Cool. Trendy. The in-thing. Dare I say it: "Down with the kids". Being seen as the next big thing; as a new phenomenon associated with the freshness of youth, has helped Facebook grow to the size and potential valuation it is today. This isn't a unique experience of course - just ask the fashionistas.
There's an unspoken given when a brand becomes "cool" - Mum, Dad and anyone else "uncool" won't have a clue what the brand in question is about or that it even exists; this is the "cool" kids' world, and nerds/boffins/whatever-you-call them just can't come in and play.
Reading a breakdown of Facebook's valuation and future challenges on the FT site, one phrase struck me as summing up one threat that all the money and investor backing in the world might not be able to meet:
"…the ever increasing probability that your mother (or father or teacher) is on Facebook".
The article goes on to note that Facebook would argue that they no longer need to be "cool" once they have a large base of users. True - incumbency and forward momentum have inherent value: the crowds keep coming back, the ads keeping being seen, the dollars keep rolling in. Is that what MySpace's management thought?
Humans are fickle. We move on from things that bore us. We chase "new". We grow older, our priorities change and our time shifts. A 22 year old living with no commitments after 5:30PM or at weekends is a very different person five years later - our spare time is reduced as we put our energies into relationships, ageing family members, hobbies, sports, children, property… as is our disposable income!
This is the hidden challenge for Facebook. As the current "Facebook generation" who started using the platform around university age spend less time there - and I'm talking over the next five years - will Facebook have secured such a dominance of social that it won't matter? Will the following generations embrace the platform unthinkingly - or will they find new apps, new platforms that occupy their time, with the inevitable advertiser herd following them?
Don’t think it's possible?
It's been said enough times that Facebook are behind in mobile and that was one reason for the Instagram acquisition (as well puffing their chests out pre-valuation to attract investors). The teenage generation today live on their mobiles. We all know this, we've all read the research.
Yes, they are on Facebook. Some are on Twitter. Some Instagram. A few on Tumblr. Blackberry Messenger is popular - ask any Met officer investigating teenage gangs - and keeping Blackberry alive in the consumer mobile game, at least in the UK. Ask 10 teenagers what mobile they want next, and you will find Blackberry is well up there, alongside iPhone and Android handsets.
That's before we look at sites and apps that I simply don't know about as a 31 year old uncle (11 times and counting…). I'm not cool - and neither is Facebook. That might, just might, be their Achilles heel - declining usage from the generation that shot them to their current heights. Whilst "the youth" see Facebook as just another site they might go to, might bother with after spending time on the new, rising, relevant site their generation is propelling to fame; revenues and inflated valuations in the palm of their hands.
By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK