Last week Inside Facebookconfirmed what we all know: that there are some users who’re just not that into Facebook. It is tempting to read this statistic as the ‘Facebook saturation point’ or the impending demise of social networking, however Facebook losing a fraction of their users is not the real story. The real story is how the average Facebook user is expanding their social portfolio while anchoring their core communications to Facebook through both Open Graph and synchronising their communications with Facebook mobile apps. Social networking is not dying, or even napping. For Facebook, it is just the end of the beginning.
There’s been a lot of discussion over the type of user leaving and Facebook’s geographic growth making up for it, but we believe the real story in the user statistics is in the broader and deeper engagement of the average Facebook user, both within Facebook and outside of Facebook. It is in the incredible evolution of the typical Facebook user experience, from broadcaster to central communications hub. We all know email or telephone used to be the primary means by which we information transmitted between connections, whereas now we’re increasingly using social networks and instant messaging services.
Just as women championed personal email use ten year ago, it is women’s use of Facebook that we might look to now to indicate the long term prospects of the platform. In 2000, women were 10% more likely than men to believe that communicating with friends and family over email enhanced their lives. Today, women typically spend more time using Facebook and are more likely than men to say their relationships are better because of Facebook. If the early female championing of email is anything to go by, their devotion can only mean good things for the future of Facebook.
Alongside the shift in typical Facebook use from broadcast channel to personal communications hub, we know there’s an ongoing explosion in the number and type of social networking platforms. Like television, which first expanded from three to five channels over a period of nearly thirty years before exploding to hundreds of channels offering every kind of content imaginable, the social networking landscape has shifted from a few competing generalist social networks to a plethora of different kinds of social networks catering to a variety of interests. And versus TV, it’s all happening at warp speed. Twenty years ago, accessible satellite television filled a need not only for specialist content we knew we wanted such as music videos, premiership football and cartoons, but also desires we probably did not know we had, such as an entire channels devoted to crime drama and the option of watching the world curling championships at 2 am. Similarly, the most interesting of the new social networks, such as Tumblr, Instagram and Foursquare, are the ones that develop user communities around specialist interests and activities, but also easily connect their users back to their core social support network, i.e. Facebook, Twitter.
It is both the expansion of the social network landscape and the deepening user experience that best illustrate the future potential of Facebook. To get the real story in the statistics, look not at the fraction who leave, but at the behaviour of those who stay.