The social networking phenomenon that is Facebook offers wonderful opportunity for connection, for spreading the word, for sharing, for changing the world. But it also offers unnerving chances for friction, for spreading rumor, for sharing a too personal party pics of friends, and for changing our skin-and-blood friends into an array of advertisers’ targets. MKCREATIVEmedia has often praised the opportunities tothat an organization’s page offers, but we have occasionally wondered where all this is going – especially for individual citizens.
And as Facebook heads towards a likely Initial Public Offering early next year, we see a swelling trend of even Millennials who are backing off the platform. Is Facebook on the wane?
Some analysts are wondering aloud for the first time if we indeed have a mature and saturated market of platforms and developers. Indeed, argued George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, the success of the biggest platforms (ie, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter) means that there just are not that many more eyeballs out there to capture for the first time: “Social is running out of hours. Social is also running out of people.”
Its users might also be running out of patience. Users in California have recently been given the go-ahead to sue Facebook on the grounds that its ‘Sponsored Stories’ widget breaks state laws that block companies’ use of individual names, voices, and images for advertising without that person’s consent (and opportunity to get compensation). Subscribers can not opt out of these ‘Sponsored Stories’ if they have an account, though other targeting/advertising gimmicks can be throttled back by the user.
Certainly the driving force of both Facebook’s tangled outreach – outreach that defaults to sharing most everything with most everybody – is money:
Facebook’s advertisements are at the forefront of its revenue intake. The social network is expecting to make $3.8 billion alone from advertisement revenue this year, nearly 90 percent of its total intake. It is estimated this figure could rise to $6.9 billion in 2012, Bloomberg reports.
And the IPO for FB is widely expected to be on the north side of $100 billion, a value drawn almost entirely from its advertising potential.
Some of the pressure against the social network comes from more mundane/less belligerent sources. Jenna Wortham published a story in The New York Times last week about a few young people who left Facebook simply because they were uncomfortable about it. Jenna’s opening anecdote concerns a young man in Oregon who saw a woman on an elevator who he had never met, but about whom he knew quite a bit because of what her friends had shared on Facebook. “I knew all these things about her, but I’d never even talked to her,” said Mr. Balcomb, a pre-med student in Oregon who had some real-life friends in common with the woman. “At that point I thought, maybe this is a little unhealthy.”
The response from Facebook was appreciation for the fact that not everyone will want to join, along with a healthy drive for the advertisers’ dollars: “Instead [Facebook developers] are working on ways to keep current users on the site longer, which gives the company more chances to show them ads. And the company’s biggest growth is now in places like Asia and Latin America, where there might actually be people who have not yet heard of Facebook.”
A few million such skeptics would have to leave Facebook before we could honestly talk about a rebellion. But heat over the issue is likely to rise as the public offering in the spring of 2012 nears (or at least ‘is presumed to be near’). Might this holiday season see a growth in sharing of embarrassing shots from the office party or a winnowing of people on the site as they reach out instead by phone or (gasp!) pen?
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Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD