For those who move away from Facebook entirely, there are no doubt many others who haven’t left, but do far less on the site than before. Talk to parents, share unproblematic content, organise a few events…’harmless’ use can continue.
For everything else, new tools do the job. Students go where the family aren’t. They seek out specific communities of people. They form private networks away from prying eyes so they can keep in touch with their offline friends.
You don’t need to pretend to be several different personalities online. All you need to do is share particular types of information in particular places.
Say you buy a meal at McDonalds. You don’t explain to the cashier that you sometimes go to Burger King too. You don’t go to Nandos with your mates and announce that you also went with your Mum when she was visiting.
Your actions are public, but you keep the situations apart. Ever had one of those times when stuff clashed? Awkward.
A More Private Public?
When you’re online, you have new safeguards to consider, but it works in a similar way. Information, status updates and messages tend to linger. Plus, it’s easy enough for people to piece the information together and get a better picture of your actions. But when it comes to backing away from family, old school friends, and casual acquaintances, most bases are covered.
Information that you want strictly limited and kept away from particular individuals must be handled away from public services. If you broadcast stuff that you don’t want certain people to see, the safest option is not to broadcast it at all or do it in such a way that (almost) guarantees privacy.
And I don’t mean posting an embarrassing two-second Snapchat photo to someone in the hope that they don’t take a screenshot and share it with others. It means not posting the photo in the first place.
To App Or To Interact?
Facebook shouldn’t be concerned solely about young people who stop using the site. They should also think about those who have changed the way they use the service. Why? Because it changes the way they engage with the stuff that makes money. Everything changes…the way they see adverts, how long they spend on the site, their opinion of the service offered, the quality of the information they transmit, and so on.
When interest dwindles further, or if parents migrate to other services where their kids are hanging out (whether the kids like it or not…?), the knock-on effect could see older users moving away from Facebook too. This is all long-term stuff, which means the company won’t be resting on their laurels.
But is there a truly viable way for any social media players to keep up momentum and remain a solid player for many years to come?
I no longer think in terms of the sites and apps that people use. I’m more interested in the way they interact and the type of things they want to experience. Changes in these areas are potentially more telling than a service that’s popular at that particular moment. All it takes is one minor update or the next big thing to come along and all bets are off.
What are your favourite apps?
Now think about your answer. Will they still be your favourite apps next month? Next year? In a decade?
If you want to influence young people and connect directly with them right now, the big apps of the day matter.
But if you’re more interested in the overarching psychology behind the choices people make and the way people like to engage with each other, it’s time to look deeper than today’s top performer.
We’re Not Stereotypes, But We Share Similar Values
One thing you don’t want to do is assume that young people are wildly different to those in older generations. We all do things differently, but that doesn’t mean we want different things in the end.
People act the way they do because they have developed into that state. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. No matter how hard we try, we can’t form an accurate picture of each individual. We boil personalities down into stereotypes. But look closely and you quickly see a more complex reality that’s not so easy to summarise.
A Communispace survey found that people’s values stay roughly similar, no matter how old you are. Issues that were important way back are still pretty important now.
And younger people aren’t sharing their life stories online. Most of their private and personal matters are not broadcast. Mistakes can be made and promises broken, but we’re not witnessing a rise in explicitly open individuals who don’t care what others read about them.
We may be happier to communicate online that in years before, but the tools weren’t previously available. Advances in technology allow us to do things we couldn’t do a year or two ago, let alone decades back. These technological advances change actions and experiences far more than they do values and opinions.
No matter where you end up in years to come, the app won’t change you, but you might change the app.