A couple months ago I was invited to a really random rugby gala. At the gala, I met an iconic, inspiring and talented DJ. Upon asking me where I build my audience as a music artist I answered “Spotify, Instagram and TikTok. Most recently on YouTube too”. When I returned the question, he simply answered “Facebook” to which I returned a surprised expression, “you forget” he said “it is still the most used social media platform in the world”. Facebook boasts 3 billion users. He makes a great point although this DJ is a gay man in his 50s and so perhaps of those 3 billion, more fit into his demographic pocket than mine. Last night, however, I watched the latest episode of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso in which one character advises another not to post on Facebook as it is reserved for “grandparents and racists”. The gist? The cultural stance of Facebook is a tricky one to gauge.
For most of us, especially Gen Zers and millenials, we just can’t imagine a world in which Facebook, which I joined when I was in year 7 (2011 to be precise – and that was very late compared to my peers, thanks mum) becomes a regular part of our lives again. For younger users, due to Facebook now being Meta and owning platforms like Instagram and Whatsapp, Facebook is utilitarian but boring, like email but more so.
The once-cool social media platform born before the iPhone is approaching two decades in existence. For those who came of age around the time Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com from his Harvard dorm room in 2004, it’s been inextricably baked into daily life — even if it’s somewhat faded into the background over the years.
Facebook faces a particularly odd challenge. Today, 3 billion people check it each month. That’s more than a third of the world’s population. And 2 billion log in every day. Yet it still finds itself in a battle for relevancy, and its future, after two decades of existence.
It wasn’t always like this. For nearly a decade, Facebook was the place to be, the cultural touchstone, the thing constantly referenced in daily conversations and late-night TV, its founding even the subject of a Hollywood movie. I even remember in my sixth form days (circa 2016), Facebook was the go to place to source all the details for the hottest and most relevant events.
Artificial intelligence is central to Facebook’s plan of evolution. Just as TikTok uses its AI and algorithm to show people videos they didn’t know they wanted to see Facebook is hoping to harness its powerful technology to win back the hearts and eyeballs of young adults. Reels, the TikTok-like videos Facebook and Instagram users are bombarded with when they log into both apps, are also key. And, of course, private messaging.
“What we are seeing is more people wanting to share reels, discuss reels, and we’re starting to integrate messaging features back into the app to again allow Facebook to be a place where not only do you discover great things that are relevant to you, but you share and you discuss those with people,” said Tom Alison, who serves as the head of Facebook (Zuckerberg’s title is now Meta CEO).
Arguably, Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with Insider Intelligence who’s followed Facebook since its early days, has the most interesting insight regarding Facebook’s future. “Young people often shape the future of communication. I mean, that’s basically how Facebook took off — young people gravitated toward it. And we see that happening with pretty much every social platform that has come on the scene since Facebook […] I think the best thing they could do is get away from being a social platform. Like they’ve lost that. But hey, if they want to become the new Yellow Pages, why not?”