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Facebook Findings: What declined usage means for business

Research conducted by a third-party firm has observed a steady increase in Facebook usage over the last decade. For the first time, however, this year’s results produced a downward trend, reverting back to 62 percent of Americans over the age of 12 who reported that they currently ever use the service — the same portion that was recorded in 2015. The statistic for 2017 was 67 percent.

The study does note that while usage is “down or flat in every demographic age group, gender, and ethnicity … Facebook remains by far the most-used social media service.”

In light of all this, A&E turned to digital gurus Kelly “Rags” Ragland, Aaron Montgomery, and Vince DiCecco to understand why this may be happening and what this means for businesses that rely on this social media platform as a part of their marketing strategy. Here’s what they had to say…

Kelly “Rags” Ragland, Rags to Stitches Productions:

I've observed the downward trend in Facebook over the last year, and I see a few things happening. For starters, Facebook keeps changing their algorithms and making executive decisions about what users will see and not see in their news feeds. Personalization has been somewhat removed.

From a business perspective, the latest algorithm change has caused brands and business pages’ reach to drop in massive numbers. With the recent changes penalizing businesses for encouraging likes and shares, they're now trying to attack our strategies.

I've been convinced for a long time that Facebook is trying to force businesses into a paid advertising scenario, and they continue to prove that feeling to be correct. I wouldn't suggest leaving Facebook, but as we have over the years, modify our strategies to make the effort as valuable as possible despite the challenges.

Tell your audience the changes have made an impact and encourage them to visit should you disappear from their timeline. Direct them to the Follow button under your top banner. By clicking there, they can opt in to having your posts land in their news feed and bypass the new algorithm.

Aaron Montgomery, 2 Regular Guys, MontCo Consulting:

I took Facebook (and Twitter) off my phone over six months ago and it was one of the best things I could do for myself.

I think Facebook is headed down the MySpace path, just like any other company that gets too big for its own good and thinks it is better than the customers it serves. The problem is they don't really know who their customers are because their customers are also their products.

In the post from Zuckerberg, it showed me they have no idea who their customer (the people paying for ads) is because he is basically saying, “Hey Mr./Ms. Customer, all your hard work will continue to be for not, yet we are not going to help you in any way.”

The real reason for the algorithm change is they are running out of places to serve ads, so everyone's feeds start looking like a big ad, and to counter that, they are going to put posts from Grandma in the middle. This way they can still continue to generate more ad revenue while blaming their failures on the exact people paying for the ads (e.g. "You'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.").

With all that being said, for businesses, Facebook is still a necessary evil. Though it is dropping, they still have over two billion monthly active users, so you have to have it as part of your marketing strategy. They key is to make sure you use it as a tool and not as your landing page. Facebook should get people to your website, to your email list, etc. If Facebook is your landing page, you are basically building your business on rented land.

Vince DiCecco, Your Personal Business Trainer:

I think people are veering away from Facebook for two reasons.

First off, it’s too time consuming. What started out as just 30 minutes for businesses to post something and check any responses to their page has now become a time burden. So, they delegate it to someone else, or they get a social media manager — but I don’t think it should ever be an anchor or focal point of your marketing campaign.

Another big reason is because it’s become so politically-charged. Unfortunately, it’s become a lightning rod in today’s society, and it forces people to choose what side of the argument they’re on — that’s the slippery slope that Facebook has created.

I still think Facebook is worth using for business purposes if you stick to certain disciplines. Businesses that post their personal opinions run the risk of coming off as unprofessional. You can’t un-ring a bell; if you start to vocalize your beliefs on your business page, it’s going to be next to impossible to try and right that ship. What you’ve said is going to be etched in cyberspace.

My recommendation is, whether on your personal or business page, whether you disclose your opinions or hold onto them, and whether you’re active online or not, it’s important to set boundaries of what you think is appropriate and how you want to portray yourself.

That being said, the crack in the foundation has already formed with Facebook. People are well-aware of the politics of Mark Zuckerberg, and now, all of a sudden, they’ve become suspect. I know full well, I’ve got probably 850 friends on Facebook and I only see the posts of a very small percentage of them. If I wanted to keep up with a specific person, I would likely have to search their name directly and pull up their profile.

I think the only direction Facebook can go, with all the controversy surrounding it, is to slowly fade out. Someone will say, “I think I can do this better,” and the next Facebook will emerge, just like it did with MySpace.

I would venture to say that Facebook, five years from now, is going to be completely different from what we see today, and for businesses that use this social media, they are going to have to adapt and evolve the ways they interact and connect with their followers.