Reactions to this week’s breathless headlines about the impending doom of Facebook reminded us of the old adage, “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”
We think brand managers and marketers alike need to take a closer look at the numbers, take a deep breath and move forward.
Pundits and headline writers latched onto a Pew Research Center study that found that young consumers rely on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat rather than Facebook these days.
But the headline numbers were exactly those: Nothing but headline numbers.
The Devil in the Details
While the Pew researchers put their finger on a movement that’s been developing, at least anecdotally, for a couple of years, there’s no reason for panic among brands that rely heavily on Facebook.
For starters, Facebook remains dominant among most consumers. Pew researchers found that 68 percent of U.S. adults are Facebook users, and roughly two-thirds of those consumers check their Facebook account at least once a day.
Then, too, Facebook use rises with consumers’ income and education. The Pew study found 66 percent of consumers making less than $30,000 year use Facebook. Among those make $75,000 or more, the percentage climbs to 75 percent. Sixty percent of high school graduates use Facebook, while 77 percent of college grads are on the platform.
Those numbers, we’d suggest, are not those of a marketing platform that’s on the ropes.
What About the Youth?
But what about the headline numbers that appear to show that young consumers are abandoning Facebook? Again, a deeper dive paints more nuanced picture.
The headlines correctly point out that YouTube is used by 85 percent of teens aged 13-17, and Snapchat is the platform they use most often. (If you’re wondering, 35 percent of the teens surveyed use Snapchat more than other applications.) Facebook, which ranked first in popularity among teens the last time Pew did a similar survey in 2015, now ranks fourth.
Consider Complicating Factors When Strategizing
Here’s the piece of the study that didn’t get enough attention: YouTube wasn’t included in the survey three years ago. And there’s some question YouTube should even be numbered as a social-media platform at all, even though users can post their own videos. For most users, YouTube is more akin to Spotify — a platform to consume content — rather than a true social platform.
Long-term strategies never should be driven by short-term headlines, and that’s true once again with this newest Pew research.
We think the Facebook’s numbers remain strong enough across nearly every demographic that brands have no reason to freak out, even if their strategies are heavily driven by Facebook. It’s unlikely that Facebook’s dominance of the social-media universe will decline so quickly that brands need to take immediate action.
But for the longer term — like the next couple of years — the Pew researchers may have identified a trend that will influence future marketing decisions. Teens, after all, grow up and become young-adult consumers. And teens have outsized influence in determining the popularity of social-media and other digital platforms across all demographics. So long as middle-aged consumers rely on their children and grandchildren to help sort through the digital world, the tastes of teens will reverberate across society.
The erosion of Facebook’s dominance could be accelerated, of course, if it’s unable to restore the consumer trust that it lost in the privacy and fake-news scandals. Those trust issues are likely to strike Facebook hardest among the middle-aged demographics where the Pew research found the platform hasn’t seen any erosion in popularity.
Our suggestion for brands who were alarmed by this week’s headlines: Don’t do anything now, and prepare to sit tight with Facebook for a while. But watch closely to see if a trend is beginning to develop.
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