It was always going to happen. Like two lovers once enraptured in each other’s beauty slowly growing to despise each other after eight years of marriage, the general public has fallen out of love with Facebook.
At least that’s what the media narrative is anyway. The social media titan has taken a bit of a battering over the past few months, with 1.4million British users reportedly ditching their accounts in the space of a month – a drop in users apparently reflected around the world. Teenagers, once the life blood of the Zuckerberg empire, are now moving over to Instagram en masse because it’s apparently impossible to use more than one social network at a time.
Of course, rumours of Facebook’s demise are massively exaggerated; the company’s share price is at an all-time high thanks to improved revenue from advertising, while the actual time people are spending on the site remains high. Even teenagers are sticking around, despite the ever-looming threat of their parents posting an embarrassing photo of them or sending them endless invites to play ‘Candy Columns Crush Ville 12’.
So what, then, has inspired this sudden wave of ‘Facebook is dead’ posts? The answer is simple: Facebook fatigue.
People aren’t bored of Facebook, the social network. People are bored of the content, which is ironic considering it’s one of the few media platforms where you more or less select the exact nature of the content you’re served. Whether it’s the endless arguments between friends, constant whining or mindless popularity contests Facebook has served up, people are getting bored and switching off.
One particularly large group of contributors to the mass of content uploaded to Facebook every day are brands looking to gain new customers and make a few sales. Unfortunately, it’s this group of contributors who are arguably contributing most to Facebook fatigue.
Brands are all over Facebook, even if you don’t actually like any brand pages. Advertising and suggested posts mean that you’re bound to come across a brand post at some point, while ‘like and share’ competitions mean that you’re even more likely to have your news feed polluted by branded content.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing; a lot of brands do have genuinely interesting things to say and provide some entertaining stuff that deserves to be shared. However, a lot of brands have fallen into Facebook auto-pilot, relying on a banal template of posts and images formulated by set ideas of what a brand should ‘do’ on Facebook and a desperation not to offend.
You’ve undoubtedly seen the type of content I’m talking about; ‘LIKE this post if you like dogs, SHARE it if you love dogs’ from a company selling washing machines; ‘It’s Monday, tell us who you’re favourite member of ABBA is’ from a gambling company. Its content designed to get likes and shares, regardless of relevancy to the brand posting it.
This approach to social media has become so standard that quite a few people have picked up on it and started mocking it. The Condescending Corporate Brand Page is one of the most prominent, regularly skewering the banal posts of major brands. Websites such as Cracked have published articles mocking the practices of brands on social media, while social media ‘fails’ have become an increasingly merry topic of conversation on Twitter.
All of which is demonstrative of an increasing backlash against the work of brands on social media, particularly those regularly pushing out vanilla, boring content on a public using a platform where private networking among friends and family is the main focus. It’s akin to a marketing man in a clown suit jumping into the middle of a conversation between you and your friends and trying to sell you a can of Spam.
Even worse, there’s little evidence to suggest that this approach to social media even works for brands. A study by Reuters suggested that 80% of American adults had never made a purchase because of advertising or comments on Facebook. This is despite conversion rates from leads generated by social media being 13% higher than those from other sources.
So what are we left with? An approach to social media that not only fails to influence buying decisions but could increasingly alienate the audience it’s targeted toward. Not exactly ideal, is it?
Searching for a solution
What is the solution to all of this then? Well, it might not actually involve that much of a shift in terms of content; despite its shortcomings, the kind of banal content shared by some brands does have some merit in terms of improving social metrics.
Instead, brands are going to have to focus on what they want from social media, and how this affects their relationship with users. For brands whose sole goal from social media is to generate leads, content needs to focused and targeted towards users who might actually be interested in what they offer, rather than shot out in a scattergun approach that might just irritate uninterested users. Targeted advertising can play a big part in the success of this approach.
Increasing engagement and brand awareness is the easier route, but the message remains the same; target your approach to those who are interested and avoid publishing content that garners likers who, apart from liking the hilarious picture of Jean-Luc Picard you just published, have no interest in your brand or your products.
There also needs to be a tonal shift brand’s relationships with Facebook users. At the moment, there is a still a lot of overhang from the days of one-way advertising – content is presented as an advertisement and users are invited to like and share it; any conversation around the content tends to be limited to users with the odd interjection from the brand page.
Instead, an approach where brands become more personalised and treat each individual user as a friend needs to be adopted. Think about how you use Facebook on a personal level – do you post every five minutes? Do you constantly ask irrelevant questions?
The answer, hopefully, is no. By becoming a bit more friendlier and a bit less brand-y, brands can do their part to combat Facebook fatigue.