Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has become an inescapable monster.
The social network has defied the traditional pattern of Internet sensations. Unlike MySpace, Friendster, and the rest of its predecessors, it has gone up but not come down. Facebook has an enormous audience, with 968 million daily active users in June and nearly 1.5 billion people using it on a monthly basis.
It's an unstoppable fact of life that nearly every person who uses a computer globally has to check in on what has become the dominant social-media platform by far. Dominance, however, doesn't mean there's no room for improvement, and Facebook can become better and more engaging.
If that happens, the company could increase time spent on site and turn some of its occasional users -- the people who are there because they feel they have to be -- into everyday users.
A panel of Fool writer/analysts took up the challenge and are sharing how they think Facebook could improve its user engagement.
Adam Levy (a standalone video app): Facebook has been pushing video on its users for a bit over a year now, growing video views on its website from 1 billion per day last September to 4 billion per day when it last updated us during its first-quarter earnings release. During that time, Facebook has experimented with a few new video features, including playlists, autoplaying more videos, "learn more" buttons, and several other features. But Facebook has yet to release a standalone video app.
A standalone video app would help improve engagement around a feature Facebook is already pushing hard on its users. More than twice as many users see videos in their News Feed now than at the beginning of the year.
Separating video out into its own app ought to produce more views, likes, and comments, which can all be factored back into the videos Facebook shows those users and their friends on the flagship app. Additionally, it would open a clear path to monetization by simply inserting ads into the stream.
Standalone mobile video is still growing rapidly. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) just reported that the average session on the YouTube mobile app is 40 minutes, up more than 50% year over year. With the growing number of video views on Facebook and the talent it attracts, there's room for Facebook to offer a polished standalone video app and compete with YouTube.
"The average engagement per post was 2.81% of the total audience. Engagement levels on Instagram are higher than Facebook which has an average engagement per post of 0.25%, and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) which has 0.2% engagement per tweet."
In other words, Instagram is 11.2 times more likely to foster audience engagement than its parent platform. Doing more to connect the two could help to bridge the gap.
How? Think of how Instagram works. Right now, when you want to mention someone in a post, you use the Twitter-like "@" symbol to do so. A more integrated version of the platform would allow for directly linking to Facebook friends or pages in Instagram posts, or replying to posts using a Facebook log-in rather than an Instagram screen name.
Also, these sorts of improvements would arrive as Instagram experiments with new ways for brands to reach its users with advertising. The resulting profits could be catalytic for the business, and for Facebook stock.
Daniel B. Kline (Offer an ad-free paid version): Facebook has become a dominant force in the online advertising world, but that success has come at a price. The user experience has suffered as our feeds become clogged with paid ads. Sometimes it's even hard to separate the ads from the real content, and some ads are simply annoying. It's not very useful to know which of your friends love Campbell's Soup, and it's often a jarring break to your on-site experience when you find out.
The company could remedy this problem and protect its bottom line by offering an ad-free experience for a small fee. Alternatively, Facebook could front-load its ads, offering the choice to answer a survey or watch a video in exchange for an ad-free experience for a period of time.
These choices would allow users to choose a cleaner social-media experience without sacrificing the bottom line. Only a small percentage of people would pay for an ad-free Facebook, but the ones who did would almost certainly use the site more often. Their engagement would lead to increased posting and could improve the user experience for everyone connected to the person on the social network.
This option would also free Facebook up to further monetize the main version of the platform, because if people have an option to opt out of ads for a reasonable price, it becomes less reasonable for them to complain about them.
It's an easy change, and a move that neither users nor investors could argue with.