Facebook is the biggest social network in the world, and by a big margin, but that doesn't mean they can't be usurped by the next cool network or trend, which is something The Social Network is acutely aware of. I mean, that's how Facebook originally came to prominence, by beating MySpace at their own game.
Over time, Facebook's had no shortage of challengers, all of which have fallen by the wayside or carved out their own, significantly smaller, niche. But of all those potential competitors, none seems to have freaked Zuck and Co out quite as much as Snapchat.
The ephemeral content app has seen massive growth in recent years and is now reaching 150 million users every day - a stat which, arguably, makes Snapchat one of the top three social media networks on a global scale (behind Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram).
Facebook recognized the potential of Snapchat early on, offering to buy the app for $3 billion (or more) back in 2013 - an offer that Evan Spiegel and Co rejected. Following their failed purchase attempt, Facebook released Slingshot, a Snapchat-esque message sharing app which eventually burned out and was shuttered late last year. But as Snapchat grows, Facebook seems to be getting ever more nervous about the potential threat the app poses - and they appear to be taking a range of steps to try and stem the outgoing user tide.
Recently, there were reports that people were sharing fewer personal updates on Facebook, which, it seems, Facebook believes is because of a shift to Snapchat, as evidenced by a recent Facebook user survey.
And whether it's Snapchat or something else, Facebook knows that they need to keep innovating and delivering better user experiences, so they're testing out a range of different options, each of which has its own significance and relevance in the wider scheme.
First, a new feature Facebook's testing amongst some users is a new News Feed option in which you'll be able to post content that will appear in people's News Feeds but not on your timeline.
This offers a Snapchat-like functionality for posts - essentially, these posts disappear from memory once they fall out of people's News Feeds.
According to Facebook:
"We've heard feedback that sometimes, you may want to share a post with friends and family via News Feed and not have that post be displayed on your Timeline. The ability to hide a post from your Timeline already exists, and today we're testing a feature that would make it even easier to control where your posts live by giving you the option to publish a post only to News Feed and not to your Timeline."
This seems to be a pretty direct response to the rise of Snapchat - whether people will use this functionality, within the context of Facebook, is a different question.
Another option Facebook's testing (though admittedly less Snapchat-specific) is the ability for users to add topics to their posts.
This is similar to the recently released 'Audience Optimization' tools for Pages, where you can make more specific targeting notes to help Facebook better match your content to the right users. The addition of topics in personal updates likely aligned with another test - Facebook's new 'Topic Feeds' which are now available to some users.
The idea behind this is clearly to get users to spend more time on Facebook - why switch over to other platforms and providers if Facebook can offer you all the content you might be interested in, tailored to you based on your preferences?
It also provides users with another way to boost the reach and resonance of their posts - if you don't make the News Feed of your connections, you might make their Topic Feeds, giving you a new way to generate response.
At present (as we've noted previously) Topic Feeds don't look overly beneficial - the content isn't highly targeted and the feeds have a few issues, most notably in repetition of posts. But if Facebook were to refine them down and make them really attuned to each users' needs and interests, they could boost content consumption and keep people around for longer - thus, also keeping them away from other platforms.
Another area where Facebook is placing big emphasis is on Live content. Facebook announced a major update to Live back in April, signaling their intentions in this area, and since then they've added in a range of updates to boost user awareness of the feature and encourage more use - both as viewers and broadcasters.
More recently, Facebook's added in a new prompt to connect people to live content.
Along with an enhanced map feature that highlights not only where Live streams are happening at any given moment, but also the most popular streams and a track of where viewers are tuning in from.
And last week, Facebook started testing another Live prompt, with a new Live menu within the main News Feed, highlighting in progress streams.
Mark Zuckerberg's interest in Live-streaming is well documented, and the platform definitely looks on track to dominate the streaming space, due to their unmatched reach potential and their efforts to push the offering. The emphasis on Live also challenges Twitter's long-held position as the home of real-time content - if Facebook can get more people interacting with live video, they can start to move further into that real-time space.
And there's also, of course, the Snapchat-type features to Live that seek to capture the fun, engaging nature of the platform.
Facebook also recently acquired video-altering app MSQRD, which does pretty much the same thing as Snapchat's popular Lenses, with some suggesting that this functionality will be added into the Live experience.
Each of these elements plays a part in Facebook's wider emphasis of making Facebook more useful, more aligned with the latest trends, and more appealing as the place that users want - if not need - to be. Facebook knows, after Slingshot, that they can't just offer the same functionality on a different app - users are already aligned to Snapchat, they know the platform and they've got new groups of followers and connections there. In order to compete, Facebook needs to provide new, Facebook-aligned offerings to make the Facebook experience better, rather than seeking to directly compete. If they can get more users spending more time on Facebook, that keeps them away from Snapchat - and any other competitor that comes along.
While all of these additions are in testing mode, and not all of them will become significant elements in your everyday Facebook experience, it's interesting to note where the platform's attentions lie, and how you can use that to advantage.
For example, with Facebook putting such emphasis on Live content, you can bet they'll also be giving it a News Feed boost, making it a great option to test out now before it gets too cluttered (or de-emphasized with better reach only coming with some level of paid boost). In terms of targeting, it's worth noting the different options available through the new feed options.
If Facebook does push this offering, and more users do look to use it, that could lead to a significant boost in reach for your content, if tagged correctly. It may be worth looking into the Audience Optimization tools and testing out whether they increase reach and response for your posts - if they don't now, they might once Topic Feeds are rolled out more widely.
While at the same time, Facebook's efforts to battle the threat of Snapchat also underline how seriously they're taking that platform. If you haven't looked into Snapchat or considered how it could be beneficial within your social strategy, it may be worth taking the time to investigate.
Clearly, Facebook's taking the platform seriously. Maybe you should too.