The Shift in Facebook Sharing

Media sites have been abuzz the past few days with news that Facebook’s heyday has passed; announcing that it’s a waning social media player, eclipsed by Millennial upstarts like Snapchat. What’s caused all this noise?

Recent investigations into Facebook user habits have indicated that the majority of people on the platform have seriously curbed their social sharing – meaning personal posts like photos, status updates, and milestone announcements. Instead, Facebook users have been sharing news articles, weblinks, and videos. Innocuous, and impersonal. Just how deep is the drop? According to Business Insider, personal social sharing fell by as much as 15% over the last  year and Inc. reported an even steeper drop the preceding year of 21% for the 2014-2015 period.

Once the go-to place to share personal life events for many users, Facebook was their photo album, contact list, job board, events hub, and way to keep family and friends connected. So the question remains why the sudden shift and hesitation towards personal sharing?

  • Privacy Concerns: While Facebook does have improved privacy settings, they are difficult to navigate and locate for most users, and are onerous to apply for every single “friend” on your page. In addition, Facebook friend lists themselves no longer feel personal, where they were once the domain of close family members and friends. Fast forward a few years, and people will add you as a “ friend” if they have met you once at a bar, or you may find half-remembered coworkers from three jobs ago counting themselves amongst your 350 “friends”, and one-off acquaintances you made over a long weekend in Miami buried in that list. This expansion of what the term “friend” actually means has caused people to be more careful about what they post.
  • Facebook is about Facebook: Users have also been quick to catch onto the fact that Facebook is now about Facebook, not the user experience, no matter how much they claim to be constantly trying to improve feeds and content. It has become a home for brand content and users don’t feel the relationship is reciprocal, they are not getting a good deal. Inc’s Bureau Chief, Jeff Bercovici recently said,“The massive decline in personal sharing is a sign that large numbers of people have started to figure out that the value they get out of Facebook is a lot less than the value they put in.” 

This could sound off putting to advertisers, but this is only one side of a two headed coin. Facebook users are now more likely to share branded content than personal posts in the form of news articles, videos, and informative links. With this being the case, the shift is something brands can capitalise on so long as it is non-intrusive and provides value-added information. Publishers can also ensure that content is professional and of good quality; i.e., post your best pieces, share your most popular and engaging stories. Facebook has been prioritising quality over quantity for some time now, penalising click-bait posts and rewarding brands that give something back to the user in the form of relevant, interesting and engaging material.

Furthermore, in addition to the shrinking personal profile information, Facebook primarily uses to channels for advertisement targeting: online search behaviour, and third party data. This leaves advertisers with incredibly accurate, granular data targeting options outside of being solely reliant on what users are willing to post to their pages.

Ultimately, a reduction in personal social sharing does not mean the end of Facebook, in fact user numbers have been increasing inspite of the noise around the platform saying it is past its prime. At the end of January 2016, Tech Crunch reported that Facebook had hit 1.59 billion users and growing. 80% of their revenue now is via mobile advertising, and mobile-only users have shot up by 13.2% from last quarter. These are respectable results indicating that it’s far from over for Facebook.