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Why reports of the death of Facebook have been greatly exaggerated

People have been saying that the death of Facebook is coming. They’re wrong. Keep on reading to find out why Facebook matters to marketers now more than ever.

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People are claiming that the death of Facebook is nigh. Facebook is struggling to attract younger users. Yet the enduring scale of its influence — and the extent to which it is now embracing the growing array of more intimate social interaction apps favored by today’s younger social networkers — mean reports of its death are premature.

For a start, consider the numbers …

Facebook remains the biggest social network with 1.28bn monthly active users by March 2014. Furthermore it is still growing, and quickly — daily active users rose 22% year on year to 757m in December 2013.

According to Pew Research Center, half of all Facebook users have 200+ friends.

Research carried out by Socialbakers shows Facebook’s reach among 13 to 24 year-old users grew 29.12% in 2013 and reach among 18-24 year-olds (still Facebook’s largest demographic) rose 39.33% over the same period. Its acquisition strategy is strengthening its relevance among younger social networkers — WhatsApp, with 350 million monthly active users and Instagram with 150 million monthly active users are both now owned by Facebook.

Today, with 75% of Facebook users based outside the US — 70 languages currently in use on the platform — its global reach is hard to ignore. Its acquisition of WhatsApp has significantly strengthened its reach in Europe and emerging markets.

It’s not just about the numbers, though.

… and now, the metrics.

Facebook ads improved in nearly every metric in year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter comparisons, a number of the site’s ad partners recently reported. According to one, Adobe — which took into account more than 131 billion Facebook ad impressions and 4.3 billion social engagements — ad impressions and advertisers’ ROI were all higher in 2013 than in 2012.

Meanwhile CTRs increased 4% quarter-on-quarter and 167% year-on-year — indicating that marketers are continuing to see high engagement on Facebook, another study showed.

The claim that the death of Facebook seems nigh is somewhat outlandish. Recent research by Princeton University suggested that Facebook would lose 80% of its users by 2017. However, this prediction was based on Google search term analysis which, when Facebook applied it to Princeton, predicted the university’s own demise by 2021.

This year, Econsultancy found that Facebook remains the first and foremost social network. Recent news feed changes have only encouraged a more personal, relevant user experience away from page broadcasting.

Organic (unpaid) reach on Facebook is declining, as recent research from Social@Ogilvy shows. But there is life beyond organic reach. While the free ride for brands on Facebook is coming to an end, considerable scope remains for brands willing and able to adopt it as a paid channel within their marketing budget.

What this means for marketers.

Marketers must get real. Negative reaction to the commercialization of Facebook is an issue, but Facebook isn’t going anywhere.

Following Facebook’s recent news feed changes, capturing fans just isn’t enough. Changing its news feed algorithm to deliver more news increases the ranking of links from outside the site over personal updates, making it harder for the kinds of messages marketers have been using to reach consumers through organic posts. As a result, messages that truly resonate will carry the day.

Marketers must remember that Facebook owes them nothing.

Moreover, if a brand’s social content isn’t working, it’s the content which should do better — not the platform.

And of course, Facebook Connect is still a useful tool for marketers. Facebook is invaluable for organic list building — using Facebook to ask people to sign up to a newsletter. And ‘custom audiences’, where Facebook knows when consumers are using its service and can push your ads to them on the fly, is definitely worth looking into.

What Facebook means for brands.

Brand owners will have to be more strategic in their use of Facebook — thinking more carefully about the content they create, when they post, and how they promote that post across Facebook’s network. Facebook is both a social network and a marketing channel, and as such, brand owners should approach it strategically — with a targeted budget and careful monitoring. It is important to evaluate whether or not Facebook is a worthwhile channel for your brand. It may not be if your customers predominantly use other social media sites. Remember that your main strategy should be tailored to your customers.

Paying for Facebook will be an added cost. But if it pushes brands to become more closely focused on better targeting and optimizing their campaigns then, surely, a growing number of marketers will soon realize that this is a cost worth paying.

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