Your youth segment is not “really” chatting on Facebook anymore


Let me explain what I mean. Here’s a brief history of Facebook from my own personal experience.

I joined Facebook sometime in mid 2006. It was only open to colleges and universities, quickly followed by cities.  Up until that point, the main conversation platforms for myself and my close friends other than in-person conversations, email and the phone were tools such as ICQ followed by MSN chat. Within a few months the majority migrated to Facebook even though it was a step back (lack of chat feature initially) at the same time it was a step forward (social element: 2-way, one-to-many platform, photo sharing, etc…).  

Keep in mind that at this point there were absolutely zero “professional/business” accounts other than those disguised as personal profiles. None of my professional contacts knew about Facebook. Facebook was not indexed by search engines in any way. The conversations were still “real”. Virtually nobody had adopted their chatting behaviour to fit the “you’re always on the record” mindset of social media (even though clearly that would have been wise as many are finding out now). It was still thought to be just another private conversation platform which housed content that was purely between the user and his/her “friends” , which at the time were actual friends.

In my case I could  post a public status update message inviting “everyone” to a party or gathering because the 40-50 people I had listed as my “friends” were my close circle (and their significant others) that I had known for 10-20 years. People could respond back to the group on my wall without clogging my email, i didn’t have to worry about bounce backs, the content was relevant to all of us, and the interactivity was brilliant. This is the Facebook I liked. This was the reason why I initially joined.

Then April 16th, 2007 happened (i.e. the Virginia Tech Massacre). To me this was a turning point. The  mainstream news reporters covering the shootings were creating Facebook profiles in order to be able to use Facebook as a live information source to track student reactions and the shooter’s path in real-time. The marketing industry’s ears perked up and eyes widened. Businesses trying to reach the youth segment did a double take. Facebook? Why aren’t we on there?

It took a tragic event for Facebook to reach the tipping point of user adoption.

The rest is history. Anyone over 13 could join. Advertising was introduced. Businesses started creating groups, then pages. Brands joined in. Parents joined in. Grandparents joined in. People you avoided in the physical world joined in. Shameless self-promoters joined in. And a whole slew of others. Then the process repeated itself in over 100 countries around the world. It’s mandate has expanded considerably as a result of its dynamic culture and adaptability to the changing environment as well as financial pressures (i.e. initial drive towards profitability).

There is nothing wrong with this. As a business, Facebook has done ridiculously well given the low life expectancy of competitors in the space. I just think it has become too many things to too many people (jack of all trades, master of none).

What drove me to write this post however was the realization that my own behaviour and use of Facebook has drastically changed. All of my personal friends still have profiles, we still use it for invitations/RSVP’s, we still post something up once in a while (usually pics or a YouTube video we just want to share), however most of  the “real” conversations have moved.

Where to you ask?

Private , closed networks on our smart phones. First it was SMS, then BBM or iPhone chat. The problem was a lack of a standard and easy group chat functionality. Now that nearly all of my close friends have smartphones (except for one) we’re using cross-platform social chat apps designed for that exact purpose. In our case “What’s App” ended up winning over a few others we tried. We’ve essentially come full circle. Back to a core group of friends that I can keep in touch with 24/7 (at the same time) without worrying what my client/grandma/4th cousin thinks.

Kids and teens figured this out a few years ago when their parents started “Facebook creeping” on them. They were and still are SMS’ing like mad well before the smart phone wave came in. The personal profiles, photos and conversations you see on Facebook are increasingly going to be projections of how people want to be perceived as opposed to reality. This was bound to happen given the rise of the digital footprint and importance of the personal brand. I’m just worried that the foundation on which Facebook was built on is starting to crumble. Can the new layers build a new foundation in time, or have they already done so?

9 thoughts on “Your youth segment is not “really” chatting on Facebook anymore

  1. Hey Mike,

    Great post – I would agree that BBM or instant messaging is the way most people are heading – but Google + seems to be another alternative where you can share with certain cirlces of friends. Could be the next “place to be”
    Thanks for the great read!

  2. Facebook allows you to now limit your posts to public, your friends or a customized list. It doesn’t seem to be as extensive as Google+ circles but it’s the same idea. So you can say what you want to your friends and not worry about grandma or co-workers.

    Another idea would be to only friend those 40-50 people you are close with in real life. And be sure to have your privacy settings set so that your profile isn’t open to the public. I’ve never understood people who leave their profiles wide open.

    No one forces me to follow brands on Facebook so I can’t complain about them being there. If I don’t follow them, I won’t even know they exist.

    My private chats are a mix now of email (majority), Facebook messages (not wall posts) and SMS.

  3. Hey Marco. Google + is great, however so far adoption among the youth segments has been very weak. It also doesn’t have a “sustainable” competitive advantage in my opinion (see my blog post from last week). It does have Android going for it thought and the future is all about mobile + social.

    Melissa, Facebook still has a chance of winning back that segment however it will also have to figure out a brilliant mobile experience that ensures privacy.

  4. I’m aware of the new Facebook feature, however it boggles my mind that they did’t link it with the “groups” of contacts I created (i.e. friends, business contacts, best friends, etc..) a few years ago. The “customized” list has to be entered manually one by one.

  5. It’s funny – I’ve noticed something along the same lines with Facebook. I tried something a little different with CanadaSocialNet and I’d be really interested to get your feedback. The site is meant to be comfortable, fun, and completely Canadian.

    Great article – will share.

  6. Update: Upon watching yesterday’s F8 keynote announcement by Mark Zuckerberg, it looks like many of these issues have been under their radar for quite a bit. I’ll be experimenting with their new “list” status update functionality and mobile messenger over the next few weeks. I’m very curious as to how this is going to affect Google+

  7. I remember the time when Facebook was only open to University students. Facebook recognised it needed to change and open its ‘doors’ the the rest of the world in order for it to survive. Now Facebook and Twitter are two of the biggest social media sites available. Linkedin is the ideal alternative for professionals not wanting to have profiles on Facebook.

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