Ask anyone under the age of 30 if they love Facebook. Chances are, the answer will be no.
The once dominant social network has most certainly fallen from its hyper-exclusive, hyper-popular beginnings to become the place where moms and uncles post their political opinions and baby pictures. (At least, I think. I haven’t been on Facebook in forever.)
In fact, Facebook has lost so much of its cool factor that even President Obama knows it.
As it turns out, the Atlantic’s associate editor covering tech Robinson Meyer happened to be sitting near Obama at a coffee shop, of all places, during a meeting the President was having to learn more about 18-34 year olds. The goal was to get more people in this demographic to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. For Meyer, the goal was to overhear the president say something relevant to his beat and — as it so happens — President Obama gave him a gem.
“It seems like they don’t use Facebook anymore,” said President Obama.
Meyer tries to get to the bottom of the President’s use of “they.” Perhaps it was the age group he was researching, between 18 and 34, or maybe it was the all-encompassing, third-person singular, gender-neutral pronoun, muses Meyer.
But we know who “they” is. It’s the cool crowd of teenagers and twenty-somethings that make social services popular to begin with.
Meyer’s eavesdropped interview also revealed that the president knows what Snapchat and Instagram are, though his interest and/or enthusiasm toward the up-and-coming social powerhouses is unclear.
What is clear is that Facebook has lost its swagger.
Since Facebook bought Onavo, which was one of very few services that could provide empirical data into this downward spiral, there is only one other service that can offer insight into the competitive landscape of Facebook and other social players.
According to App Annie, Facebook was ranked in the 50′s in downloads on the U.S. iTunes store. Meanwhile, Snapchat was ranked in the teens and even single digits. In August, some sort of algorithm change suddenly bumped Facebook into the teens as well. (App Annie told TechCrunch that it had “observed changes in the iOS App Store rankings around August” but refused to clarify whether Apple was the sole source of this shift for Facebook.)
Even at the current rank of 14th overall and 3rd in social, Facebook is still ranked lower than Snapchat (6th) and Instagram (11th). Instagram (arguably the coolest part of Facebook) is still ranked lower than Snapchat in Photo and Video categories.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily paint a picture of a Facebook in trouble. The company is home to over 1 billion users, with the third most popular website on the internet behind Google and YouTube. Plus, this data actually proves that Facebook and Facebook Messenger are often downloaded by people when they buy new phones, showing the apps are still necessities.
But the cool kids are gone.
Facebook is no longer where we flirt with college classmates and spend hours posting photos. That use-case became nearly impossible when Facebook stopped being exclusively for college students and opened up to everyone. Inevitably, younger cousins and aunts and uncles and parents got on the platform. It started feeling more like a family reunion photo site than a hot social network.
And then, the generation that was champing at the bit to get on Facebook realized that their parents were champing at the bit, too. Instead of being a network full of 14- to 22-year olds, it became a network of 12- to 50-year olds.
Nowadays to the cool young kids, it’s an address book, with an email function, and perhaps the option to stalk if the person of interest doesn’t have Instagram. It’s a skeleton for all the other social apps we use, so signing up is easier and finding friends isn’t a repetitive process each time you download a new app.
Will Oremus hits the nail on the head. You can either have “everyone” or the cool kids, but you can’t have both.
Facebook has chosen everyone, and it makes sense — their business model depends on ubiquity. If you have everyone’s social data, you can sell ads about anything and convert. And up until recently, Facebook’s been wildly successful with this.
When Instagram posed a threat with 30 million super engaged and young users, Facebook instantly neutralized that threat with a cool $1 billion. After a shaky IPO, Facebook’s ad business is killing it.
But now up-and-comer Snapchat is posing a threat. Facebook first tried to fight it with a clone called Poke, which flopped, and then offered $3 billion to buy the app.
Snapchat, unlike other social competitors, is not reliant on Facebook at all, instead opting to use the Address Book for friend finding. Meanwhile, we’re seeing Instagram users rain down hellfire on Instagram ads as the once hip and cool photo-sharing app gets swallowed up, now a cog in the Facebook corporate machine.
With every day that passes, Facebook starts to look less and less like an Apple and more and more like a Dell. Luckily, there’s still no Apple on the horizon. While younger, hotter social networks spring up and solve problems, no one but Google has tried to make an all-encompassing social network to compete with Facebook. And we all know how that worked out.
Zuck is aware of all this. He admitted on an earnings call that Facebook is losing steam with teens, but that he’s more concerned with Facebook being useful than cool. And it still is useful.
The company will continue to see downloads, as it’s now necessary to have Facebook if you want to use other social apps. Facebook will continue to make money on ads (now that it knows everything about us) and Messenger will remain a truly popular tool among text-obsessed teens.
But things have changed. Obama even said so.
The cool kids are officially on the hunt for something else, and it’s only a matter of time before another Evan Spiegel pops up, too stubborn to take cash from Zuck, but this time with an all-purpose social network. And being young and VC-funded, this social network won’t show ads for years.
And, being different from the incumbent, it will become wildly attractive to teenagers and twenty-somethings.
But that’s way in the future. Right?