Facebook isn’t cool any more and users are leaving in droves. Ad revenue is down and shares are plummeting just at the point when Marky Mark Zuckerberg needs every penny he can scrape together to build “the metaverse”; a virtual world in which people can work, play, and live out a fantasy existence where Facebook remains implausibly relevant for anyone under 25.
Incredibly it wasn’t helping Donald Trump rise to power, being one of the significant factors in the success of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, Cambridge Analytica, or being home to all your favourite anti-vax swivel headed loons that blew a hole in Facebook. It was short form video and the rise of the teenage dance craze of TikTok.
Yes, not since line dancing, Lindy Hop or the Mashed Potato has copying dance moves been the cornerstone of such a mass movement. Facebook tried to catch up, launching its TikTok clone “Reels” on Instagram, but it’s never captured the zeitgeist like TikTok has.
The architects of “surveillance capitalism” at Facebook made two fatal missteps. They didn’t realise people like to be watched even more than Facebook liked to watch them and it worked too hard to keep what it had instead of thinking about where it needed to go to stay relevant. As Facebook battled governments, technology companies, and their own users over privacy concerns, TikTok captured a user base who were quite happy to dance around in their pants online… just as long as Grandma wasn’t watching.
Let’s eat, Grandma!
We’ve reached a stage where Facebook has perhaps simply existed too long.
When I joined Facebook is was in my 20s. Now I’m in my 40s and I’ve got kids. I don’t think Facebook is cool. My kids definitely don’t. And they sure as hell don’t want to be on the same social network as their old man.
No new users + Users leaving the platform + New Privacy rules = Trouble for Facebook.
This is, perhaps, the fate of all social media networks.
When I grow up, I want to be an influencer
Back when I joined Facebook, there was also no such thing as an “influencer”.
Celebrities endorsed products, not people who were only famous for already (somehow) being famous. Today being “Instafamous” has replaced real famous and if you’ve got an audience online it’s incredibly easy to monetise it.
Building an audience on a new network is much easier than on an established one. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all crowded spaces. TikTok, however briefly, was virgin territory and a great opportunity for influencers to build their audience. We are into our second generation of online influencers now, savvy Internet natives who have grown up watching the generation before and who understand the game.
So, what happens next?
Facebook isn’t going to die tomorrow. A long lingering death beckons, a thousand cuts delivered by an army of regulators, competitors, and disengaged users.
Could someone buy it? Maybe, but you’re looking for a buyer with a huge amount of money and the appetite to take on a tarnished brand. After MySpace and Tumblr, I’d expect most businesses to be a little shy about the prospect of buying an ailing, but expensive, social network.
As much as I hate to say it, the metaverse might be Facebook’s only viable play. There are no formats left to move to – text, audio, video are all sewn up and easy to replicate. The metaverse is a new format, a new space that Facebook could control in a way it hasn’t been able to control the real world (no matter how much it has tried).