After surpassing 1 billion users this past month, Facebook has become an institution that appears to have some staying power. But there is a lingering issue that threatens Facebook’s dominance even more than advertising revenue and stockholder discontent.
When Kathy Savitt was named CMO of Yahoo, a lot was written about her obsession with Generation Z (the generation born post 1990 or so). In a talk that she gave to an audience of marketers, she described that Generation Y and Generation Z view Facebook with a lot of apprehension.
The reason: because their parents and grandparents are there in force. I remember thinking that was an interesting insight at the time.
But now I totally get it.
I share two things on Facebook: pictures of my kids and links to my writing. The pictures are primarily for grandparents and family who live three time zones away, and the writing is to share with anyone who’s interested. It turns out that my mom enjoys both.
we didn’t have great boundaries in my house and my mom was always very interested in what I did. I used to write songs about the girls I had crushes on in seventh grade. My mom made it a point to keep tabs on those. When I was in high school, our home phone had a habit of picking up noise from the other side of the house, almost as if someone was listening on the other line (for those of you are confused about how that works – we didn’t have cell phones). Point being, it was a little stifling.
So, when I went to college and eventually went into the Army, I enjoyed some autonomy courtesy of geographic distance and my family’s hodophobia. And as much as I admire and appreciate my parents for my upbringing, I needed that autonomy. I LOVED that autonomy.
I could continue to emphasize the point, but will continue …
So, I wrote a somewhat personal piece the other day that I shared on Facebook, and my mom commented on it. That was the “a-ha” moment for me.
I found that even as an adult, there are some things that I’d like to enjoy some control over.
I read the comment with the same cringe that I remember feeling when I discovered that my mom had been “organizing” my room (a euphemism for going through my stuff).
If I were a teenager now
there is absolutely no way I would be on Facebook, or if I was I would never update it. Think about it: what possible incentive would there be to cede the autonomy that other social networks offer? Tumblr and Instagram are popular now with teenagers, but rest assured they won’t be as soon as parents start getting connected to them.
Pearl Jam has a lyric: “All that’s sacred is in youth,” and I’ve always interpreted taken that to mean that the most transformative and sacrosanct experiences that we have are when we’re young.
Now that my hair is gray and my kids are intent to speed the graying process, I’m much more pragmatic and much less inspired. I’m a grown-up and I’m on Facebook. And so is my mom.
Facebook is no longer sacred. The autonomy that it might have offered early adopters has disappeared. But on the bright side, it is a phenomenal place to post pictures of your kids. I’ve never had a bad experience doing that.
What do you think? Am I overreacting a bit? Will the next generations be lured to Facebook by Farmville and stay for the advertising?
Image: Family 1976 via Flickr, CC 2.0
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@sohinibaliga That I don’t know… but I’ll drag @leaderswest into the convo since it was his post. Many thanks for sharing!
@sohinibaliga @shonali I think there may be evidence of a decline in NA, but I think Facebook has some legs maybe similar to Yahoo?
@leaderswest @shonali There’s definitely “stickiness” – but as a consumer and communications professional, I find it work more than not.
@leaderswest Em…what’s NA? ::blinkscluelessly::
@sohinibaliga so sorry, North America. Facebook’s decline in NA si buffered by growth elsewhere.
@leaderswest You are correct there. Although it’s very odd for me to see family and friend in India go through the same privacy issues.
@leaderswest It’s sort of like “haven’t we seen this movie before?”
This is EXACTLY why I stopped using my facebook account and moved to Instagram. Even as an adult, I felt like my parents were always commenting on things or asking me about things they would see on facebook.
katmtaylor Maybe my mom and your mom could be Facebook friends?
Irrelevant might be a bit strong- but I get your point regarding privacy…we seem to whipsaw a bit on whether younger generations like more or less of it. Maybe as we bemoaned how the Millennials seemed to share publicly every personal bit of their life…theylearned that this is not always a good thing :-)
I think Facebook will always have its place as a way to learn and share information no matter the generation, but more private thoughts will go to more private places ;-)
maryanneconlin Thanks Maryanne! I didn’t intend to be sensational about relevance at all, but should have qualified that I mean it as generationally irrelevant. People (most prominently Kathy Savitt, who I mention above) describe Gen M having quite a different perception of Facebook than maybe you or I have. I think Facebook may be looked upon in ten or fifteen years as Yahoo is now. Of course, I am the world’s worst futurist – but I think there is mounting evidence of Facebook having an insurmountable struggle for Gen M. Thanks for your comment!
This is very true. As a 7th grade teacher, I see that the future is in my classroom. My students know about facebook but many are not on there. Their parents don’t let them or they find it boring. They know it to be boring because they see their parents on it. If parents are on it then it must be boring. That’s how they see it.
audaciouslady Thanks for that great comment! I was just talking to a teacher friend of mine and we were discussing how he was on the cutting edge of technology and trends because of his everyday interactions with students. I think this generation is going to very exciting and I’m really interested to see how their proclivities and technological aptitude shape their behaviors as they grow older.
I can’t remember the article anymore because I just looked at the photo. Very groovy Mum for a Rev’s wife. The hair, the Harry Highpants jeans on your Dad, the banana bike. Very Dazed and Confused
@Nicole Ha! Wish that were us, but it is a picture from the creative commons. If it were me you’d have seen a dangling cigarette from my dad’s lip, my sister pulling each other’s hair, me in my husky pants and a cheesy grin. :)
Thanks Shonali for allowing me to contribute, and let me just say how grateful I am that my mom didn’t comment on this post!
leaderswest PS – thank YOU for a terrific post – I’m so glad you share your smarts with the WUL community!
@bemichotte I’ll keep my fingers crossed for ya :) cc @thebrandbuilder
@bemichotte hahahahaha :) Well, I hope you chose a font @thebrandbuilder will approve of. Otherwise you’ll have to start again :)
@bemichotte always a critic…:) how are we today, Monsieur Michotte?
@jhirz Don’t shoot the messenger!
@kmueller62 Thank you, pal!
@denisewakeman @kiboomu @kdillabough @freshviewjax @chrispilbeam @seanmcginnis Thanks for sharing @leaderswest guest #WUL post!
@margieclayman I KNOW! Thank you for sharing! @leaderswest
awesome plus awesome = awesome. Tried and true mathematical formula :) @shonali @leaderswest
@ginidietrich @shonali Wait…Facebook is relevant?
@salliegoetsch @ginidietrich LOL!
@salliegoetsch LOL!! Apparently so. How are you??
@ginidietrich Trying not to get the cold my husband brought back from Holland, and almost late to teach my @mediabistroEDU class.
@salliegoetsch I hope you don’t get that cold!
@ginidietrich I’m doing my best to fight it off. Not as sick as @StefanDidak is, but not totally well, either.
@salliegoetsch Hope you and @StefanDidak feel better soon.
@DonnaPapacosta Thanks, Donna. Have to buy @StefanDidak more cough syrup today, if Parrot Kitty actually lets me get up.
This is a great article. I’m a social media strategist with a lot of family and ex’s on Facebook. I hear complaints about Facebook all the time. It seems that literally every complaint can be remedied by the available privacy features. You can block people from your posts, unsubscribe from people, etc. I have a bit of a wall around myself, but nothing complicated. I have zero complaints about Facebook, but I’m a bit of a power user. So my question is: Is Facebook too hard to use? Should these privacy options be easier for most people to work with? Or is it too rude to block someone? (they’ll find out) It seems Facebook’s future may hang in the balance…
LouT4 That’s a fantastic insight, Lou. I think it’s just like anything else – the more complicated it is to do the less people will do it. In one of my career paths I managed a manufacturing facility and the degree that we could control quality and manage costs was proportional to how easy we make our process. I think the same efficiencies are true with social media. My personal opinion is that Google Plus has the easiest privacy controls of any social network – yet that doesn’t seem to be enough of an allure to attract Gen M users. So my thought it that as easy as you can make privacy controls, it’s much easier to take the conversation to another platform. And that’s why I think you see a generational shift from Facebook to other platforms. I also think that Facebook showed some shrewd strategy acquiring Instagram but I wonder if at 100M users if that might be too big for the future. It’s interesting to see how the multitasked generation responds differently to technology than fossils like me, and I think understanding their mindset a little better will probably give a better sense of how the social landscape will shift. Great insight and comment.
@shonali: I hadn’t so thanks for tweeting!!!!
@jennimacdonald You’re welcome! It’s TERRIFIC.
You have very valid concerns. Case-in-point: My husband’s grandkids are more selective now about what they post (versus a few years ago). One has gone so far as to set-up a second account–one that’s not connected to us ‘old’ folks (I’ve warned her that FB could shut them both down as this is against their TOS but I may as well be taking to a wall). I have suggested they set-up lists so they don’t have to share certain things with some of us but either they don’t trust that or, because they access only from their smartphones, they can’t figure it out. So, the dynamic is definitely evolving but going away? I’m not convinced. :)
tressalynne Great insight, Tressa! A study came out this week about Gen M that found that these kids have more devices personally than an entire household did a decade ago. So I think that duplicate accounts are probably just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect that cybermonitoring will be a growth industry as my kids get old enough for social evasion. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
tressalynne That’s so interesting, Tressa. I wonder if it’s not so much “they can’t figure it out” as they don’t want to/think it will take too much time to do so.
shonali I think that could very well be the case. Patience is not one of their virtues ;)
Huge point. Perhaps the reason for FB focussing so much on Privacy settings. But they need to go beyond. Perhaps create sub-domains to segregate and segment consumer behaviour
lifeisbetter Thanks for your comment. I don’t get a great sense that FB does too much altruistic work – particularly since they went public. I think keeping Instagram (which they own) separate from Facebook may have been a way to try and grow a younger demographic, but I’m not sure that exclusivity is an easy fix. If it were Google Plus would have caught on much faster than it did. Keep an eye on Yahoo – their CMO Kathy Savitt is one of the big thinkers about this generational gap and the perception of kids towards these networks. It will be interesting to see how Yahoo’s products start to reflect these perceptions. Great comment – thank you!
There is a way to stop your privacy invasion: block the people you don’t want watching. If ‘the kids’ find a new network (which they already have – Twitter), their parents will follow if they really want to dig. It is still my ardent belief that only Facebook can kill Facebook. We’ve never seen a network with 1 billion users before – this is no MySpace.
AmyMccTobin Thanks Amy! I think if you take a look at the age demographics for Twitter, even it is not the social network of choice for Gen M (Facebook median age is just over 40, Twitter just under). Tumblr is the biggest and Instagram is (I believe) the largest growing – though a lot of that growth is in ages that aren’t old enough to have an account so it’s hard to manage. When you think in aggregate for these networks, I think you have to consider the easiest path. For instance is it easier to set up Circles on Google Plus or just to meet on Pheed? The filters and blocks need to be more intuitive than they are… but even then what would that look like and would it still be easier just to meet someplace else? I think Facebook may be more analogous to Yahoo in that it will retain a user base that will be formidable but will age, I don’t expect it will have as precipitous a decline as MySpace, but I also submit that the new MySpace may be a more welcoming platform for Gen M users than Facebook. It’s all speculative of course, but thinking of social networks from a generational standpoint rather than from the perspective of agnostic growth and attrition makes more sense to me. Great insight – I may plagiarize your only Facebook can kill Facebook line… please don’t sue! :)