In February 2019, Facebook will celebrate its 15th birthday. By social media standards, it is ancient. But has increased wisdom and status come with age for the behemoth, or is ageism as prevalent for tech companies as it is for those who work within them?
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal was exposed in March 2018, Facebook has been subject to a prolonged and tiresome #DeleteFacebook movement. While the effects weren’t dramatic at the time, Facebook has seen the consequences of various scandals present themselves slowly but surely. A recent Pew survey has revealed that, in the seven months following Cambridge Analytica, 26% of users deleted the Facebook app, with 44% of those users belonging to the already precarious 18-29 demographic.
Facebook has found strength in numbers to win back a youthful crowd
The social network has been waning in popularity amongst younger users for some time, but this isn’t solely down to its data privacy woes. It’s because the curse of time leaves nothing untouched – and Facebook’s age is starting to show. Thankfully, CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw this coming. To combat an early demise, Facebook did what any sovereign would do: it created heirs. In 2011, Facebook launched Messenger, in 2012 we saw the acquisition of Instagram and in 2014, WhatsApp was welcomed into the family.
Facebook’s own growth may have stalled, but Instagram – the new darling amongst youngsters – has almost doubled its audience from 600 million users in 2016 to over 1 billion in 2018, while WhatsApp and Messenger boast well over 1 billion monthly users each. To emphasise the fact that Facebook is not just Facebook, for the company’s Q2 earnings call, Zuckerberg calculated a new metric to better reflect how many people worldwide are part of the Facebook family – crucially allowing them to use Instagram and co. to make up the difference in young blood. The result? 2.5 billion individual people, not accounts, use at least one of the company’s apps each month, proving that Facebook’s combined influence is still thriving.
Its flagship builds and acquisitions have certainly proven to be shrewd. Instagram sold for $1 billion and is now on track to generate up to $9 billion in revenue by the end of 2018, while WhatsApp and Messenger could contribute $19 billion or more annually from in-app content and games purchases, according to recent DCF valuations.
Stalling user growth is just a by-product of Facebook’s success – one which Zuckerberg predicted
Though recent reports on the platform’s growth left investors and shareholders in doubt, until now, Facebook has been hugely successful in embedding Facebook in the culture of developed markets like the US, Canada and Europe. But there are only so many users in the world. Our resident experts believe Facebook’s growth was always going to stall – and it seems its own CEO knew the same to be true. Far from an unpleasant surprise, Mark Zuckerberg proved he had foreseen the flatline when Facebook announced it was turning its attention to developing markets such as Africa and India, as seen in the launch of Facebook Lite – a stripped back version of the core app.
“We’ve reached peak Facebook – everybody’s got a Facebook account, so how do you get more people to sign up? It’s quite difficult when everybody’s already on the platform, which is why they’re putting such a priority on developing markets. Their plan is now to bring free internet to Africa and India, provided Facebook is used as the portal.”
And as the platform migrates to the East and South, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and its many more subordinates will be key in Facebook’s next phase of growth here in the West.
Mark Zuckerberg’s 10-year plan promises investments today, profits tomorrow
Also included in Facebook’s family of apps and services is ad server Atlas, Oculus VR, Audience Network and Spark AR. This impressive roster, along with its recent venture into smart home devices with Portal and Zuckerberg’s personal mission to master cryptocurrency, demonstrate that its future plans for connectivity rest far beyond social media. Facebook is also heavily investing in AI; the company is expected to double the size of the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) division by 2020, according to its chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun. While it is still in the early innings of this strategy, we are already seeing the benefits begin to emerge as AI is placed at the heart of each of Facebook’s platforms.
These investments in emerging technology are what fuel the fire beneath its many networks and are crucial to their success. Yes, Facebook’s child apps may be trendier and award higher social status to users, but a family can’t flourish without the support and guidance of its experienced guardian. You can delete the app from your device, but Facebook will never be far away because it is much, much more than the blue icon on your home screen. It is embedded in visual search, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, advertising and commerce. It is designed to constantly evolve. Like it or not, Facebook remains an inherent part of our lives, today and tomorrow.
The Facebook CEO put it best when he said: “We run this company for the long term, not for the next quarter.” And by planting its roots across almost every single digital sector, he has ensured that Facebook will outlive us all – even himself.
One day, Facebook as we know it will cease to exist – but it will never be obsolete. When the climate changes, it moves to adapt. Right now, these changes mean tightened cybersecurity and increased transparency, but history tells us Facebook is more likely to survive the shift than not. If you’re still searching for proof, just look at how far it’s come already. We’re no longer talking about the same website Mark Zuckerberg and his roommates created in their Harvard dorm in 2004. If we were, we’d say Facebook was already gone.
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