People are not sharing as much personal information as they used to on Facebook, say various media reports that have emerged over the weekend. The reports, first published on The Information said Facebook was in the midst of setting up a team to “stop the double-digit decline” in original updates being shared.
While Facebook has apparently said that original sharing of content remains “strong”, it is not difficult to see that people today are more concerned with sharing memes, videos, or articles – third party content which can be found anywhere in the world wide web.
Moreover the article stated that, in mid-2015, total sharing was said to have declined 5.5% from the previous year and “original broadcast sharing” was down 21% year over year. While Facebook has not yet responded to this point, it told Marketing that people still share "a ton on Facebook" and "the overall level of sharing has remained not only strong, but similar to levels in prior years."
Jamie Lewin, head of innovation for Mindshare APAC and the head of strategy for msix APAC, told Marketing that Facebook’s power lies not in its scale or target-ability, but in its ability to connect individual users of the platform to actions and indicative behaviours.
He explained that as the network reaches saturation, in many ways it has become the de facto “easy” login solution for consumers who want to avoid the speed bumps of filling in profile information, additional insights and analytics needed by other apps and services.
“If Facebook were to lose its status and share of social content such as geographic data which comes with posts, likes and shares; and therefore context to an action, its impact in the marketing ecosystem would be diminished,” said Lewin.
While one can still argue that third-party data too gives insight for Facebook on its users’ lifestyle and habits’, having first hard personal information has unparalleled value from a data standpoint.
Agreeing to this point is We Are Social Asia’s regional managing partner, Simon Kemp.
“The more emotionally engaged people are, the better the marketing opportunity -almost all purchases are driven by emotions more than anything else,” said Kemp adding there’s no ‘social’ without emotion. Hence at this rate, Facebook could potentially lose its purpose of connecting people and merely be connecting people to content.
Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer added that a social network like Facebook thrives on the “dualism of exhibitionism and voyeurism in its truest sense” and if fewer people share personal updates, there is lesser reason for their friends to stick around and engage on the platform.
Reasons leading to the drop of original content
We Are Social Asia’s Kemp said Facebook is fast heading in the direction of what the Google Reader used to be where there are updates from friends, but those friends’ updates are from third-party content, rather than stories about their own lives.
If I were a product manager at Facebook I’d be worried.
"Beyond liking other people’s updates, there’s very little ‘social’ going on Facebook today - most meaningful conversations triggered by content or updates on Facebook have shifted to Facebook Messenger or other platforms," he added.
Kemp added that two biggest reasons people stopped sharing on Facebook could potentially be due to advertisements interrupting their experiences and the platform gaining more mass and hence the influx of older generations on the medium.
“More mass leads to more diluted content from people as they are probably more wary of sharing very personal information,” explained Kemp. As for advertising, Kemp says that social media is not where the traditional advertising models succeed.
The more people get interrupted by ads in social media, the less likely they are to engage emotionally, and feel comfortable sharing personal things. As soon as advertising arrives, the context changes, and the magic for the ‘user’ quickly evaporates.
“For that reason, all of us - brands, platforms, agencies - need to accept that interruptive advertising isn’t the right model for social media; we need to find better ways of adding meaningful value - in context - to our audience’s lives, instead of behaving in totally antisocial ways like interrupting people or trying to change the topic of conversation back to ourselves all the time,” Kemp adds.
Mazumdar agreed saying that on average, the 1.59 billion monthly active Facebook users have about 338 friends. Quoting a theory postulated by Robert Dunbar, an Oxford University anthropologist who studies social networks, he said that any grouping larger than 150, starts to strain the cognitive capacity of the human brain.
“This partially explains the "context collapse" phenomenon experienced by Facebook currently where people are more reluctant to share personal updates. As consumers’ social network expands beyond their inner circle, they can tend to be more hesitant and cautious to share episodes from their personal lives to protect their privacy or manage their personal brand image,” he said.
Combating the drop
Mazumdar, however, said that Facebook has acknowledged this challenge and is innovating to address it. Some ways noted recently include live broadcasting, nudging people to reminiscence and talk about old memories and prompting them to share photos in their camera roll.
“These behavorial economic experiments to prompt, suggest and nudge are critical to Facebook's fortune and am confident they will figure a way to reverse this trend,” said Mazumdar.
Kemp added the network still has a lot of other products such as Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp that it can use to engage audiences, although it might potentially be harder to use those platforms for advertising.