From Viral to Virus? Study Suggests Facebook Could Lose 80% of its Users by 2017

facebook, virus, socialWith something like 1.2 billion users, Facebook is many things to many people: a social networking tool to stay in touch with friends and family, a personal-recommendation engine for searches and, if Mark Zuckerberg has his way, people’s one-stop shop for everything.

Recently, though, a team of researchers at Princeton University suggested it was something else: a virus that like its biological counterparts has exhibited rampant spreading but is also destined to experience an equally rapid decline. In fact, the research suggests Facebook could lose 80% of its users by 2017.

That’s 240 million users that researchers believe could abandon the site every year for the next 4 years as the virus-inspired rate of abandonment accelerates.

Needless to say, it’s a bold claim — the paper has not been peer-reviewed — and the study has already generated a heated response regarding its methodology. But even if it overstates the case, it speaks to one of the inevitable truths of the Internet and online marketing.

No website, social network or digital platform has a lock on the future. Like MySpace, Friendster and other one-time Internet darlings, Facebook will reach a point of saturation and maturity that leaves it susceptible to younger, more nimble competitors. There’s already evidence of younger users abandoning Facebook for hipper sites like Snapchat and a rising tide of frustration among those who remain about intrusive ads and other recent changes.

Truth is, the odds of Facebook suddenly becoming a ghost town are pretty slim. On the other hand, the site is also unlikely to maintain the exponential growth that it’s experienced over the last 10 years. Add in the challenges of discussing private, personal subjects, such as aesthetic procedures, in such a public setting and doctors who use the site as a marketing tool would be advised to look long and hard at what sort of return they’re getting on their investment.

If it’s not delivering the results you seek, it may be time to change the prescription.

Doctor Takeaway

There’s more to social media marketing than maintaining a Facebook page

The old argument that “everybody’s on Facebook” has never been a very good reason for making the site command central for your marketing efforts but the potential for future growing pains only underscores the case. At the same time, the more Facebook tries to be all things to all users, the more likely users are to gravitate toward niche sites that serve the specific needs they’re interested in. Regular analyses of your analytics will reveal which sites promote healthy engagement and which ones leave your marketing strategy feeling sickly and debilitated.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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