What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago today, Facebook was a newborn website hatched in a Harvard dorm room and available exclusively to a few thousand college kids; today, it’s a massive online entity that has spread around the globe and rewritten the rules of social networking for users, companies and marketers alike.
Love it, hate it or still wondering what all the fuss is about, here are 10 facts, figures and milestones that provide a glimpse of where the site has come from and where it might be heading:
1. Expanding user base: Last week, Zuckerberg told analysts that the site added 170 million users, bringing its total to 1.23 billion active monthly users. After 10 years, growth has slowed but, according to Pew Internet Project, 71% of adult Internet users have a Facebook account.
2. The News Feed: The site’s ability to connect people took a great leap forward with the launch of News Feed in 2006. Dominating users’ home pages, the feature allowed them to post status updates, photos and news about upcoming events. A double-edged sword, it allowed users to see what their friends were up to — and vice versa — and became a lightning rod for concerns about Facebook’s approach to privacy that continue to this day.
3. Brand pages: In 2007, the site rolled out Pages, which were essentially user profiles for companies and other non-personal entities. Brands flocked to the concept, giving them a presence on a popular site while providing Facebook with a platform to promote its data-collection prowess and, by extension, its shift toward an ad-based medium.
4. The Like button: Having already allowed users to become “fans” of brands, Facebook launched the Like button in 2010, which allowed them to show their support for brands (among other things) and, in turn, shared that info in their friends’ feeds. Marketers proceeded to promote the number of Likes they received, although, over time, it became more apparent that tallying Likes was a vanity metric rather than an effective tool to boost user engagement.
5. Privacy issues: Zuckerberg has gone on the record saying that the age of privacy on the Internet is over, a philosophy that has raised the ire of users, watchdogs and regulators. He recently backtracked a bit but for anyone who deals with confidential information, the issue of privacy remains a dangerous minefield that has led to inappropriate relationships, data breaches and lawsuits.
6. Promoted Posts: In May 2012, Facebook launched Promoted Posts, allowing brands to pay for better exposure in their fans’ News Feeds. Depending on your point of view, the move was a response to the fact that people simply tune out display ads, an effort to counter the reality that the vast majority (84% on average) of fans never even saw posts from the brands they followed or both.
7. The new News Feed: Amid growing complaints of TMI (too much information), Facebook rolls out a major update giving users more flexibility in determining what shows up in their News Feed in early 2013. Designed to declutter the site and promote more visual storytelling, it also means marketers have to work that much harder to avoid being relegated to some secondary, often ignored folder.
8. The new new News Feed: In yet another update (in December 2013), Facebook applies new filters to determine what posts show up in users’ feeds. According to the company, the move is designed to show “the right content to the right people at the right time.” Translation: If you post generic content that no one cares about (“caring” is demonstrated by likes, shares, comments, etc.), it’s even less likely to be seen.
9. Mobile: Long thought to have missed mobile altogether, the company spent much of 2013 earning a prominent place (and generating major ad revenues) on people’s smartphones and tablets. Considering that half the sites’ monthly active users are now mobile-only, it’s safe to say that anyone hoping to engage with those users better be mobile-focused as well.
10: Changing user base: Much has been made of Facebook’s decline among teenage users (down 25% over the last 3 years) but that ignores the fact that use is still growing among older Millennials (+33%), Gen Xers (+41%) and Boomers (+80%). How that will play out in the long term is unknown but for marketers, it’s just one more reason to know who your audience is, where they spend their time online and how your messaging is built around their needs not yours.
On the Internet, the only constant is change
Taken together, these (and other) changes on the world’s largest social network present a double-edged sword for doctors. The site is so big it’s almost avoidable but being on it “because everybody else” is a lousy reason to have a page there, especially as the site focuses on filtering out content it doesn’t believe serves its users’ needs.
Bottom line: If you’re going to use Facebook, your presence there should be part of a larger social media marketing strategy that provides the type of content that will actually interest people, get them talking and prompt them (and the people they talk to) to visit your practice website for more information. Clearly, there will be more changes to come for Facebook but providing timely, relevant content is forever.