Facebook at a social crossroads as its user base gets older and crankier

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“Facebook is part of our social media strategy, but only to keep the old people happy”. Thus spake a marketing executive at an initial meeting for an important consumer launch.

Almost as soon as the now established social media site announced it was going public we began to fear the worst. The obvious first conclusion was that the social media site would have to become the commercial media site. Investors would, of course, demand it.

So it did.

The advertising machine went into action with a smooth, efficient humming sound. And it made millions – hundreds of millions – of dollars.

The price for this success is that Facebook risks alienating its users. And, of course, its users (not customers) are its product. Their data is sold to advertisers and their timelines are now full of adverts.

The Facebook model is, in many ways, like a conference business model from 20 years ago. Several hundred people paid you money to sit in a darkened room to listen to their peers discuss common problems, and, hopefully, provide ideas to solve them. Then, there are the dozens of companies who pay you substantially more money to try and get into conversations with the people who would much rather sit in the dark and listen to interesting people discuss real life problems.

The point is that most of the solutions to this conundrum are work-arounds (and we know how much we love those). Long refreshment breaks, networking cocktail receptions, lunch standing around in the exhibition area – they have all been tried, with mixed success.

It is a problem.

And, apparently, Facebook users are old. And old people can get cranky. And if there is too much political rubbish, distorted thinking and adverts in their timeline, they will get more cranky. Old people use Facebook to keep up with friends who they don’t see that often. That is all.

We now have a situation where – whatever else Facebook is up to – the social side of their business must be approaching a crossroads.

It is a site where old people keep up to date with friends.

It is a site which generates money through selling old people’s data to advertisers.

And now its huge but ageing audience is getting bored, and it has been inflating its advertising figures and what constitutes the viewing of an advert.

Nothing in this life is permanent, and the internet and digital giants are not very old. Things come and go. Who knows, someone may be developing a social media site for old people, as we speak. [Indeed they are. – Ed.]

Facebook obviously has a huge and therefore valuable user base. But it is not certain how loyal its user base is, and whether there are viable, compelling alternatives emerging.

With a cranky user base, over-inflated advertising claims, no third party validation available (only Facebook has the figures) and an advertising channel that is at capacity, are we seeing the first cracks appearing in the juggernaut?

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