Q4 of 2017 was the first quarter in Facebook’s history to witness a drop in the number of people using the platform in North America. Facebook announced in January that overall usage had dropped by about 50 million hours a day, that daily North American visits had dropped from 185 million to 184 million, and that monthly usage in North America had stayed flat.
The dip is hardly a nosedive, and globally the platform is still growing, but the drop in Facebook usage is part of larger trends, and if you aren’t reacting to those trends, this dip should be a wakeup call. The social media landscape is changing, has been changing, and this is likely only the first of many cracks in the armor to reveal themselves in the near future.
Let’s talk about the changes that led us to this point, more changes to expect, and ways we as digital marketers can adapt to these shifts.
Facebook Claims The Dip Is What They Wanted
Yes, you read that subtitle correctly. At first glance, that might sound like complete nonsense, obvious PR spin, and there is probably some truth to that, but the reality is that there are plenty of reasons to think there’s actually truth to this, and the reasons behind that are something we as marketers should be paying extra close attention to.
Browse predictions for social media marketing in 2017, and most of the lists you come across will probably have made this prediction: “Facebook pushed video hard in 2016, and it will likely push it even harder in 2017.”
Well, here’s what Zuckerberg recently said about what they did in Q4 of 2017:
“Our focus in 2018 is making sure Facebook isn’t just fun, but also good for people’s well-being and for society. We’re doing this by encouraging meaningful connections between people rather than passive consumption of content. Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day.”
Okay, obvious spin, right? Well…
In the wake of accusations that Russia had abused Facebook’s ad platform to influence the US presidential election, Zuckerberg announced that they were “investing so much in security that it will impact our profitability…I’m dead serious about this….protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profit.”
Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed at Facebook, said this on January 11:
“Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses…Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease.”
If Zuckerberg and other important leaders at Facebook are telling us that they are deliberately making changes that they know are reducing time on site in order to improve their brand image, we ought to be paying attention. These changes are explicitly designed to reduce brand influence over the news feed to make more room for friends and family, a change that will directly impact inbound and social media marketers.
That isn’t to say you should be moving away from video. In the very same post, Mosseri says:
“Page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed. For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook – in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.”
The trend towards video and visual content as a part of your social marketing strategy certainly isn’t going anywhere, then. What’s important here, though, is that Facebook seems to be willingly taking actions that are decreasing user time on site in order to improve their public image, which hasn’t been pretty lately.
Those of us who have been in digital marketing long enough to have witnessed Google’s Panda update firsthand shouldn’t be surprised that a tech company is willing to make this kind of short term sacrifice. Panda hurt Google’s AdWords revenue in the short term, since so many of the penalized sites were “made for AdSense,” but the company thought preserving a positive view of their search results was more important than those short term losses.
Of course, threats of regulation are influencing these decisions as well.
How Does This Change Your Facebook Strategy?
For starters, if you aren’t investing in subscriber-focused content marketing efforts, that is something you should start doing right now. We have been advocating this view for a long time. Never think an audience is truly yours unless you have direct ownership of the platform you use to connect with them.
Whether we’re talking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube, a follower is not a contact. If the sales department can’t get in touch with somebody, that person isn’t really a lead yet.
I’m not arguing that your social media followers are useless. Having a large social media following goes improve your shareability. But your goal with these platforms should always be to find exposure and, simultaneously, use that exposure to transition people to your platform. Any other approach to these platforms is a waste of energy because you are not investing in the long-term future of your business and your efforts are subject to the whims of a third party platform. (Yes, this is even how we approach SEO.)
So, read our guide to subscriber-focused content marketing, and make sure you have a funnel and lead magnet in place. That is your top priority.
Assuming that’s already where your mind is at, here are a few other things you will need to do in order to adjust to this change, and similar ones to follow:
- Invest in videos. Adam Mosseri said it all. Even if Facebook is going to be showing fewer public posts in the news feed, including fewer viral videos, videos are still the posts that will find the most public attention in the news feed. Making the transition to video marketing is more important now than ever.
- Your goal is not to attract “likes” or views, but to spark discussions. If your content is not sparking a discussion, on Facebook, it will not earn attention on Facebook. Your content should be open-ended enough to encourage your audience to participate. Played right, this puts your audience in an active mindset where they will be more likely to take another action, such as joining you email list.
- Avoid “engagement bait.” You might be able to get away with it right now, but we’ve been playing the digital marketing game for a long time, and the reason we’re still here is because we understand that working with the algorithm is always a better long term business strategy than trying to game it. Facebook is fighting engagement bait with machine learning algorithms, and it will only get better at doing this. In case you’re not clear on the term, “engagement bait” is essentially begging your audience to leave likes and comments, with phrases like “tag a friend” or “comment ‘yes’ if you are awesome.”
- Make sure your information is vetted for accuracy. After controversies surrounding the US election, Facebook has invested in combating fake news, targeting 30,000 fake accounts, and partnering with newsrooms to debunk fake news in the lead up to the French election alone. A third of the top political posts in the lead up to the US election were fake news, compared with 10 percent in the lead up to the French election. Facebook has also made it clear that they are using machine learning to combat fake news.
But, in addition to everything that’s been said above, it’s important to be mindful of the reasons this is happening with Facebook in the first place, the broader trends that place these moves by Facebook in a context, and the more fundamental changes these moves reflect.
Why Facebook Isn’t “Cool” And What It Means For Us
While it’s true that the changes Facebook is making are being driven, in part, by threats of regulation, it’s clear that the brand is responding to a larger threat. Arguably, Facebook attracts more bad press than good press. It is constantly accused of invading privacy, reducing attention spans, disconnecting people from each other, putting us into filter bubbles, and filling our heads with misinformation.
We’ve all known it for some time. Facebook just isn’t “cool” anymore.
In fact, we touched on this all the way back in 2013. While this is the first time Facebook has publicly announced a drop in usage, it’s not the first time it’s been in the news for it. An independent study suggested that it lost 6 million users in a single month during 2013, around the same time that studies suggested teens were already losing interest in the site.
In 2014 it was reported that teens were leaving Facebook at a rate of roughly 1 million per year, and Ryan Bradley’s conversations with teens for FastCompany ultimately suggest the most obvious reason why: because their parents and teachers are on Facebook.
None of this is really surprising, but it speaks to something adults are feeling as well, and another reason why Facebook is seeing declines. Because it’s where our parents are, too. And our bosses, our coworkers. And…wait for it…marketers.
So no, it isn’t cool.
I’m about to talk about alternative platforms to consider, things that are “cooler” than Facebook, and that’s why I feel it’s so important to stress all of this here. Because, in large part, what separates a successful marketing strategy from a failed one is how well the marketers actually “get it.”
And a part of what “ruins” these platforms is all the marketers who show up and don’t “get it.”
I’m not naïve enough to think that I can stop this process from happening. I just want to stress how important it is to understand that this process happens, that it is always happening, that you are a part of it, and that if you don’t put in the effort and really “get it” before you jump into a new platform, you are going to alienate a portion of your audience and fail to run a marketing strategy that truly adapts to changes in the landscape.
So, with all of that in mind, is it time to…
Take The Plunge Into Snapchat?
Hopefully, you all knew this was coming.
EMarketer accurately predicted that Facebook usage would drop, and that a roughly 3.4 percent of teens would drop Facebook for Snapchat and Instagram. In fact, more teens currently use Snapchat than any other form of social media, with more of them preferring Instagram than Facebook.
The obvious thing to take away from this is the importance of visual media, but even that would be missing the mark slightly. Sixty-eight percent of users say the most important feature in the app is messaging, not Stories or Discover. That should hint at why teens truly prefer the app to Facebook: it is a direct line to their friends, not a public newsfeed.
What does all of this mean for your social marketing strategy?
First things first. If teens and young adults aren’t a part of your target audience, you can probably still get away with avoiding Snapchat and Instagram. The most fundamental thing a social media marketer does is finds out where relevant conversations are happening, and becomes a part of those conversations. If the relevant conversations aren’t happening on Snapchat and Instagram, then that isn’t where you should be. That would be the wrong lesson to take away from this post.
But what I think all of us need to consider is that teenagers tend to be a signal of what is to come. If nothing else, these are the people who will grow up into the next generations adults. More likely, however, teenagers are just the first to make the kinds of adaptations adults will make later. And even if we aren’t using Snapchat, most of us by now probably use Facebook messenger quite a bit more than Facebook the social network.
And that is something we should all be thinking about, because the less time we spend in public news feeds, the less time we will be exposed to the marketing messages that reside there, making it more important than ever for the things we say there to be worth talking about.
But don’t get too excited about ignoring these new platforms. Make no mistake, Snapchat has 158 million daily active users. For some perspective, that’s a bigger audience than Twitter, and roughly half the population of the United States. So yes, you don’t need to be on Snapchat, but if you’re on Twitter and not Snapchat, there’s a possibility you have things backwards.
And you shouldn’t assume teens are the only people using Snapchat. Thirty-three million adults over 35 used Snapchat in the last quarter of 2016, which is also the fastest growing segment of their audience.
But to use Snapchat appropriately, you need to understand that:
- It’s primarily a one-to-one or one-to-few platform
- It is extremely visual
- It is a place where quirkiness and personality are expected
The good news is that there’s no algorithm deciding what your followers will or won’t see. If they’ve marked you as a friend, they’ll see your Stories.
A full primer on Snapchat isn’t going to fit into this post, but a few of the many things you’ll need to adjust to as you transition from networks like Facebook are:
- Using the platform to connect with influencers in a fun way is almost certainly its most powerful use as a marketing “tool.”
- Snapchat is pretty much 100% a personal branding platform. Generic brand accounts aren’t going to get anywhere.
- You do not upload images or videos from elsewhere. You snap them from within the app. Don’t try and get around this, you’re missing the point of the platform if you do. Tab the shutter button to snap a picture, or hold it to take a video.
- You can add captions and stickers to your images.
- You can create “Stories” by stringing together images.
- Stories disappear after 24 hours. This may be annoying for marketers, but the transient and non-public nature of the platform is an important part of its appeal.
- You can change your settings from “Friends” to “Everyone” so that more people can find your Stories.
- Stories should be easy to consume in minutes, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a complete arc.
- Experiment. The platform is still fairly new and that makes it the perfect place to innovate.
- You can save Snaps to Memories, and reshare them, but keep in mind that they are timestamped.
- The best way to grow your Snapchat following is using other platforms. The power of Snapchat is the fact that it is a direct line to them, like email, but without the expectation of spam and business contacts.
- I will reiterate here that the primary reason people use Snapchat is for messaging, and that means it is also the primary thing you should be using it for, or you will not “get it.”
Instagram Is Approaching Indispensable Status
I know. Many of us jumped onboard the social marketing train early, and Instagram still feels new, but it really isn’t anymore. Instagram is here to stay and you pretty much need to be at least considering the platform if you doing anything outside of the B2B sector. That said, what I mentioned above about choosing the platforms that best fit your audience still stands.
Instagram currently has 700 million monthly active users, and 28 percent of all US adults use it. Furthermore, those audiences really are using the platform. Half of them use it at least once a day. That’s the entire population of the US checking in every single day. Thirty-five percent of users check it more than once a day. These are all big figures we shouldn’t be ignoring.
Compared with Snapchat, Instagram should feel a bit more familiar, with more of a focus on the public nature of the platform, and the ability to upload videos from outside of the app if you so desire. The option to create a business profile makes it clear that marketing efforts are somewhat more welcome on the platform, and one-to-many communication is a hallmark of the platform.
What’s fundamentally different about Instagram is the 100% focus on visual media. Everything is an image or video with a caption attached. The only place you can post a link is in your profile (and if you’ve been paying attention, we highly recommend that link go to a relevant lead magnet). Things to post include:
- Behind the scenes images
- Employee reposts
- Customer reposts
- Educational posts like recipes and visual guides
- Motivational posts
Some tips for making the most of the platform:
- Your images should be high quality, high pixel count, but also look great as a thumbnail
- Keep the subject of the image simple, tells a clear story, and stands out clear in the feed so it doesn’t look cluttered
- Use symmetry, atypical vantage points, and patterns to capture attention
- Avoid artificial light if you can
- Use the filters. This is Instagram. Filters are expected.
- As with Snapchat, you can post Stories, which also disappear after 24 hours. The idea and approach are pretty similar.
- Use livestreams to connect directly with your audience.
- Consider referring people to the link in your profile from your captions, if it’s relevant to the photo
- Use hashtags. Use the “Explore” tag to find the relevant ones. Check the quality of what you find there to determine if users are actually using these hashtags to find things. Don’t spam our captions with hashtags.
Other Platforms To Consider
Snapchat and Instagram are the two big networks that should stay on your radar, but there are other platforms to experiment with as well. None of the following are vital, but I’m a firm believer in experimenting with new platforms as they arise. Being one of the first to adopt a platform can earn you a more prominent place on it when it matures, and smaller networks allow you to connect with more specific kinds of audiences.
Here is a couple to consider:
Amino is a mobile platform for interest-based communities. That should have your ears perking up, because interest-based communities allow you to connect with audiences that share common interests. The app bills itself as a platform for connecting with likeminded people around the world, which makes it a perfect place for brands to connect with their audiences.
Amino Apps raised $19.2 million in December of 2016, and when you put aside non-US, texting, and dating apps, Amino is just below LinkedIn on the app usage charts. Amino also claims that their users are extremely engaged, spending approximately 40 minutes a day on the site, compared with 50 minutes on Facebook or 13 minutes on Reddit.
While Twitch is still largely a platform for gamers, livestreaming is growing in popularity and the audience for it is expanding outside of gaming. Use livestreams on Twitch and YouTube to connect directly with your audience, and use that as an opportunity to transition them to webinars and other lead magnets.
Modernize Your Strategy
The drop in Facebook usage reflects larger changes in the social media landscape. We as marketers need to be aware of those changes and adjust with them. Those changes run deeper than merely the need for more visual content, although that is certainly a necessity. A modern social media strategy focusses on embracing new platforms, adjusting to changes in Facebook’s algorithms, and putting the focus on drawing your audience onto your own platforms.
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