What’s wrong with Facebook?

Facebook is in trouble; or so it might seem from stories in the specialist press, such as New Media Age and subsequent mainstream follow-up coverage. It seems that in the UK, Facebook has started to lose users; it is down by around 400,000 over a month.

That might seem a large number, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big. After all, Facebook is currently over 700% bigger than it was a year ago, so this is a mere blip. Or is it?

Some commentators are saying that the popularity of Facebook could be its downfall. The social networking site began amongst the younger generation online. Now, though, you can find corporate profiles as well as “oldies” like me….! Gosh. Apparently, that is seen to devalue the network amongst the younger Facebookers. At first sight, this might seem true. Every town has its “young persons’ pub” and the “local” that’s frequented by the older folk, or the “family pub” for those with children. So it seems to make sense that since Facebook was started by young people and popularised by young people that they would desert the system as soon as us oldies started invading their space.

However, this is not the real issue. Really young people stick with Bebo. Why? Because it only offers features and facilities for the teenager. Corporates and us oldies aren’t interested. Bebo is firmly in the “youth niche”. Whereas, Facebook is trying to be all things to all people – and that spells disaster.

Take Ecademy as an example. This is a social networking site aimed at business people, mainly the self-employed and small business owner, largely in the UK. It works brilliantly because it is focused on that specific group. Similarly, MarCom Professional works because it is squarely focused as a social network for a specific group of people – those in marketing communications. But Facebook? It’s anything and everything.

True it’s fun; yes it is sometimes fascinating and certainly it can entertain. But it’s lack of real focus is probably why the numbers are starting to go down. People have been experimenting, finding it relatively useful, but discovering that the focused social networks are providing more value. Luckily for Facebook it has millions of users, so a gradual drip away of people will not be a real disaster for it. They have time to refocus and find their niche. If Facebook, however, does not focus, then a blip in membership will become a haemorrhage and that would be a problem. They’ve probably got a year to sort this out.

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