there was a Facebook competition so I said I don’t have Facebook and my mom was like “well I have Facebook”.

  • #bemobilefriendly

    Lots of great comments on an thought provoking piece, all of which is far more interesting than anything I could write. Thx everyone as it helps me get a better understanding of where social is likely to be headed. I was especially thought the suggestion from someone to read the Forester report was funny, as it would only cost $499. ???? Cheers from UK, Rutger

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  • Thanks for commenting.

  • Yeah I saw that too. I am in the wrong business.

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  • Mykel G. Larson

    The snarky answer: “A life.”

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  • ganesh jangid

    I am going to replace facebook
    In start of 2016
    My name is ganesh jangid
    Mark my word in your diary

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