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Facebook slump reignites debate over attracting younger audiences

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Facebook slump reignites debate over attracting younger audiences


Facebook — whose parent company has been renamed Meta — has been battling regulatory issues, negative headlines around bullying and disinformation. — © AFP

Clara LALANNE and Joseph Boyle

Facebook announced on Thursday that its daily user numbers had fallen for the first time in its history, reopening the debate around its problem with attracting new, younger subscribers.

The firm’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was in no doubt who was to blame.

“People have a lot of choices for how they want to spend their time, and apps like TikTok are growing very quickly,” he told investors, according to US media.

TikTok has continued its soaring growth, particularly among younger audiences attracted by its user-friendly controls and upbeat content of mostly very short, self-made videos.

“TikTok from the beginning has focused on a younger audience — the style of the content, the music, the dancing,” says Flavilla Fongang, who runs London-based branding agency 3 Colours Rule.

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“Their moment has really come in the pandemic, where people were desperately looking for ways to stay connected.”

In the same time period, Facebook — whose parent company has been renamed Meta — has been battling regulatory issues, negative headlines around bullying and disinformation, and on Wednesday faced a huge slide in its share price.

That said, Facebook remains the world’s most popular social media network by far.

It lost one million daily users in the last quarter of last year but still has almost 1.9 billion, figures that dwarf every other platform.

So does Facebook need to worry about attracting younger audiences, and can it do anything to remedy its image as a platform for the older generation?

– ‘Boring, misleading, negative’ –

The company itself clearly thinks so.

It has been focused on the question for almost a decade, according to papers released last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, some of which detailed the platform’s concerns about losing young audiences.

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“Young adults perceive content as boring, misleading, and negative,” data scientists told Facebook bosses, according to an account from Haugen’s documents reported on The Verge website.

Yet up until this year, the platform had been able to post impressive growth figures.

Analysts say this was papering over the cracks.

“It’s not something that’s new, this migration of younger users away from the core Facebook platform,” says analyst Matt Bailey from London-based Omdia group.

“It was making up for those lost users with older demographics… but it’s reached a bit of a saturation point among those older audiences.”

– Bet on the metaverse –

Facebook has been looking at TikTok’s rise with alarm and some jealousy.

The upstart app added 650,000 new users every day in the final quarter of last year, according to the We Are Social communications agency.

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“This change in dynamics between the two firms can be explained by Facebook’s inability to get subscribers among the ‘Gen Z’ group of 15 to 25-year-olds,” says Vincent Reynaud-Lacroze of the agency’s French branch.

“It’s become a bit of a platform for the ‘boomers’.”

The firm has already tried to replicate the success of TikTok through its short-video Reels function, and borrowed inspiration from its own Instagram platform for its picture-led Stories function.

But neither addition has stopped the slump.

For branding expert Fongang, the bottom line is that TikTok and other platforms have the kind of functions that young people want.

“The young generation, they’re fickle, they want content to move fast, with streaming and this ability to connect with strangers very quickly,” she says.

“If you think about Facebook and Instagram it’s about who you know in your space. Whether it’s Twitch or TikTok, you can have interaction with strangers and create something magical even if you don’t know them.”

The stagnation with its Facebook platform at least partially explains the company’s decision to rebrand as Meta late last year, tying its future to the concept of the metaverse — a 3-D internet fuelled by virtual reality technology.

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“The metaverse is their core bet on the future,” says analyst Bailey. “They’re probably leading that race at the moment in terms of ad-based monetisation.

“If they can translate that success into this new area then what happened over the past couple of days will be of less concern for them.”



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Meta Launches New Reels Features, Including Stories to Reels Conversion and Improved Analytics

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Meta Launches New Reels Features, Including Stories to Reels Conversion and Improved Analytics

As it works to latch onto the short-form video trend, and negate the rising influence of TikTok, Meta has announced some new updates for Reels, across both Facebook and Instagram, including additional Reels insights, the expansion of the ‘Add Yours’ sticker, and ‘auto-created’ Reels clips. Yes, automatically created Reels videos.

Here’s how the new additions work.

The main addition is the expansion of the ‘Add Yours’ sticker from Stories to Reels, providing another way to prompt engagement from other users via Reels clips.

As you can see in these example images, you’ll now be able to post ‘Add Yours’ questions via Reels clips, while you’ll also be able to view all the various video responses to any prompt in each app.

It could be another way to spark engagement, and lean into the more interactive ethos of the short form video trend. Part of the appeal of TikTok is that it invites people in, with the participatory nature of the app essentially expanding meme engagement, by making it more accessible for users to add their own take.

Meta will be hoping that the ‘Add Yours’ sticker helps to facilitate the same, prompting more engagement with Reels clips.

Next up is auto-created Facebook Reels, which, as it sounds, will enable users to automatically convert their archived Stories into Reels clips.

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Reels updates

As you can see here, you’ll soon see a new ‘Create from Your Story Archive’ prompt in the Reels creation flow, which will then enable you to convert your Stories into Reels clips.

So it’s not exactly wholly automated Reels creation, as it’s just flipping your Stories clips into Reels as well. But it could provide another, simple way for users and brands to create Stories content, utilizing the video assets that they already have to link into the trend.

Worth noting that Meta also recently added a tool to convert your video assets into Reels within Creator Studio.

Meta’s also expanding access to its ‘Stars’ creator donations to Facebook Reels, which is now being opened up to all eligible creators.

Stars donations in Reels

Meta initially announced the coming expansion of Stars to Reels back in June, which will provide another critical monetization pathway for Reels creators. Short form video is not as directly monetizable as longer clips, where you can insert pre and mid-roll adds, so add-on elements like this are key to keeping creators posting, and fueling an ecosystem for such in its apps.

Stars on Reels will be available all creators that have maintained at least 1,000 followers over the last 60 days.

Meta’s also adding new Reels performance insights to Creator Studio, including Reach, Minutes Viewed, and Average Watch Time.

Reels updates

That’ll provide more perspective on what’s working, and what’s not, to help optimize your Reels approach – which could be especially valuable in the coming holiday push.

Lastly, Meta’s also expanding some Reels features that were previously only available in Instagram to Facebook as well.

Crossposting from Instagram to Facebook is now available to all Instagram users, while Meta’s also expanding its Remix option to Facebook Reels also.

Reels updates

As noted, Reels has become a key focus for Meta, as the short-form video trend continues to gain traction, and TikTok continues to rise as a potential competitor. By replicating TikTok’s main elements, Meta’s working to negate its key differentiation, which could ensure that more of its users don’t bother downloading a new app, and just stick with its platforms instead.’

Which, whether you agree with that approach or not, has proven effective. Reels content now makes up more than 20% of the time that people spend on Instagram, while video content, overall, makes up 50% of the time that people spend on Facebook.

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Meta additionally notes that it’s seen a more than 30% increase in engagement time with Reels across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meta doesn’t need to ‘beat’ TikTok as such (as much as it would like to), but it does need to dilute its significance if it can, and make it less appealing for users to have to start yet another new account, and re-build their friends list.

That’s why it’ll continue to replicate TikTok at every turn, because millions of people are currently not going to TikTok because of the presence of Reels in its apps.  

You can learn more about Meta’s new Reels updates here.

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