"Facebook’s prominence is eroding as the sources of creativity and goodwill that gave it magic, substance, and cultural relevance are quietly moving on."
This article was published on Linkedin on November 16, 2018 by Gina Bianchini, the founder and CEO of Mighty Networks
"In the past 24 hours, the New York Times reported on a new layer of Facebook’s role in our current climate of toxicity. It’s a layer that’s shocking even to those of us who are long time Facebook watchers and occasional fans.
There’s something different about these latest revelations.
While the chattering class of Silicon Valley will brush this story aside as another PR snafu and talk about Facebook’s powerful and monopolistic network effects–where the value of the network grows with each new user who joins–that analysis alone misses the fundamental shifts happening under our feet.
The same viral loop that catapulted Facebook into every corner of Earth is now slowly turning the other way towards its unwinding.
To be sure, Facebook isn’t going away tomorrow. But in the same way we grudgingly use Microsoft Word with a complete absence of joy, the days of Facebook’s growth and inevitability are behind it.
So, what’s next? Here are three predictions:
There’s no Facebook Killer. There will be no single company or app that will take Facebook on and win. There’s no David to their Goliath. Rather, the company’s missteps are sending people to a range of other services to do what they once did on Facebook.
The three most obvious alternatives people are turning to are:
- Private Messaging Platforms. We’re already seeing people move conversations with their family and close friends to iMessage, Houseparty, Marco Polo, Telegram, Discord, and Signal for their most important relationships or interests.
- Vertical Social Networks and Subscription Content. Watch as time spent on The Athletic, Nextdoor, Houzz, and other verticals goes up in the next year. People want to connect to content that matters to them, and the services that focus on a specific subject area will win their domain.
- Highly Curated, Professionally-Led Podcasts, Email Newsletters, Events, and Membership Communities. The professionalization of creators and influencers will continue unabated. Emboldened by the fact that their followers are now willing to follow them to new places (and increasingly even pay for access), these emerging brands will look to own their engagement and relationships, not rent them from Facebook.
With awesome experiences and low switching costs, time spent will fan out among hundreds, if not thousands of different services, each uniquely useful in their own way.
Growth halts on the edges, not the core. Facebook’s prominence is eroding as the sources of creativity and goodwill that gave it magic, substance, and cultural relevance are quietly moving on. The reality is that Facebook stopped giving creators a return on their time a long time ago.
Facebook’s shifting algorithms and pay-to-play “boosting” schemes over the past few years have primed a generation of influencers, podcasters, bloggers, and Group admins to look for the exit. When you’ve worked for a decade to build a following, and now only 1% of that following sees what you produce, you’re ready for an alternative.
Creators and Group admins used to be scared their users would riot if they took their page or group elsewhere. What a difference a year makes. Yesterday I spoke to a podcaster whose large following explicitly asked him to find a Facebook alternative. This isn’t to say that people are deleting Facebook. It’s more nuanced than that. It’s a way for people to have fewer reasons to be there. If they’re part of something special and authentic, many don’t want it to be tarnished by what’s happening across the rest of the social network.
Big brands will be the last to leave. Unlike creators and Group admins, big brands will stick with Facebook for as long as possible. Despite CPMs jumping 171% in one year, big brands have institutionalized Facebook ad buying and posting not only with budgets but with dedicated teams. They’re too invested to acknowledge the writing on the wall, despite objectively diminishing returns.
While we talk about 1.4 billion daily users and 2.3 billion monthly ones, the reality of Facebook’s revenue story is that the U.S., Canada, and Europe generated 72% of Facebook’s ad revenue in its latest quarter. Yet, the service lost four million users in Europe in the last six months and growth has plateaued in the United States. The last decade for Facebook saw it fully seize its advertising revenue glory. The next decade will be different. Its CPMs will continue to rise while its usage grows modestly or stays flat. This is partially a reflection of the law of large numbers, as well as the pricing power that comes from being one of the two main sources of new customers on the Internet today.
But as the newspaper industry learned, this doesn’t last forever. Eventually, user stagnation catches up with you.
Niche brands will be the first to own their engagement. They’ll continue to use Facebook for acquisition until they are big enough to drive direct connections. On the other hand, the big brand holdouts choosing Facebook for growth and engagement over direct-to-consumer relationships (read: relationships where you have an email address or cell phone number) are going to be in a very precarious position.
When they finally lift their heads and look at the post-Facebook landscape, they’ll find consumers spread out across millions of different spaces based on who their friends are, who they follow, and what they care about. Brands who take a holistic approach to building direct connections not just with their customers, but with their entire market, will dominate.
Where does this leave us now?
The decision to #deletefacebook today, or in the future, is a personal one. However in the same slow, but potent way that Facebook shifted from being the place that connected us to the people and things we cared about to a haven for bad actors, bad news, and superficiality, Facebook will gradually become less relevant to each of us in our daily lives.
As more people become conscious of how we spend our time online, we will choose differently. We will seek to feel good about what we’re contributing and what we’re getting out of our time invested. There will emerge new safe, positive places governed not by algorithms and monolithic companies, but curated by real people who have a passion for inspiring and uplifting other human beings.
This won’t be because it’s technologically inevitable, but because people demand something different. I would argue they already are."
Gina Bianchini is the founder and CEO of Mighty Networks, a software-as-a-service company for brands and businesses that bring people together via classes, events, content, and community, all in one place. Before Mighty Networks, she founded Ning, a pioneering social platform for creating your own social networks, in 2004.