I wrestle with this question almost daily — in fact, every time I use the service. There are experiences in this life that I truly dread. Putting gas in my car, for example, is about as inconvenient of an experience as it gets. Facebook is quickly becoming one of those experiences — specifically, checking Facebook.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago in which I outlined where the real value of Twitter lies. Today I want to focus on Facebook, which I have been highly critical of in past columns.
What Is Facebook Good for?
This is the ultimate question. Or, if we were to look at it a different way: What is the job that I am hiring Facebook to do?
The answer is that I hire Facebook to help me stay in touch with friends and family. That is Facebook’s job; that is why I use it. The problem is that this is not the experience many Facebook users primarily use it for.
Facebook is not a stream-of-consciousness service, and, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, neither is Twitter in terms of value. Facebook is at its best when my friends and family post pictures of vacations, or share life updates or moments. Specifically, Facebook is exceptionally useful for keeping up with friends and family who live far away. If I am truthful when answering the question posed in the title of this column, the answer is: Because of those few friends or family who don’t live near me. Or when close friends go on vacation and use Facebook to share moments. This is when the service is really great.
Facebook is great when your social circle uses it like a social network to share interesting moments with friends and family. This use case, however, is rare. And honestly, it can be done better.
What Facebook Isn’t Good for
Given the nature of why people use Facebook — to stay in touch with friends and family — it seems that this is the worst possible place for ads and sponsored posts. I go to Facebook to keep up to date with people I rarely or never see anymore, not to look for products or promotions.
Magazines, for example, are a much better place. When I read a magazine, like Digital Photography, I am a captive reader with a specific interest in digital photography. Therefore, that is the best place for companies within the digital-photography space to pitch me about useful products related to digital photography that I may interested in. This is the power of targeted advertising.
The problem with Facebook, and the ads within it, is that the audience is so diverse that it’s hard to target an audience as well as a topical magazine can, for example. Facebook attempts to do this by knowing what you like or don’t like, and by using that data to create a profile for you. It then hopes to use this data to go to advertisers and get them to target you. However, how it is done today is more annoying than anything. In fact, it is so annoying to have sponsored content show up on my wall that I would prefer to avoid that product at all cost because I am so irritated at it. This can’t be the response that brands are looking for from their target audience on Facebook.
When Facebook was first launched, and for a few years after, it was truly a unique experience. The experience of discovery and connection has transitioned to management and the need to sift through many random posts to find the few that are meaningful. The Facebook of then is dead and the new Facebook is here.
It is no wonder that, according to Harvard Business Review:
Thirty-four percent of Facebook users say they spend less time on the site now than last year, while just 13% say they spend more time on it, according to a Pew survey. Additionally, 28% say the site is less important to them now than a year ago, compared with 12% who say it’s more important. Decreases in engagement with the site seem to be most prevalent among the young: 42% of users ages 18 to 29 report spending less time now on the site.
Given the heated debate that took place when I posed the question in late 2011 as to whether the beginning of the end of Facebook is upon us, I’m assuming I may get disagreement from readers with my statements here. But Facebook is one of the few large companies that I’m not convinced will be dominant or even around in five years. With each new update Facebook releases, I feel like the company is going backward — not forward. Of course, Facebook has to figure out ways to make money, but I’m convinced that what it’s doing now to monetize the service isn’t driving people away instead of bringing them in deeper. This all has to change if Facebook is to exist in the long run.
Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week