It doesn’t take an insider to deduce that Facebook’s long-term strategy is to make sure its own social network stays relevant among so many competitors. The company has been adding more and more non-core services to its network for several years now, from messaging to money transfers to an online marketplace. This all serves to indicate that Mark Zuckerberg clearly wants you to spend more of your online life on Facebook than ever before.
In fact, this strategy is not unique: it’s one that’s been used by WeChat in China, an app that has come to dominate digital life there. As The Economist put it, “WeChat is there at every point of your daily contact with the world, from morning until night. It is this status as a hub for all internet activity, and as a platform through which users find their way to other services, that inspires Silicon Valley firms, including Facebook, to monitor WeChat closely. They are right to cast an envious eye. People who divide their time between China and the West complain that leaving WeChat behind is akin to stepping back in time.”
Facebook is undoubtedly the social media juggernaut of the West, with more users than any of its closest competitors. For that reason, it makes sense that the network would want to leverage this massive usership and get people to use the service in as many ways as possible. However, one must consider if indeed there is a paradox at the heart of this be-all-things-to-all-users strategy. There is a risk that the more “noise” that’s added to Facebook in terms of features, the less its users will turn there for their more intimate conversations and connections. This may be particularly true of younger users, who are always on the search for social networks that feel exclusive, where their parents won’t be lurking.
The paradox became even more clear recently when Facebook rolled out its own version of “Stories”. Similar to Stories on Snapchat and Instagram, users can see which of their friends and followers have viewed their stories. One writer for TechCrunch noted astutely that Stories doesn’t have quite the same appeal on a large, all-inclusive platform like Facebook when compared to a smaller and more personal one like Snapchat. They wrote: “Facebook is THE BIG ONE, a monolithic social media force that shoves everyone you know into an interactive database of photos, text and video. But it doesn’t want you to think of it like that — it wants to be a place where you talk to your friends and enjoy yourself. Thus, it’s done whatever it can to ape Snapchat — a much smaller rival that specializes in intimate messaging. But Stories don’t make sense on a platform with years and years of social baggage.”
This quirk perfectly explains the paradox that Facebook is in: It has a majority of social media users on its platform, which means that certain functions become less desirable because it’s no longer exclusive.
If you consider the big picture, it’s unlikely that Facebook will go be going anywhere anytime soon simply due to the market dominance it’s been able to assert. However, if it doesn’t innovate properly and exercise some restraint in the features it rolls out, it could risk becoming an internet utility. It’s not hard to imagine a time when Facebook could resemble a must-have online service like email or online banking, rather than a go-to destination for social life, where users—especially young users—are keen to spend their time. After all, there is a difference between wanting to spend one’s time on a social platform and not having a choice. Facebook is becoming closer and closer to offering its users the latter.