In the beginning there was …
The Year was 2005 and I was a College Student
I was a sophomore at Florida State University. I was sitting at my desk tinkering away on my computer when one of my roommates walked in. In a conversation that was taking place all over the country in college dorm rooms similar to mine he asked me, “Have you heard of thefacebook?”
“No what’s that?” I replied.
“Here move over I’ll show you”. He said.
I moved to the foot of my bed and he took over my computer. In a few moments I could see the screen on my laptop change to an unfamiliar blue and white page. There it was, ‘thefacebook.’
“You need a college email address to use it!”. My friend exclaimed.
“What is it?” I asked him. Curious to know what he was up to. I knew it had to be something pretty cool.
“Come take a look” he said. “I just set you up with an account”.
From that moment I was off and running. Like all of my friends and everyone on campus, we were hooked on thefacebook. It was like the AOL instant messenger phenomenon that happened when I was in middle school all over again. Except the functionality, the features, the user experience on thefacebook was better. You could DO more it WAS more. Suddenly the cute girl I sat next to in math class, the one that I was too shy to talk with in person was accessible. I could send her a friend request and start a conversation through the protective bubble of my computer. Thefacebook was instantly a part of our college lives from the moment we became aware of its existence.
The rest is history…
‘Thefacebook’ became just ‘Facebook’ and soon it was available to high school students and then eventually to the world. I won’t bore you with the details because you know the story. You saw the movie. You have a Facebook page…probably multiple.
Then What Happened?
Years went by and Facebook became the status quo. It was no longer new and exciting. No longer that thing only my college friends had access to. It wasn’t something to be discovered anymore. It had become an ordinary part of our lives. Like popcorn at the movies. Like hotdogs in the ballpark. Like candy corn during Halloween. You get the gist.
Along Comes Twitter, Instagram and eventually Snapchat
Luckily the ‘new factor’ is always just around the corner. Once Twitter surfaced it became the go-to place for celebrities to gossip. Now in 2016, The Pope has a twitter account and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are using it to hurl insults at one another.
Instagram and Snapchat became what Facebook once was. Social networks that are fresh and new.
Young people move fast, they think fast and they act fast.
Once these new social media networks became available. Facebook was now like the fancy living room table set that’s only used on special occasions. Sure it’s there and it has its purpose. But its not used as frequently as the regular stuff.
But what about the older generations? How are they using Facebook?
Last year I went on a trip to Spain with my mother.
We went to the South of Spain and stayed in a beautiful town called, Mijas Pueblo. Perched in the mountains and overlooking the Mediterranean sea. It has some breathtaking views.
One of our favorite nightly activities was to go out for dinner to one of the local restaurants. Dinner in Spain is an enchanting experience. The table setting and atmosphere was quintessentially authentic . You could really get a sense of the old country and the easy living Spain is so frequently associated with. There was candle light, Spanish guitar, old paintings that hung on the walls AND the bright flash from my mothers iPad as she snapped another photo of her meal to post on Facebook.
That’s right my mother takes food pics for Facebook…A LOT OF THEM!
In fact she seemed to be mildly obsessed. Almost to the point where I started wondering if the entire trip to Spain was more about posting photos for her Facebook friends to see back in the States than it was for the experience itself.
On multiple occasions I asked her to, “PLEASE STOP. Can we just enjoy Spain without the interference of your electronic device?” This was always met with an incredulous, “No”.
What was happening here? Who was the parent? Am I in the twilight zone?
The fact was that at some point a few years back (not really even sure when) my mother and probably yours too discovered Facebook. And if your mom is anything like mine than it took her a little while to get her social media wings beneath her. But once she had the hang of it. She started to fly high. Soaring the social media landscape like a bird of prey in search of her next photo to post.
“Strikingly, in the USA, there are now 17% more people over the age of 40 using Facebook than there are users under the age of 30.” – Linkedin.
A Generational Perspective:
One of the greatest things about Facebook is reconnecting with friends from the distant past. And for our parents generation that is a much larger and more exciting past to rediscover. Especially when you consider they were without cell phones and the internet for much of their adult lives.
On a recent trip to visit my aunt in Portland, Oregon (also an avid Facebook user) she told me, “the amount of ex-boyfriends who’ve come out of the woodworks via Facebook to try and rekindle the flame is in the double digits.”
“Really?” I asked. Somewhat shocked. I could easily imagine one or two for sure. But double digits!?
“Yes, it seems they all have memories of the past and Facebook brings them to life. Suddenly what was once an open and closed chapter has the possibility for new life.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed.
I marveled at the power of Facebook. How it has changed our lives. I thought about its evolution from a college novelty. To having become a world of its own, literally, (Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users). Spanning the globe and every generation. Playing a part in each one of our lives in different ways. From momentous events like the Arab Spring and everything in-between to silly selfies and funny memes. The uses of Facebook are as unique and varied as the individual, culture or region that uses it.
What about now in 2016?
Facebook is no longer the only house on the block. But it’s still by far the biggest.
The Old School vs. The New School
A lot has been reported this year about user engagements dropping,”Facebook has…been facing competition from other fast-growing social networks like Snapchat, and cannibalization from its own property, Instagram,” eMarketer forecasting analyst Monica Peart, said in a report on CNN.
“Millennials’ share is the lowest once we get into more digitally advanced nations. It’s now clear that – proportionally – Millennials make up a far smaller share of Facebook’s active audience in Western markets. (Simon Kemp).
Facebook is still the undisputed king of social media. As trends change around the globe and specifically in America young people are using Instagram and Snapchat more and more. However, emerging global markets like India and Brazil still see Facebook as the social network young people go to first.
“In developing nations, where many younger people are only just now gaining easy, regular access to social platforms for the first time thanks to cheaper mobile data and more affordable smartphones, Facebook is still a great place to engage those ‘youthful’ audiences.
For example, if we look at some of the world’s biggest marketing opportunities – India and Indonesia are particularly interesting – it’s clear that Facebook is still dominated by younger audiences:” (Simon Kemp).
We can clearly identify a pattern here.
It seems that in any given society Facebook starts off as the place where young people go to find themselves in the world of Social Media. Then over time as the older members of society begin to adopt Facebook for themselves the younger people start to seek alternative social media outlets for their creativity. Facebook remains part of their repertoire. But it begins to take more of a back seat position in their lives.
This is not a pattern unique to Social Media. It is a pattern that has played out in all society’s since the beginning of time.
The young members of society push the envelope. They start the trends. They set the pace. Older members either get on board or rebel against it.
In Facebook’s case the older members have come on board. However, the younger generation is not abandoning Facebook or rebelling.
“If we look at the absolute number of people using the platform, though, there are clearly still many young people using Facebook. In the United States, there are more than 69 million people between the ages of 13 and 29 using Facebook each month, which equates to roughly 93% of the total US population in that age range.” (Simon Kemp)
But what is happening is a shift in how young people in the West are choosing to use Facebook vs. other social networks.
“When younger people in these Western nations do use Facebook, they’re doing so for quite different reasons than they did a few years ago. Many under-30s in Western markets still check in to Facebook on an almost daily basis, but they’re sharing fewer of their personal stories on the platform.
Anecdotally, they see Facebook as a good place to share third-party content and links, and to find similar content that their friends have shared too. However, overall, Millennials’ preferences are shifting to newer – and often more private – social channels such as Instagram, Snapchat, and mobile messengers like WhatsApp.” (Simon Kemp).
This is a very interesting take-away. Especially for marketers who want to better understand how millennials are adapting to social media. The same methods that applied just a couple of years ago may no longer be relevant to your audience now. Because the message you are sending may no longer be relevant to Facebook. It may be time to start looking at other social media networks to market to younger audiences.
My Mom Loves Facebook and Thats OK
The truth is that I am happy my mother gets so much enjoyment out of Facebook. It turns out that acceptance was the answer for me. Once I stopped fighting her desire to take photos at dinner and I learned to answer her questions about every single person who liked one of her photos. I began to have peace and serenity around her social media obsession. Its cool to see her generation adopt something that my generation started. Something inherently technological. At the end of the day social media is social. We as human beings are social creatures. Does the outlet or medium we use to connect with one another really matter? I suppose that is a debate for another time.