If you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold. Something that Facebook users seem to be waking up to.
As Facebook prepares to bring its investors up to scratch on the latest performance figures, analysts suggest that the online phenomenon may have peaked. In the last 6 months, the social media site has lost 2 million visitors in the UK, and nearly 9 million in the US. To suggest that a service with around a billion users is a fad is ridiculous, but the figures are alarming.
Facebook will have their own ideas of what is to blame, but the bottom line is their scant regard for users. Wind the clock back 5 years and Facebook was a goldmine for the savvy small businessman. Although the less switched on of us just saw it as a spamming service, many were far more creative and user friendly in their efforts, it was this approach that ultimately paid off.
By listening and engaging with customers, small businesses thrived on Facebook. Brands that had a small user group, with a strong social identity were at an advantage over the big names who struggled to tailor their online presence. Facebook, in their infinite wisdom, decided that revenue was more important than usability.
Fast forward to today and Facebook’s interface means that small businesses now get lost in the crowd. Monitors now remove any companies using a personal profile, preferring them to have fan pages instead. While it can be argued that this helps reduce spam and aids user experience, having to completely rebuild your fan base is frustrating.
Once a company has migrated to a fan page, their options are rather limited. Status updates from a fan page no longer appear on your follower’s feeds, unless Facebook decide they do, you can promote your post to ensure it appears, but this costs money.
Facebook say they adapt each user’s experience based on their online behaviour, in order to provide them with the content they want. In reality this serves only to gag business users until they pay to be heard. This has given big business the advantage back, and turned Facebook into a spamming service again. Having their feeds clogged with paid adverts is a nuisance which users have reluctantly put up with.
Having a billion users means they have been able to run this protection racket without fear of repercussions, a loss in users however, could start a downward spiral that is difficult to get out of. The beauty of social media is that allows you to easily stay in contact with people, maintaining your network of friends through effortless small talk. If you cannot see your friends, or if they disappear off the site altogether, you are likely to follow suite.
If Facebook is to maintain its huge presence, it needs to keep hold of what made it so successful. While there is no chance of them turning into Myspace just yet, the threat will always be hanging over their head.
Joe Errington is a marketing and social media executive for MITIE. A strategic outsourcing company who look after the facilities management of companies in the UK and abroad.