By Will Trunk
On June 13th, 2012, mashable.com posted an article by Matt Silverman about what it would take to kill off Facebook, “the king of social.” Silverman outlined problematic issues for Facebook in the near future such as adjusting it’s organizational culture as a now public company, their entry into the Chinese market, the ability to monetize their users, and the shifting of their focus to mobilization.
One observation Silverman made that I found to be particularly interesting was the assertion that Facebook has transitioned from just a social network to the ‘online identity’ for its users. As Silverman puts it, Facebook has become a “critical piece of online infrastructure” for anyone who uses the internet, which in the year of 2012 is just about everyone.
Facebook began, as many of you know, as an online space for Harvard students to connect with each other. It’s earliest expansion efforts stayed only on college campuses and for college students. Besides the fact that Zuckerberg & Co. were college students at the time of its inception, they also realized the power of college students’ ability to spread the word and set an example for many of what is to be considered “cool.” That brings us to today. Facebook has become extremely saturated, especially in America where its growth is slowing, with parents, employers, and in general just people who it was not originally intended for. This could end up having a tremendous affect on the college demographic. College kids seem to value their privacy and being able to live in their own collegiate world, a main reason why Facebook took off the way it did. With employers now scouring potential employees’ Facebook profiles and parents commenting on everything their child does, Facebook has begun to become uncool for many college kids. Combine that with the explosion of mobile applications and other online communities, such as Twitter, and the importance of having your “online identity” on Facebook could become very unimportant to college kids.
This leads me to wonder, “What happens to Facebook if it loses the college demographic?” I think this would leave Facebook with somewhat of a minor organizational identity crisis. Obviously Facebook has grown large enough to survive without the college demographic, and that demographic does not even apply in many Facebook-popular countries. But I would have to think that it would be difficult for the founders of Facebook to lose the users they invented this platform for. Especially because they could be very helpful in Facebook’s monetization dilemma. Any company wondering how to reach college students would be wise to utilize marketing on Facebook.
The beauty with Facebook, of course, is the ability for college students to share what they are interested in and purchasing with all of their friends. This dynamic is especially effective among college students, who are still heavily influenced by what other people their age are doing. How to reach college students? Facebook has resorted to digital peer pressure, and as Facebook’s exploding popularity showed us, it actually works.