Facebook Isn’t a Social Network Anymore
It’s a content network.
Twelve years ago, Facebook started out as a place for people to post about themselves. Lately, however, the platform looks more like a giant digital store where brands buy our attention. The purpose of the world’s biggest social network has changed so drastically that Facebook may not even be able to call itself a social network.
Bloomberg and The Information reported that personal sharing has dropped 21 percent since mid-2015, according to unnamed sources. And some of Facebook’s recent efforts suggest that this trend has become a serious problem.
Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has spoken at Facebook staff meetings this year about the need to inspire personal sharing, the people said. Facebook has tried several tactics to encourage more of these posts, such as an “On This Day” feature launched last year that brings up memories from past years that users might want to talk about again, or reminders about special occasions like Mother’s Day. Facebook has also prompted users to post the most recent photos and other recently accessed content from their phones.
Earlier this year, the company introduced Facebook Live, its live-streaming video feature that has had media companies and celebrities salivating over its intrusive notifications and large reach. But Facebook also sees it as a way to prompt the average user to share more regularly.
As Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed News, “People look at live video and they think this is a lot of pressure because it’s live; it takes a lot of courage to go live and put yourself out there. But what we’re finding is the opposite. A lot of the biggest innovations have been things that take some of the pressure out of posting a photo or video.”
That need to alleviate social media pressure could be the reason why personal sharing is dropping. Posting on Facebook has become nothing short of anxiety-inducing for the average user, since everyone from your grandma to your boss is watching.
In a recent blog post, Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and The Glass Cage, labeled the shift a context collapse: “Before social media came along, your social life played out in different and largely separate spheres… with a social network like Facebook, all these spheres merge into a single sphere. Everybody sees what you’re doing. Context collapses.”
Facebook’s data collection from personal sharing is a huge part of why its ad network has been so successful. Collapsing identities was something Zuckerberg once blatantly promoted as a positive part of the Facebook experience: “You have one identity; the days of you having a different image for your work friends or your co-workers and for the people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.”
The precipitous fall of personal sharing hints that Zuckerberg was wrong, as does the rise in chat apps for personal communication and sharing. It seems that Facebook is no longer a place to keep up with close friends and family; now, it’s becoming a place to find (and share) the content you want.
I’d say it was a problem for the company, except that attention time on the network doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As long as Facebook has attention and behavioral data to sell, it shouldn’t stop dominating anytime soon.
This story originally appeared on Contently’s The Content Strategist.