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Facebook’s tenth birthday is worth celebrating – but will things look quite so rosy in another ten years’ time?

As we approach February 2014 we can look forward to a big birthday party at Facebook as they celebrate their tenth birthday.

facebook-10th-birthday-with-100-stats-and-factsWhat an amazing journey since February 2004, going from zero to one billion users around the world. Social media has become the preoccupation of advertisers, media agencies and all forms of creative agency. There can be little doubt social media platforms will continue to launch and thrive but the challenge for us all is where will it all go to over time – given there isn’t any real history to base predictions on.

The hurdles ahead of all social media platforms are likely to revolve around censorship and some form of regulation, otherwise the possibility of any one platform being banned is quite real.

Within the UK for example the traditional media channels are all regulated in some way, including advertising. As we have seen over the years any form of libel/slander can end up in the courts. This isn’t the case with the new kids on the block, as seen in recent weeks with Twitter.

It seems to me all social media platforms have two major challenges ahead of them.

First is the danger of user-fatigue and a loss of interest. I get the origins of Facebook and the age group it was designed for but is it the same for the, then, 18 year old who is now 28? I guess not for most people as life changes as do interests. I was guest speaker at a London university recently with around 80-100 post grad students in the audience. My central theme was about the rise and fall of brand equity with the public at large, with examples. After the formal bit was over I asked the audience if they could name any brands that might be confronting a decline in consumer interest; Facebook came up quite quickly.

My audience age range was about 22 to 30, majority female. Most put their hands up when asked who was on Facebook, about 25 per cent put their hands up when asked if they had stopped using Facebook, and about a further 25 per cent said they intended dropping Facebook and moving on to something else. The reasons were quite varied and the overall consensus seemed to be a general weariness of the site, along the lines of “it was fun when I was an undergrad but now I feel it’s a bit juvenile for me.”

As we all know there are several criticisms of Facebook. However the decline in relevance seems like a key cause of interest falling away.

The second challenge is how to police content.

The very public issues with Twitter recently, with high-profile names and, indeed others, being hounded on it, have highlighted a serious problem going forwards for the management team. I spotted on TV the two individuals up in court for sending offensive tweets about someone in the news; I thought they looked like two sad people with nothing better to do with their lives, and probably quite harmless, but their tweets had included death threats and highly offensive abuse.

Unless Twitter can deal with this and police their own site it is bound to impact on advertisers, government and the public at large. It isn’t a level playing field if newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, magazine publishers et al all work within guidelines whereas new media can do what they like. Either it leads to a free-for-all where everyone can publish whatever they like or the new media players adopt similar standards to the traditional media channels.

The ultimate sanction available to the authorities is to ban an offender and make it illegal for a site to be available online.

The monetisation of these sites is inevitable given the scale and reach of what they can deliver. However we all understand the importance of editorial environment plus the importance of the audience profile, both hugely relevant to the advertiser. What advertiser is going to feel comfortable being next to controversial content that offends a large group of the audience? Not too many, it simply isn’t worth the risk of alienating more than those who find it OK. Brands can crash and burn with one bad mistake.

With Facebook’s tenth birthday around the corner I would have thought the team there are looking ahead, polishing their crystal ball, and trying to predict the next stage of their development – given all of the above. Watching like hawks will be investors, any doubt-provoking crack will see the stock price plummet; memories of the dotcom bubble bursting remain fresh for a lot of people who lost their shirts.

There can’t be any doubt that social media is with us for the long run, I suspect we have a great deal more development and innovation that will change today’s landscape into something very different by the end of the next decade.

Update

Facebook pleased the markets yesterday with a 63 per cent rise in revenues for the fourth quarter of last year, driven by strong mobile ad sales. It now accounts for 18.4 per cent of global mobile ads, up from 5.4 per cent the previous year.

Monthly active users (it has now 1.23bn) grew by only 3.4 per cent however, a further sign that Facebook may be losing its appeal to its core youth market.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.
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