The lifecycles of social networks: Has Facebook peaked in the UK?

By Chris Lee

Bebo, MySpace, Friendster, Friends Reunited: the fledgling era of the social web is already littered with the remnants of once-popular networks. The greatest of all social networks – Facebook – would appear to be experiencing a minor wobble of its own, if recent statistics bear any significance.

According to one study, Facebook’s daily users dropped by 600,000 in the UK during December, or 1.89% of its user base. It was also widely reported that, following the announcement of controversial terms and conditions purporting to the potential sale of images, the number of daily users of the Facebook-owned photo sharing network Instagram halved between December 2012 and January 2013.

So, do social networks have “lifecycles” and, if so, is Facebook starting to peak in its mature markets?

Social media fragmentation

According to Simon Griffin of research-led design firm Etre, the entire social media landscape is fragmenting, which may lead many social media users to spend less time on Facebook and more time on niche sites.

“Mass adoption of sites like Facebook and Twitter has meant that the signal that once existed within these sites has been drowned out by noise,” he told NMK. “The signal that once existed in many Facebook feeds, for example, has long been lost amongst the baby photos, memes and shameless self-promotion of acquaintances. The result: some don’t bother with it much anymore.”

As a result of this problem, Griffin says, many of the conversations that currently take place on these kinds of sites will progress to niche – i.e. more personal, more relevant – sites in 2013.

Griffin believes that sites such as location-based Foursquare, photo site Pinterest and close friends and family network Path could see increased use during 2013.

Facebook will continue to grow in new markets

Matt Owen, social media manager at digital marketing community Econsultancy, believes there are still areas of the world where Facebook can grow. In Asia and South America alone in 2012 it added 112.1 million new members, opening up new business opportunities for the brand, and the user base in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is also growing fast.

Owen believes that Facebook is too big and too entrenched to fail.

With one billion users and counting, Facebook is the undisputed king of social networks and looks to reign for a long time. Despite its IPO debacle last year, Facebook proves that size does matter,” he argued. “So too does the on-going relationship users have with their social networks. Going from one network to another isn’t as easy as switching your data from one phone to another – and even that isn’t a snap. People will be reluctant to make the jump and marketers know this. Individuals’ investment in Facebook is another reason why marketing on the platform can be so effective, and also why its demise is anything but imminent.”

Facebook far from faltering

Sam Haseltine is a social media strategist at consultants Greenlight, whose own research debunks any rumours of a Facebook slump in the UK. While growth may be slower, there was higher engagement in 2012 compared to 2011, he said.

“[Facebook] has a billion users to its advantage, with a clear mission of connecting people. Although this may seem forceful at times, at least its mission is clear…unlike the original MySpace,” he said. “Facebook’s launch of Graph Search will serve on several fronts including perhaps re-igniting usage among users whose interest has waned.”

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