It’s no secret that Facebook is losing touch with the youth, with various reports detailing the platform’s gradual decline in popularity among young users, as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok continue to rise.
Facebook used to be the leading platform of choice for youth social engagement, but over time, it’s lost that cool factor, and become more of a haven for older users, as evidenced in this data included in the recent Facebook Files leaks.
Despite the addition of Stories, and the integration of Reels into the broader Facebook experience, it’s not catching on the way that it once did. Which could pose significant problems for the platform in the long term – and which Zuck and Co. are now looking to address.
In his comments as part of yesterday’s Q3 earnings announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the platform will make winning back the youth a key priority moving forward - even if that means losing older users as a result.
As per Zuckerberg:
“We’re retooling our teams to make serving young adults their north star, rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people. Like everything, this will involve trade-offs in our products and it will likely mean that the rest of our community will grow more slowly than it otherwise would have. But it should also mean that our services become stronger for young adults. This shift will take years, not months, to fully execute, and I think it's the right approach to building our community and company for the long term.”
Zuckerberg knows that youth trends are crucial to ongoing growth, as this is the entry point for the users of tomorrow. Losing touch with the youth means, eventually, losing touch period, so Facebook will now make young users more of a focus, which could see significant changes in the app.
But what changes exactly?
We don’t have any clear details as yet, but based on Zuckerberg’s comments, and notes included in the latest Facebook Files leaks, we do have some insight as to where Facebook is looking.
First off, Zuckerberg specifically noted the growth of Reels, its TikTok-like short video platform, as a key element of focus:
“Reels is already the primary driver of engagement growth on Instagram. It's incredibly entertaining, and I think there is a huge amount of potential ahead. We expect this to continue growing and I am optimistic that this will be as important for our products as Stories is. We also expect to make significant changes to Instagram and Facebook in the next year to further lean into video and make Reels a more central part of the experience.”
In other words, if you’re not familiar with Reels yet, it may well be worth spending more time with the option, and getting a feel for why short-form video is so engaging – and how you can make the format work for your brand messaging.
In terms of making Reels a more central focus, as I noted in my recent 2022 predictions post, my view is that, eventually, Instagram will open to Stories/Reels instead of the traditional feed, putting more focus on those elements, while on Facebook, I suspect that you’re going to see much more prominent Reels panels in the feed, and likely improved access into a full-screen Reels experience – like a swipe left option to take you direct into that feed.
Again, the impetus from a marketing perspective is that you should be working to get a feel for this format, as Facebook is going to be pushing it in the coming months and years. That will likely mean that you’ll see increased reach and engagement by posting Reels, which could make it a key consideration in your content strategy.
In addition, this graphic on re-engaging the youth was also included in the latest Facebook Files leak:
It’s a little blurry, but the graphic outlines three key areas of focus:
- Fix the Fundamentals – Helping young users connect with the people, interests and content they care about
- Enable positive, productive experiences – Help young users feel good about the time they spend in the app, and connected to what’s happening in the world
- Help YA achieve their goals and create change – Provide differentiated services to help young users solve problems that they face
These are conceptual notes, so there’s nothing specific about platform changes or updates as a result, but the focus is on providing young users with better outlets for contributing to key discussions and debates, and engaging them through their capacity to influence change via Facebook’s unmatched scale and reach.
Whether this is another key element of focus is not clear, and it may well have been just another proposal among Facebook’s possible plans. But it provides some further insight into the company’s thinking around how to win back the youth, and ensure that Facebook remains relevant for the long term, rather than just seeing it steadily fade out as other platforms take its place.
What will that mean for older users, and broader engagement on Facebook overall? It’s hard to say, but the platform has become such a key connective tool for so many people these days that I don’t see them switching off in droves as a result of this push. But then again, seeing more youth-focused features, and potentially more posts from young people, who likely don’t share the same perspectives, could force more older users into groups and other elements where they can keep posting on the topics that they care most about.
Which could be another consideration in this push. By re-directing older users away from posting in the main feed, maybe that, in itself, will play a part in reducing division, by putting increased focus on more progressive, more youth-specific trends. A lot of that comes down to how, exactly, Facebook enacts such, but it could be another part of the platform’s broader shift away from argumentative content, and re-aligning engagement with younger discussion factors.
It looks to be a significant shift either way, which, as Zuck notes, will take years to implement. Facebook will also be looking to the next stages of connection in that time, including AR, VR and the evolving metaverse concept.
Which is another reason why Facebook needs to maintain its youth connection, because it’s young users that will drive adoption of the next shifts.
That could change Facebook usage, and ultimately, your Facebook marketing process as a result.