Keep your bet on Facebook’s dominance … for now

 Facebook is the big gorilla

A common question I get asked in classes is if teens are abandoning Facebook. This is usually a function of the “sample of one problem” — “Well my kids are using Facebook much less, so it must be a dying platform.”

Or it might come from scanning headlines about Facebook’s slowing penentration among America’s youth. But sometimes people don’t stop to think … 94% of American teenagers already have a Facebook account. Where exactly is it going to grow?

And the truth is, Facebook teens are not just “registered,” they are active. 2012 Social Habit research showed that 97% of those with an account visit the site at least a couple times a week.

But without question, teen use of Facebook is evolving and while Facebook is a social media crack habit hard to break, teens are experimenting with other platforms. Focus groups at Pew Research indicated that teens are broadening their perspective for the following reasons:

  • The increasing adult presence
  • The high stakes of managing self-presentation on the site
  • The burden of negative social interactions (“drama”)
  • Feeling overwhelmed by friends who share too much.

The two new hot areas for teens: Instagram and Twitter. Teen Twitter accounts have more than doubled in a year to 26 percent according to Pew and 11 percent are on Instagram, making it the third-biggest teen network.

So the fact is that although time on social media might be changing and spreading out, no reputable research has indicated that there has been a mass exodus from Facebook. 81 percent of teen social media users still say Facebook is the platform they use most often, dwarfing any other site.

Why demise is not inevitable

A lot of people believe Facebook’s demise is imminent because, well … it just is. After all, we used to have AOL right? And then My Space lost its grip on the social networking title to the upstart Facebook. Change is inevitable, right?

I’m not foolish enough to suggest that Facebook will be the leading platform forever, but there is evidence that there is another dynamic here — in fact four economic and sociological dynamics — which suggest that Facebook is a good long-term bet:

1) In most areas of our life, we like brand choice — breakfast cereal, cars, radio stations. But we only have the intellectual bandwidth to commit to one social platform. We don’t need two Twitters of LinkedIns. And we don’t really need two social networks.

2) For an entire generation, Facebook IS the Internet. They have been conditioned to go to Facebook for their connection, entertainment, and psychological rewards. For many people, Facebook delivers an addictive emotional boost.

3) The emotional switching costs are enormous, Facebook is where you have your friends, your media, your games, your family, your history. What would it take to give up on all of that and switch to another network? I wrote last year that it is easier to switch houses that switch social networks. The psychological connection to Facebook is complex.

4) As Facebook grows in power and technological sophistication, it will be a nearly impossible challenge for a competing network to catch up. They have the financial, technological, and human resources to crush anything in their way. If you are racing Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt in a 100-yard dash, you are not going to win.

usain bolt… Unless of course Bolt is not focused on the race.

Or he doesn’t even know you’re there until it’s too late.

Or he is too busy posing for the crowd to know that a new race has begun.

Stay tuned.

Top image courtesy Flickr CC and Richard Ashurst.

Bottom image courtesy Flickr CC and SmokeGhost

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  • Me thinks so, too:
    After all HOW MANY new platforms can a user adapt?
    Or is there a need for newer Platforms?
    People might experiment with more exciting the end what happens to the huge Network of Friends and Groups?
    Migration becomes a tough ask besides of course the Psychological compulsion.

  • I will run across an occasional friend or “expert” who will tell me Facebook is done, everyone will be switching to whatever the “next big thing” is-with the inevitable comparisons to MySpace 1.0. Big difference is that Facebook has it’s tentacles so deeply into everyone’s social space it’s going to take a lot to dislodge it. Someone can cancel their account but those new baby pictures or the class reunion event are on Facebook, so you have to go back. You may still be tagged in photos. For the moment, even for those who wish it, “there is no escape!”

  • it totally depends on how well FB morphs to take advantage of new trends and technologies. So far, it’s doing pretty well. Companies who re-invent themselves over time to capitalize on market opportunities survive, those who don’t die.

  • I use Facebook for my business, but my emotional connection is there for sure. I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends and keep in touch with family in a way that is much easier and less time consuming than pre-FB. So yeah, I might check out other venues for my business, but personally…

  • Exactly. Well said Vijay.

  • Good examples Brad. I think people underestimate how powerful this presences is in our lives!

  • Great point Steve. I think Zuckerberg is intensely focused and competitive. Honestly, as long as he is at the helm, I think competitors are doomed.

  • Thank you, @businessesgrow:disqus: am an avid reader of your Blog.

  • It has become the de facto family communication tool for much of the world, hasn’t it?

  • Great posting – thanks. You make good points. At the same time, we’ve seen many times that it gets ever harder to stay on top the bigger you become. Big size makes sluggish, and in this day and age of agility, that is a serious disadvantage. Will Facebook be able to keep changing to adapt to customer desire? I know Microsoft has tried – ferociously so. They truelly believed the world was waiting for Vista. They failed and are still bearing the consequences. They basically thought their job was to deliver ever more: ever more features, ever more Windows. And along came Jobs who delivered less: less features on the iPad, but crucially: a brand new approach. Basically, what you’re asking these giants is to dare to be not themselves. That’s a hard thing to do if you carry thousands of employees and stakeholders and humongous budgets on your back. Even Apple is struggling with that now: how to come up with the next big thing that’s not ‘just another iPhone or iPad’? Can Facebook eventually be ‘not Facebook’? I’m sure that question will pop up sooner or later. But I do agree that it may very well be later then some of us may think. Or hope.

  • I appreciate that!!

  • First of all, Volkert it is great to see you back in the comment section. Thanks for coming by.

    You make some absolutely brilliant points here. Your Microsoft example is spot-on. All the resources and money in the world do not guarantee competitive advantage. That’s what makes the free market great. Well done.

  • Thanks Mark. Can’t wait to see what 2023 looks like.

  • You make great points, it reminds me of what is going on with the new generation console battle. Microsoft and Sony are trying to create the next big thing, and Microsoft has been shooting themselves in the foot over and over, granted they are doing better, but I can see how hard it must be to please everyone. They have a tough job.

  • Well Facebook is King still, but His fellows Knights with their own Fiefs are starting to gain and concur more of their own land. Now they want some of the King’s land. For now the King has built a good enough defense to protect themselves, but if they don’t stay on top of it, one of His own Knights is going to sneak in through the back gate and assassinate the King himself and take the throne.

  • Adapt or Die! Do people in the Marketing industry sound like this guy? I think some do.

  • John Broadbent

    I think as long as Facebook plays apart in SEO and how we run our marketing plans it will still be King for some time. Looking at this study it shows that Facebook still helps you out a lot with Google Rankings. For more info on it here a link for you to check it out. Thanks for the read Mark.

  • Thank you! But that’s the point isn’t it? Being great is not about pleasing everyone – it’s just that the larger you grow, the more people demand to be pleased. You have to be a whole lot of a man or woman to withstand that pressure and do something totally new and unexpected. You’ll be crucified at first; they’ll cut your funding; your stocks wil pummet (that’s also free market for you); you’ll be like a social drop of soap in a dirty sink after a copious meal. It’s much, much easier to start from scratch, which is why that is usually where the revolution starts.

    Fun thing you mention consoles though: in my eyes Nintendo managed to pull of an amazing trick by launching the Wii against the Playstation and Xbox – talk about gamechangers! However, like Apple when they begged for Jobs’ return, I think we have the demise of their GameCube to thank for that. Desperation can be a good thing sometimes. The moment they got back in the saddle, they reverted back to the comfortzone though. Now we have the WiiU, which is just more Wii. Funny how that works. Might also explain why Microsoft has a habit of launching alternating failures and successes in OS’s. What goes up, must come down.

  • So True, I think companies need to either find what works for them or find the niche group. Nintendo is losing hard core when it comes to consoles, but they are taking names when it comes to handhelds. Their 3DS and games for it are still selling really well and all Nintendo’s highest rated games right now are on the 3DS, I think they should just focus on what they are good at and drop out of the console race all together. They would make more money if they made their games cross platform and then had exclusive handheld games. So in the end, I agree with you about maybe starting from scratch and then focus on what you are good at.

  • Great article, Mark. I appreciate how you consistently challenge the conjecture on hot topics like Facebook’s future and point to the research instead. For me, what’s interesting about that Pew Research study is that the factors driving teens to experiment with other platforms don’t involve complaints about features, interfaces or ads but how other people — family, friends, etc. — are using it. The Psychology of Facebook. Do you teach from that perspective at all in your classes?

  • You’re not a Game of Thrones fan by any chance are you? : )

  • Yes, I get into that somewhat the psychology of social media in general. Thanks for commenting Sarah!

  • I might lose some Geek Cred saying it, but I have yet to watch or read it.

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