I came across a couple of interesting articles about Facebook this week. Firstly, a piece in the Register suggesting the beginning of "Facebook Fatigue". That piece, in turn, draws from the Creative Capital blog wherein you can see the underlying data. The concern is that the average time spent by users on social networking sites is falling. Is this an indication of flagging interest? At the same time, The Sunday Times magazine printed a fascinating exploration of Facebook, its attractions and its impact: Who’s pressing your buttons on Facebook? – Times Online.
I do not think death is imminent, but there is certainly a need for a deeper analysis and for some healthy concern. If the novelty is wearing off – and this is not the result of a changing demographic (has heightened awareness led to an increase in exploratory users outside of the core segment who quickly lose interest and drag down the average stats?) – then that should be a worry. Much of the excitement and money surrounding social-networking sites is being driven by the idea that the powerful community of users and the stickiness of the site can be used to market or sell. The challenge is that, as yet, no-one has developed a viable method for this. Facebook’s own clumsy attempt at peer-marketing met with a user backlash which led to the project being hastily reversed.
The challenge is this: to ensure that the user base remains engaged whilst introducing those users to offerings which will make money in ways which are acceptable to those users. No-one likes to be "used" which was what riled people about facebook’s Beacon blunder. As The Times points out, people are fickle and Facebook has the feel of a very faddy site. A key metric for me would be engagement time split by average tenure. Do those who "grew up" with facebook remain loyal? Those are the key segment to understand. One of the earliest players in the social-networking space was friendsreunited.co.uk which followed a similar path of exponetial growth followed – shortly after purchase by ITV – by a steep decline. There are clear lessons there.
Another statistic caught my eye in the Creative Capital table was the performance of LinkedIn.com. LinkedIn is a very different site in that it is targeted towards business networking. Users don’t get spammed to join in cat-poo fights or to support Obama; they simply use it to make connections and do business. To be sure, the figures are a whole order smaller but ove the two quarters shown, users grew by 163% and average engagement time grew by 30%. A different demographic, a different purpose but I wonder if LinkedIn offers something of perceived value over that offered by my general "social" sites.