Will Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s battle with another company cost him the future of media? Maybe, if the reaction to his latest Facebook changes is any indication.
“Yesterday, I clicked to ‘see less’ 44 Facebook posts all videos from sources I don’t follow,” Facebook friend and author Shel Israel was posted recently. “This morning, I clicked ‘See less’ 62 more times.”
“This is spam and it’s from Facebook.”
Zuckerberg decided to fight fire with fire. Most downloads application The TikTok of 2022 is easy, instant, and keeps users’ eyes glued to their smartphones for hours at a time thanks to algorithms that predict what cute cats or sports games or videos you’re most likely to want to see. In response, Zuckerberg has was ordered that the Met will double down on AI content recommendations on both Facebook and Instagram.
But that strategy ignores what made Facebook nearly invulnerable for a decade.
Facebook hasn’t always had the best content or the best interface or the best user experience. It’s decidedly more difficult to use than fresher, newer newcomers, with dozens of options, tabs, and in-app controls on any given screen. As the OK Boomer of social networks, it’s just not cool with the kids anymore, and the company has lost most of its luster with older generations as well due to multiple recurring serial leaks, highlighted by the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal and fake news content censoring policies applied in sometimes quixotic and often controversial ways.
But since the beginning, Facebook has always had one thing: the friends graph. Your people are there.
Pioneering social networks have been a dime a dozen for a decade. “Facebook for this industry” and “Facebook for this demographic” have been debates of the media and investors for as long. But in a very Yogi Berra-ish ‘nobody goes there these days, it’s too crowded’, everyone who left for the shiny new glow of competing social networks eventually had to sadly return to Facebook because that’s where mum and uncle Dale. it was.
They just weren’t going to try the NewAwesomeSocial app.
Because a social network without your socials is basically crap.
TikTok took a different approach. TikTok wins because (appropriately, as a Chinese company) it adopted a very Sun Tzu Art of war approach: don’t attack your enemy’s strengths, attack your enemy’s weaknesses. Instead of trying to recreate the social graph that everyone and their dogs had tried and failed at, TikTok simply created a way to optimize its ability to show you something you like, pretty much every time you swipe your greedy little thumb towards it. above.
Forget about friends.
Zuckerberg, seeing the rise of TikTok, responded how he always responded to business threats: copy and paste. Facebook and Instagram wheels are TikTok inside a Meta app. And now the hallowed news feed, which the company has been experimenting with for years, is also getting a TikTok injection.
In other words: things Facebook thinks you’ll like, from people, brands and influencers you haven’t explicitly chosen to follow.
This is a challenge to our psyche, says Seth Berman, vice president of marketing, because it changes the implicit contract we have with our social entertainment platforms.
“Users see the Instagram feed as a mirror. Although algorithmic, it is nevertheless a reflection of one’s friends and selected accounts. When it starts showing weird stuff, users react emotionally because they identify with what they see in their feed. Unlike TikTok which was entertainment from the beginning… users never identified with TikTok content.”
Even more, it’s a challenge to Meta’s supremacy because it moves the battle with TikTok from where Facebook is strong to where TikTok is strong.
In other words, it does exactly the opposite of what Sun Tzu did Art of war suggests.
Look, Facebook is still extremely powerful: much more powerful than TikTok. In SensorTower’s Q2 data review, TikTok was the most downloaded app. But Meta has Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, WhatsApp Business … five of the top ten most downloaded apps.
Put it this way: a full 50% of the top ten apps are owned by one company. This is world domination.
Of course, in a very Silicon Valley way, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking the advice of Intel founder Andy Grove: only the paranoid survive. To win, you have to crush life from the first ones. (Or buy the small ones, like Instagram and WhatsApp.)
But when Zuckerberg leaves the friends graph, he leaves the high ground. He destroys his own fortress. He plunders his own city.
Moreover, something that is everything is nothing. Facebook (the app) is already part YouTube (the video tab that won’t stop playing until you physically stop it), part TikTok (reels), part Craigslist/eBay (Marketplace tab), part part games, part memories, part events, part shopping, part message boards (groups), and part social network (the main stream of friends), among other bits of digital flotsam and jetsam that Zuckerberg has crammed into this old app that creaks, struggles and creaks.
So what is Facebook?
Apparently, for Zuckerberg, anything that captures the time and attention of billions of people in any way is essential. Everything has to be available so everything never goes away so Facebook can sell more and more of our attention to an ever-growing clientele of brands and companies.
Of course, this is debatable.
One could say that the friend graph is a perishable asset and they are right. Because Facebook (the app) didn’t really capture the younger generations, and Instagram (which it has) was always a little less about friends and a little more about interests, the older generations who went on Facebook to share baby and engagement photos and photos holidays will eventually get old.
But make sure the time is not immediately imminent. And surely there are other ways to extend the friend graph to younger generations… if only the Meta had an ounce of creativity and innovation, instead of a heavy dose of “Redmond, start your copiers,” as Steve Jobs’ Apple has always been accused of Microsoft.
The problem with virality streaming versus friend streaming is that anyone with some scale can do it. Twitter can do it. TikTok has nailed it. YouTube does this with great success. Dozens of TikTok copycats do. Thriller does.
There is no moat except for scale, and many other companies have scale.
For some, drifting off the friend chart is inevitable.
“It’s an inevitable shift for viral social content to expand beyond the boundaries of one’s social graph,” says Adam Landis, founder and CEO of AdLibertas. “Let’s be honest, a weird video featuring strangers is honestly more fun than a rushed video with your friends. This is why we came to Facebook in the first place: it was more fun to look at the exciting photos of great friends than to flip through Aunt Marge’s photo album.”
Landis sees a possibility for Meta to merge the friend graph and the virality ?graph? in a powerful way to emerge from the shadow of the TikTok threat even stronger.
“If Facebook can needle the retention of users’ social graphs and capture the zeal of global social content, it’s going to win,” he says.
This must be CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plan. But it is not without risks, and not least of these risks is user revolt.
“The more Instagram blurs the line between algorithmically curated content and friend content, the more users will feel isolated and Instagram will lose them,” says Rebecca Caulkins, marketer at Pixelberry Studios. “I also think that the more Facebook separates the two, the better the platform will hold. Meta may temporarily see an increase in monetization on instagram, but in the long term I think they will see users leave and go to more peer-focused social sites like BeReal. This is from my perspective as someone from a younger generation who has been an avid Instagram user for years.”
And that’s the challenge.
The other challenge? Facebook still isn’t very good at virality, and it’s especially not very good at combining it effectively with friends’ content.
“I liked an interesting video of a whale following a man in a kayak,” says Shel Israel in another Facebook post. “Next thing I know I’m bombarded with videos of adorable animals. I like a comment from someone I don’t really know and now I’m drowning in that person’s friends at the expense of seeing my own friends.’
“My feeling is this [Facebook has] modified how much [its] AI decides and [its] AI still lacks a lot of common sense. If [Facebook keeps] continuing on your current trajectory, I bet it will pay off [its] disaster as the leading social network.”
There’s a way to see fewer featured posts, a mutual friend replied: get off Facebook. Which, frankly, has become more common in my particular circle of friends. That, of course, is the nuclear option, and it’s the nuclear option that Zuckerberg and company are trying hard to avoid.
But trying to thread the needle between TikTok-style virality and the old Facebook-style stream of friends is proving challenging, at least at first. And Facebook is increasingly at risk of being abandoned by its users. The question is: does Meta care about losing some of its existing audience as it pursues both new audiences and an ever-increasing share of time from those who will stay?
And: will Meta gain more than it loses by making the switch?
“You seem to be laboring under the delusion that Facebook cares what its users think,” one of Israel’s Facebook friends replied.
There is a way for Meta to win: through the courts. Sentiment against China and Chinese apps is high in the US, and TikTok has already been banned by the soon-to-be-most-populous nation on the planet, India.
“If the tide really turns on TikTok and the US government gets involved due to data concerns, Meta can fill the void if the number one option is unavailable,” says Sam McLellan, CMO of BigBrain Games.
This is not how most leaders want to win, at least not publicly.
But some, of course, want to win at any cost, in any way.