Facebook: Leveling Out

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on October 26, 2013 in Internet, News & Opinion |

The position of Number One in any favorable listing is something every person, every company aims for, whether they admit it or not. To be top of the list, the most popular, the highest paid, the most revered amongst peers is a target set from the beginning of a project, from the start of a career. It is pressed into younger members of society from their earliest years, the fight to grow out of the masses, to be above normal, to be outstanding and beat back the competition.

For companies this is a constant battle: new products hit the market, tastes and fashions are constantly changing, new companies enter niches and established markets and make their name causing constant upsets, constant vying for that top listing. So it is with Social Media and Social Networks: to be the most popular platform and achieve the highest possible income against a still growing market whilst adapting to changing trends, customer demands and new technology keeps everyone on their toes.

Over the last few years the number one name in Social Media has been Facebook. Their growth from a small, local network designed for students in one university to a multinational market leader has been rapid, beset with problems as it may have been. For many Facebook was, and is, the prime social network to remain in touch with friends and acquaintances throughout the world, to keep up with personal news and, in recent years, to promote products and services.

Viktoria Michaelis: Facebook, Twitter, Social Media and Social Trends

Photo Credit: Scott BealeCreative Commons

In the last few years, however, it has become less a case of retaining the top-level – which many believe to be a given for Facebook – and more a monetizing of the platform to take advantage of changing markets, to cover the massive costs of providing a free service available to almost all. This has resulted in an over-burdening, in changes which have not been so acceptable to the customer base and which, through the methods employed to increase targeted advertising, has constantly caused ire and legal controversy. For Facebook perhaps not a great problem, changing a marketing strategy has become an almost everyday occurrence, as with changing or regularly updating privacy settings in an effort the gain the most from what is available whilst circumventing concerns and national laws and conventions.

What has not been taken into consideration, on the surface at least, is the changing interests of the customer base. The growing complexity of the site coupled with rightfully voiced security and privacy concerns, with allegations of social blindness, a proliferation of high-profile cyber-bullying, teen suicide and similar cases which go against the desires of society, similar social networking companies have been able to gain the upper hand. What was once seen as a simple system for remaining in contact with friends and loved ones is now a regulated spying network – according to some – where emphasis is placed on the wrong aspects of social intercourse purely to ensure an increasing profit.

In particular the growing complexity of the site, the length of time it takes to adjust the settings required to maintain a certain  level of security and privacy have come across a barrier which may now be insurmountable. Facebook has turned from a simple means of communication into a complicated, burdensome advertising medium. The lack of simplicity, once present and enjoyed, is turning customers, especially younger ones, away.

There are, of course, other factors to be considered: the strict limiting of friend numbers; the refusal of the system to accept a new friend, even when that ‘friend’ is a family member; the security software which, unexplained and with hardly any means of correcting it from the customer’s point of view, disables an account without any form of warning.

Viktoria Michaelis: Facebook, Twitter, Social Media and Social Trends

Photo Credit: alumrootCreative Commons

The winner, as far as usability is concerned, is Twitter. As Facebook moves further into the complexity of a social network more intent on covering costs and feeding the wallets of investors, Twitter has managed, with considerable subtle monetizing, to remain simple and open. There are few privacy problems, simply because the information on background and interests is not required. The interface, the side users see, is clear and exceptionally easy to operate. Contact with others is not limited according to whether a person is known, only according to whether that person has set their Tweets to private or public.

This simplicity is what appeals to younger users who, in a hectic and ever-changing world with many social demands on their time, now require a quick and effective means of communication, of sharing. Instagram, a Facebook company, is enjoying a similar boost.

Does this mean that we will see a dropping off of the highly vaunted numbers Facebook promotes to show the level of popularity it currently enjoys? Here Facebook has cleverly employed a system which will not allow for a drop in the perceived number of users but which guarantees increasing numbers, whether counting active accounts or not. Disabled or inactive accounts remain as customers on the database and are counted as such. A Facebook account cannot be effectively deleted, it merely goes into inactive modus and remains there, searchable on the database whether it has any content and status updates or not.

Statistics lie, no matter how they are used and, in order to retain its perceived level of popularity, Facebook uses these dead and inactive accounts as a part of their popularity rating, of the figures they publicize to show continual growth and attract new advertising revenue. In truth Facebook has leveled out. Perceived membership will continue to grow whilst actual membership, active users, drop off. This dropping off will not be reflected in the statistics shown the public or potential and current advertisers, a highly successful marketing ploy which has little to do with facts and more with the need to cover costs and increase revenue.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Facebook will remain a major player in the virtual social networking world, but the top position as most popular has been lost to those systems perceived as secure, as safer, as simpler to use and, above all, as more open to real (online) communication.

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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