I seem to have been repeating the same mantra with increasing regularity lately – Facebook will, within five years (but I reckon nearer to three) become … Friends Reunited.
There, I’ve said it, and I’m willing to put it out there and stake my blogging reputation on it*.
You don’t have to look too closely to see that it’s already becoming less of an immediate, “this is what I’m up to now” platform and over time, I believe, will simply become a platform for people like you and I to archive our digital life. A sort of social cloud storage for film, photos and links that make up our digital lives and interests.
As a tool to keep in touch with people, to actually have online conversations it is becoming all about instant chat. Snapchat, What’s App, in-built chat options on smartphones, and many others, are now entering the fray and commanding more attention, especially among the younger generation.
Facebook is losing its appeal due to two main reasons: An abundance of aged thirty-plus people (i.e. parents and grandparents) having and maintaining accounts meaning Facebook is losing its ‘cool’ moniker, and advertising.
But what does this mean for social media use in local government and should we already be thinking, ‘what’s next’ and/or, especially, ‘how do we communicate and keep engaging with young people’?
Interestingly, our own Facebook insights at Cornwall Council mirror this view. Our core users are females aged 25-34 with less than eight per cent of our total Likes being aged 25 and under across both genders.
It would be interesting to see summary reports from other authorities on demographics but it would seem already, based on our own stats, that Facebook is good for reaching the plus 25 age group (and especially women) but not so good for anyone younger.
So, I say it again, how are we going to engage with these people? As they become more platform savvy, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t be using a platform that forces them to click on or view adverts (Google+?). They will be having closed conversations (rightly so) that no-one, especially us as public information stakeholders, will have access to to find out what they’re thinking, doing, what are the trends etc.
Thinking aloud, could we therefore be seeing a turnaround in engagement with young people in that proper engagement now means getting off digital and taking the conversations back into the real world (if they ever left)?
The default I hear quite often is “we need to engage with young people, so let’s start a Facebook page”. My advice has always been to think before you leap and from now on I will really hammer this home and encourage other offline / online channels as a priority.
This theory is given extra weight when you consider that in my spare time I voluntarily do the social media and communications, as well as help on the beach, for a local surf life saving club. Some of our younger members refuse to like the club’s Facebook page even though they’re actively involved with the club – and this is surf life saving, what some would deem a prety ‘cool’ thing to be associated with.
Liking a Facebook page is for all of us, and especially young people, an action that comes with emotional value attached. By liking something you are admitting to your peers that you like it in a way that for some can be too revealing, it can be a label and in some ways defines who you are. Following a Twitter account doesn’t carry the same level of emotional ‘buy-in’ that Facebook can, hence why most Twitter accounts have far greater numbers attached than Facebook
So what’s the best way to get over this? Now, I’m not, and never professed to be, an expert at engaging with young people, and good practise may already be suggesting that offline communications is far better quality than online, but the fact remains; for those of us still thinking that social media and Facebook is the default way to go when dealing with youngsters it may be time to start altering your point of view – or risk becoming ‘No Friends Reunited’.
*Subject to change pending investment from Facebook. Terms and conditions apply.