May 2018

When will Facebook die?

Written by Paul Maher

When will Facebook die?

Ten years ago Facebook approached me for a senior European PR role. I arrogantly prophesied “You don’t need PR, you need a crisis plan’ and never heard back. In purely financial, it was a mistake. But career-wise there is also some consolation in knowing I was right – if a decade too early.
Several billions in revenue later we see the first rumblings Facebook does in fact need a crisis plan. On recent evidence of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Congress ‘grilling’, it does not need to be a very good one yet. So, what are the chances of Facebook’s survival into its founder’s fourth decade? Here’s our five point guide.

  1. The Long tail of Grandma’s PC
    Facebook’s has failed to sign up the whole world, whilst outranking the US as a ‘country’. But as 68% of adults in the world’s largest economy, still using it, Facebook has a long way to fall before denting  its impressive advertising stronghold. Once grandma has Facebook on her desktop PC and  ancient iPhone and, it ain’t getting deleted. Understandably, investors love ‘long tail’ usage patterns.
  2. Diversify for eternal youth
    Youth-oriented adverts traditionally cost more. The assumption that ‘getting them young’ meant getting them for life is why the team at Hacker Way made their savvy 2012 and 2014 purchases of Instagram, which counts 71% of 18-24 year olds as users, and WhatsApp. These were smart for age diversification, but also for geographic coverage outside the US for technical reasons.
  3. Whistleblower chaos
    The hardest blow to the Facebook empire was swung by former Facebook employee and born-again survivalist, Antonio Garcia Martinez. His expose of the real Facebook money-spinner, targeted advertising, Chaos Monkeys, kick-started the realization of why the Internet is like an echo-chamber. Predictable because it is governed by the algorithms of Facebook, Google, Amazon and others. Despite his best efforts, one man will not bring down Facebook.
  4. GDPR plus plus
    Europe’s data privacy regulation, or rather it’s much-anticipated US equivalent, is where the action will be for Facebook. The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ actions of a young Austrian lawyer is the original ‘law with legs’. Penalties up to 4% of global turnover and potential prison sentences may finally losen Facebook’s iron grip on the advertising market, where with Google it holds 80% market share. This is the existential issue, can it appease advertisers worried their brands could become tainted by a privacy scandal? It needs to avoid any perception that using Facebook to reach customers is a risky business.
  5. Graceful old age
    The ultimate threat to Facebook’s impressive dominance of the advertising market is, perhaps fittingly, publishing. Facebook has sucked the life out of countless publications and advertising agencies,despite the fact, which Zuckerberg contests, Facebook is a publisher. If, which makes its money from people’s data, while replacing the people who curated their newsfeeds, really does have  to play by the same rules as the very platforms it replaced, will over time weigh on its profits.

No premature obituaries
If anything, recent moves by Facebook to limit outsiders’ access to its data, while reneging on its promises not to share data across its platforms in the face of a paltry €110m fine, means it is stronger than ever. With ad revenues up 50%, this is clearly not the end, but perhaps the upcoming pincer movement of youth apathy and global data regulations means it may be the end of the beginning.

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