Here’s why Facebook’s biggest threat to its existence is its own users

A few years ago, a couple of friends had to convince me to join Facebook. There were three people in particular that worked hard at convincing me.

Although I like to embrace new and useful sites, I was reluctant at the time because I didn’t see a lot of my own peers on there. Facebook was still pretty new and the demographic of the userbase was much younger than I was. But my three friends — a guy my age and two girls in their early twenties — convinced me to join and I relented.

Fast forward several years: I’m a frequent Facebook user now and most of my peers are on Facebook too, so it’s a great connecting point of current and resurrected friendships. I sign on multiple times throughout the day; I post statuses, comments, private messages, and chat with people. As someone who works at home, Facebook really is an integral part of my social life and its functionality has largely replaced the phone and email. I like Facebook for its ability to keep me connected.

But the userbase has changed. I first noticed this when a few of my friends admitted to me that they only signed up to keep tabs on their teenage children. Then my aunts and uncles signed up. Then my parents (who are the most Luddite of all of my relatives). Then my grandma. Many of THEIR peers are on Facebook now too.

It’s convenient to have EVERYONE on Facebook and for the most part, it’s pretty good (except when a relative posts a picture of me as a child!!! haha)

Because of its convenience and connectivity, Facebook’s userbase has grown… and aged. Not only has its userbase aged because of the passage of time (we’re all 6 years older than when we signed up, and 6 years can put you into a new demographic) but the sign-ups in recent years (the masses and the late adopters) are older.

So when I signed up, I was in my early thirties and on the older end of my Facebook friends. Today, I’m in my late thirties and in the middle or, perhaps even on the younger end of my Facebook friends. And the three people who convinced me to sign up? The guy who is the same age as me still uses it sometimes but the two girls who were also part of that conversation are almost never on it. My nieces and nephew never use it. Some friends who are early adopters of social media have deleted their accounts.

Yes, this is my a slice of my own life on Facebook but I think I’m a pretty typical person. So if I’m noticing a rapid aging of Facebook users, it’s likely that it’s probably happening to approximately the same degree elsewhere.

Facebook’s demographic will continue to age, obviously in part because time is passing, but even more so, I think Facebook’s average user demographic will age faster than the passage of time because older users are joining and younger users are leaving in favor of newer ways communicating (i.e. texting right now and then whatever else is around the corner).

So Facebook’s userbase has aged faster than Facebook has aged, and although Facebook’s pre-IPO valuations talked about how important its massive userbase was, I’m not sure that its userbase uses Facebook today in the same way it used Facebook in the early days. Yes, people are still connected but are they clicking ads? Are they liking pages? Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not. I don’t know. This older demographic uses the web far differently than younger users. Today’s older users are way more skeptical of the internet, reluctant to share information about themselves online, and struggle with knowing what to click and why to make something happen online. My older Facebook friends use Facebook very differently than my younger Facebook friends.

The key is: With a changing userbase, Facebook’s business will likely need to change. Functionality will need to shift more slowly for this group of slow adopters. Yet, if Facebook wants to survive and avoid becoming deserted like MySpace, they’ll need to also stay relevant to the younger group.

Interesting times are ahead for Facebook.

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