Businesses Should Note Facebook Consumer News

Carl Weinschenk
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Facebook seems to always be in the news, and this week is no different. Two of the headlines concerning the company have nothing directly to do with business uses of the platform. However, they do point to nascent trends of which corporate planners should be aware.

The first tidbit is that teenagers are not using the platform as much as in the past. From ReadWrite’s story on the trend, which was discussed during the company’s earnings call:

…Facebook officials also offered a somber note about the social network’s teen audience. ‘We did see a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens,’ Facebook CFO David Ebersman said. He added that overall usage by teenagers remained stable in the quarter, although he didn't specify how Facebook measured that.

The other trend, which seems a bit contradictory to the first, since teens like mobility as much as French fries, is that Facebook’s mobile initiatives are growing precipitously. During the same conference call, according to TechCrunch and multiple other reports, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that 48 percent of users on any given day are mobile-only and that 49 percent of the ad revenue is from mobile advertising. The story does a good job of tracing the rise of mobility at Facebook.

Contradictions notwithstanding, businesses should think about what these two facts suggest for their ongoing social networking platforms. It is a bit complex, though, because it is unclear whether each trend—kids taking a step back and the growth of mobility—is Facebook-specific or extends to social networking in general.

Much has been written about businesses’ need to be social networking-savvy as younger generations mature and enter the workforce. The logic is self-evident: Generation Y, millennials and other subgroups are being raised on electronics. Companies that don’t make them feel at home are at a recruitment disadvantage compared to those that understand its importance.

The teens of today are less than a decade from the work force. Facebook certainly is either the top or second (after Twitter) social networking platform. If something is happening that is reducing teen use, it is worthy of note. Is it that teens are not using social networks as much? Are they maintaining their use, but spreading over more platforms? If that is the case, what is it about Facebook that is alienating them, and what is it about the others that is attractive?

A brief drop off is no big deal. If the trend continues, however, those tasked with developing corporate social media platforms should assess the reasons very carefully.

The same can be said for the growth of mobility. In this case, business can look at Facebook for what they are doing right. The ability to monetize mobility was seen as a big challenge when Facebook went public. It’s a challenge that the company has clearly met. A designer of a business social networking platform wouldn’t care about the advertising success per se, of course. But he or she would no doubt benefit by studying what Facebook did to get there.

The bottom line is that such fundamental changes, if, indeed, they are real and permanent, likely will have repercussions. The complexity of integrating young workers into the workplace is subtle and complex. At Memeburn, Gysbert Kappers offers a way to think about the task. Communications between Gen Y and older workers can be a challenge. But great potential rewards can be realized by bringing these technically adept workers into the organization.

The difference between a successful and flat social network implementation is subtle. Facebook’s findings—if they are proven to be trends over time—offer valuable clues on how a business can increase its chances of social networking success.

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