Can Facebook win back younger users, and re-establish itself as the connective platform of choice moving forward?
It’s no secret that Facebook has lost ground to TikTok and Snapchat among younger audiences, which trends have indicated for some time, and which was officially confirmed as part of the recent Facebook Files data leaks.
Indeed, within the thousands of pages of internal documents shared by former Facebook engineer Frances Haugen were various notes and charts showing that younger audiences have been steadily losing interest in The Social Network - including this graph which shows that usage of the platform among those aged 18-24 has been in decline since 2012.
That’s a big problem, because while Facebook still has some 2.9 billion users, making it far and away the most popular social media app on the planet, its usage in established regions (North America and Europe) is pretty much static, even declining quarter-by-quarter, which, if it can’t reverse such trends, and re-engage younger audiences, could eventually see the platform lose relevance entirely, and lose touch with a whole new generation of digital consumers who may no longer view Facebook as the leader in the space.
That’s what happened to MySpace, and as Facebook looks to the future, it knows that it will need to maximize its youth appeal in order to stay on top of the heap, and crucially, to generate interest in its coming, metaverse-aligned shift.
In the company’s most recent earnings announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged this, and said that re-establishing connection with younger audiences will be a key focus moving forward.
“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.”
So how will Facebook do this, and will it actually be able to re-engage younger audiences, now that the platform is seen as more invasive, less cool - and really, far behind TikTok as the place to be for the latest trends?
We’re now seeing the first stages of this new approach. Following the announcement of its new ‘Meta’ branding last week, Facebook shared a range of video clips from – not ironically – TikTok influencers giving their take on the update.
As you can see in this clip, from the truly great Emily Zugay (who’s delivery is just so spot on), Facebook has partnered with several high profile TikTok creators to put a more light-hearted, trending spin on their corporate re-branding effort.
Other clips include a response from Angry Reactions and another take from common sense creator Khaby Lame.
Note the #metapartner tag on each of these clips – these were not created randomly, nor were these influencers organically inspired to give their take on Facebook’s update. Facebook has paid these users to create these clips, then promoted each from their own branded accounts.
At the same time, Facebook’s also trying to latch onto other memes and trends related to its announcement, in the hopes of sparking more youth engagement.
We have it on good authority that smoked meats taste better in the metaverse @sbrbbq. pic.twitter.com/yKwX6Vx5Wo— Meta (@Meta) October 28, 2021
It feels a little forced, but even so, by using these popular influencers, and acknowledging web trends, that could help Facebook boost its youth appeal, either by softening its brand image through more light-hearted takes, or by appearing on the profiles of these popular users, and becoming a part of web trends, as opposed to being the butt of such jokes.
It’s hard to say whether that’ll work, and definitely, a corporate entity trying to lean into web culture can fall flat. For every Wendy’s Twitter account there are 100 more brands that try and fail to post snappy, witty retorts, and end up just looking desperate as a result.
And some of Facebook’s early efforts have also looked that way.
Hey @Balenciaga, what’s the dress code in the metaverse?— Meta (@Meta) October 29, 2021
But they are generating engagement, regardless, and it may well be helping Facebook – or Meta, more operatively – to shift perceptions, and update people’s view of the company as a more progressive, and connected brand that’s well-placed to lead the way into the next major digital connectivity shift.
Maybe. Facebook itself is still at the center of a range of controversies and complaints, and the ongoing media coverage of such will likely sour its reputation for some time to come - and even a re-branding is unlikely to create enough separation to shield Meta from the broader brand damage as a result. But maybe, through Meta, Facebook can shift the focus onto the metaverse more specifically, and away from Facebook the app. Of course, it still needs Facebook as a key connector, but maybe, by making the metaverse so cool, users will accept the concession that they’ll still need Facebook to take part, and that, in turn, will lessen negative perceptions around the app.
There’s a long way to go on this, and Facebook has a significant task ahead of it to become the ‘cool’ brand once again. But potentially, through deals with popular influencers, like TikTok stars, as with this initial push, it will be able to re-connect, from a metaverse-focused perspective, while the addition of games like GTA: San Andreas in VR will also play a big part in building connection with key cultural elements and shifts.
It may seem a little lame at times, but that’s probably a risk that Facebook will have to take as it works to make Meta something that younger users will want to engage with in future.
What we do know, based on experience, is that Facebook is not great at generating hype based on its own internal teams, and that its past approach to such is what’s gradually seen it lose relevance due to a disconnect with popular culture as it loses touch with its audience. TikTok is far better on this, as is Snapchat. And now, Facebook will once again look to steal from them to re-ignite its own push.