A decline in US and Canadian Facebook users has been reported by several news sources this week, but what do the figures really say about the future of the giant social network?
Looking at third-party measurements, various sources are coming up with a range of outcomes and numbers. By these accounts, growth has been slower this year as Facebook nears market saturation in the United States. So, what does this mean for the social network? Should we be looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg? What we'll probably see in the future are rises and falls in Facebook users over the next few years in this market - while growth in other areas of the world, like Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia, will continue to skyrocket (Zuckerberg might just see the company reach his 1 billion-user goal).
Over on a Forbes.com blog, David Martin says that the so-called Facebook decline trend could be related to the number of teens losing interest - and the number of parents joining up to Facebook these days (let's face it: kids do not want to be friends with their parents). There is also talk of "Facebook fatigue", the idea that users get tired of the site and leave after a certain period of time (an idea that has been mentioned plenty of times over the past few years, and no doubt will crop up again in the future). Issues of privacy, recent online hacking in the news, and general friend over-sharing all play a part in this idea, but I doubt that Facebook will go the way of Myspace or Friendster anytime soon, even in areas with slow growth.
Whatever happens to Facebook in the future, the lesson for businesses is to look for where the customers are - for example, over 40% of Aussie businesses are using social networks to attract new customers. With Australians spending 1 in every 5 minutes of their time online on social networking sites (in May 2011, Facebook had approximately 10 million Australian user accounts and 12 million unique Australian visitors), a business shouldn't brush Facebook - or other social networks - aside so easily.
Another related lesson is to keep your friends and followers from developing their own version of Facebook fatigue (or Twitter tiring?) from what you post; make sure that your content is useful, not overly personal (I don't care what you ate for all 3 meals today!), and engaging for users.