Facebook bombshell: It has stopped growing.

facebook bombshell

By Mark Schaefer

Have you had a feeling that Facebook is reversing course? My friends at Edison Research and Triton have released new a new study indicating … that might be true.

We see in the graph above that for the first time Facebook has stopped growing … by a lot.

This is a “tease” for a larger study coming out from Edison called The Infinite Dial (you can sign up for an upcoming webinar on the research here).

At this point, Edison isn’t revealing too much more about the report other than:

  • Facebook usage in 2018 has declined across all demographic groups.
  • They did not see this same decline in other social media platforms. In fact there was growth on other platforms.

I am a data-driven marketer (and I hope you are, too!) and this research is significant for two reasons.

First, Facebook has stopped growing for the first time … by a lot.

And second, this is no blogger reader survey or Buzzfeed listicle. This information is coming from one of the most respected sources in research, a company that has been responsible for US election exit polling and other prestigious assignments.

A total of 2,000 persons were interviewed to explore Americans’ use of digital platforms and new media. From 1/4/18 to 2/11/18, telephone interviews were conducted with respondents age 12 and older who were selected via Random Digit Dial sampling for both cell phones and landlines.

In short, you can take this data to the bank.

This is the latest cloud in what seems to be a storm of bad news for Facebook:

1. Advertisers are in an uproar.

Big brands have had enough of their ads showing up beside seedy content. “We need to redefine what is responsible business in the digital age because for all of the good the tech companies are doing, there’s some unintended consequences that now need addressing,” said Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever, last week.

Weed said tech companies were to blame for creating a “swamp” in which fake news and criminal content were being circulated and threatened to pull ads off Facebook, Google, and other social media sites.

This latest data indicating lower usage won’t make advertisers too happy, either.

2. Countries are on the attack

Late last year, the European Commission warned the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter that it was considering legislation if self-regulation continued to fail. And at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May urged investors to put pressure on tech companies to respond more quickly to extremist content on social networks.

Germany is suing Facebook over hate speech and issued strict new guidelines and deadlines the company has failed to meet.

3. Even their friends are upset

Fellow Silicon Valley phenom Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also skewered Facebook at the recent World Economic Forum in  Davos:

“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry. Here’s a product: Cigarettes. They’re addictive, they’re not good for you,” Benioff said according to CNBC. “I think that for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive and we need to reign that back.”

Benioff said there’s confusion about whether social media use is bad for people and it’s the government’s job to step in and provide clarity for parents. There’s a smoking age for cigarettes and regulations around how they can be promoted, but no such rules exist for social media.

Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU says: “A legal hammer is going to come crashing down on the social media platforms. This is serious. Either it’s this government, or the European government, but this is going to get real.”

What’s next after the Facebook bombshell?

Mark Zuckerberg famously pledged this is the year he is going to “fix Facebook.” But it’s not going to happen. Why?

As I’ve written in this space, Facebook’s biggest problem is Facebook. They can’t truly address the ethical, legal, and governmental issues unless they dramatically end their dependence on earning their living off of our personal information. Just ain’t gonna happen. I agree with Galloway. Regulation is inevitable.

Look, there is a ton of bad news about Facebook right now … and this post is just scratching the surface.

But this is not the end of Facebook. Remember, “Facebook” is just one part of a company that includes Instagram (800 million users), WhatsApp (1 billion users), and Messenger (1 billion users) to name a few significant brands just beginning to be monetized.

Facebook has the capital, technology, and resources to overcome just about anything in its way.

The decline indicated in this research report is a probably a reflection of shifting user groups. Younger people are using social media site less frequently as a communication tool and opting for private networks like Snapchat and WhatsApp. They are tired of being judged, ridiculed, and bullied and taking conversations behind a firewall with their closest friends. Good for them.

I think what we have to remember, Mark Zuckerberg created the largest media channel in the history of the world. From scratch. In less than 15 years.

There has never been anything like Facebook before. Every twist and turn and blip and bleep is something that is unprecedented.

A Facebook wishlist

Still, the Edison/Triton report is significant and the time for excuses is over. There will have to be dramatic change to right the ship. In my mind, here is his to-do list:

  1. Address the concerns about the platform spawning addictive behaviors (I think his “Facebook Zero” announcement was aimed at that, in part). This is an extraordinarily complex issue because addictiveness sells stuff.
  2. Fix the ad swamp so the big brands get excited about Facebook again.
  3. Assemble government advisors to get their input on measures to control hate speech, bot accounts, and other threats to democracy.
  4. Fix the Facebook hacker culture that is creating too much chaos. Most companies think things through and try to anticipate the consequences before launching new products. Facebook is successful, in part, because it was so new it could fly under the radar. The company’s Wild West culture does not fit the expectations of its stakeholders right now.

That list should keep them busy for a decade or so!

BONUS PREDICTION: Mark Zuckerberg will eventually take Facebook private in order to save the company. “Connecting the world” in an ethical way and “pleasing Wall Street” with quarterly profit records are probably incompatible goals. Zuckerberg needs to relieve the insane financial pressures in order to right the ship and build the company the right way. We’ll see …

What are your thoughts on the implications of this research?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.


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