With more than 2.2 billion monthly active users Facebook is the world’s largest online community. And it’s been a major source of traffic for publishers.
Of late, however, Facebook has faced intense pressure over the proliferation of fake news, hate speech and depictions of violence on its platform, which it’s trying to bring under control. At the same time, usage is dropping in certain demographics, brand/publisher posts are being de-emphasised on the platform, and other services are rising to pick up the baton.
Here’s a look at what’s happening, and what’s coming.
Facebook: “Publishers’ reach on the platform may go down”
That Facebook will send less traffic to publishers was evident earlier this year when Facebook initiated the most significant overhaul in years to its News Feed, and said it would prioritize what friends and family of Facebook users share/comment on, while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands.
Facebook itself declared in an email statement, “The recent News Feed changes we announced mean people will connect with their friends more, and with public pages less; that means news publishers’ reach on the platform may go down.”
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more emphatic about the direction the platform was headed, saying, “you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
Around the same time, we started seeing headlines like,
Google is sending more traffic than Facebook to publishers — again
Facebook sent 25 percent less traffic to publishers this year, while Google increased its traffic by 17 percent, according to Parse.ly.
As promised, Facebook traffic to news publishers declines again, post news-feed change
Just a month after Facebook said it’d show less news in its news feed, news publishers are already feeling the brunt, multiple data sources show.
This is the next major traffic driver for publishers: Chrome’s mobile article recommendations, up 2,100 percent in one year
It’s already driving almost as many visits as Twitter
Facebook has weathered crises in the past, leading some to hold out hope that these were just temporary blips. However, research by Chartbeat indicates that this phenomenon is probably not temporary, with Google replacing Facebook as top referrer to publishers and the gap widening more through 2018.
What is causing this movement away from Facebook?
Following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, there are growing concerns about invasion of privacy as reflected in a Gallup survey of Facebook users in April 2018, in which 43% of respondents said they are very concerned about their privacy being invaded, up from 30% in a January 2011. That’s a significant jump.
A recent survey by Thomson Reuters shows a more comprehensive view of why a large section of users are sharing less content with friends and followers on Facebook, and privacy concerns tops the list.
According to eMarketer, “There is definite weakness in Facebook usage that is becoming more noticeable, both in survey results and in Facebook’s own statements. That weakness stems from a variety of factors, including social media fatigue, concerns over fake news and declining usage among young people.”
All of which led to, for the first time ever, a fall in Facebook usage in 2018.
According to the Edison Research ‘Infinite Dial’ report, which has been tracking Facebook usage since 2008, “usage has steadily increased for ten straight years. But this year, for the first time in our tracking, the portion of Americans reporting that they currently ever use the service has declined from 67% to 62% among Americans 12+.”
“Usage is down or flat in every demographic age group, gender, and ethnicity.”
But if there is any particular demographic loss Facebook should be most concerned about, it’s the next generation, the teens.
A new Pew Research Center survey shows just about half (51%) of US teens say they use Facebook, considerably lower than those who use YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat.
Says Frederic Filloux, Editor of the Monday Note,
“Facebook is no longer the platform of choice among teenagers: it dropped from 71% of usage four years ago to 51% now. It also fell to the fourth place, behind Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube, which takes the lead as the preferred media platform for young people.”
“Cracks are beginning to show”
No one expects Facebook to go away anytime soon, but there are indications of a shift taking place.
The latest eMarketer social forecast shows this shift in platform use:
“Facebook has easily maintained its place as the leading social platform… but cracks are beginning to show because of the ongoing decline of teen Facebook users … there will be declines between 5.6% and 9.3% among users under 25, for a loss of 2.1 million.”
The report also indicates which services will benefit most:
“The biggest beneficiary of this outcome will be Snapchat. By the end of this year, 68.0% of internet users ages 12 to 17 will use the platform. Penetration in this age group will outstrip that of Facebook and Instagram (47.2% and 43.6%, respectively).
Meanwhile, Instagram’s user base will increase 13.1% to 104.7 million. Those 35 and older who are creating profiles and connecting with (likely younger) family members less active on Facebook are primarily responsible for this growth.”
With a fall in users and increase in scepticism, it’s evident that traffic to publishers from Facebook is drying up in comparison to its heyday. So what’s next?
- Nick Ascheim, SVP of Digital for NBC News and MSNBC says, according to Digiday, “the silver lining is that traffic from other sources like Google and Apple News is on the rise and the number of loyal visitors is up, whereas Facebook traffic tended to be one-and-done.”
- Apple is already taking initiatives that would be beneficial for publishers, like announcing earlier this week that it’s bringing its News App to the Mac. This can be very good news for publishers, as Apple News can account for 50%-60% of traffic for stories.
- Other than that, publishers need to forge a stronger presence on the platforms used by younger generations – YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. A Pew Research Center survey indicates that these platforms will continue to see more usage moving forwards.
“Snapchat could eventually experience more growth in older age groups, since it’s redesigning its platform to be easier to use,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson says, “The question will be whether younger users will still find Snapchat cool if more of their parents and grandparents are on it. That’s the predicament Facebook is in.”
And it is a predicament…..