Predicting Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) demise has been a media pastime since the company first emerged.
Every few months, a new study emerges predicting that teens or millennials use the service less. It's not hip anymore because it has become the social-media platform that Mom, Dad, and even grandparents use.
That argument sounds logical. It also seems likely to play out when you look at the history of being the dominant social-media brand. Friendster, MySpace, and a few others had their moments in the sun before experiencing a crash into irrelevance.
History like that makes predicting the end of Facebook a sensible bet. Giants, at least in the space, always fall, and Mark Zuckerberg's company is the current giant in the social-media world.
It all sounds good, but it's wrong. Facebook may not be massively growing anymore (since there are only so many people on the planet with Internet access), but it looks likely to maintain its audience, according to research from Pew Research Group.
What does the research say?
The research organization's Mobile Messaging and Social Media report shows that a number of social-media and messaging products have made gains:
- 36% of smartphone owners report using messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Kik, or iMessage, and 17% use apps that automatically delete sent messages such as Snapchat or Wickr.
- The proportion of online adults who use Pinterest and Instagram has doubled since Pew Research Center first started tracking social-media platform adoption in 2012. Some 31% of online adults use Pinterest (up from 15% in 2012), while 28% use Instagram (up from 13% in 2012).
- Some 15% of Internet users read or comment in discussion forums such as Reddit, Digg, or Slashdot, while 10% use the blogging website Tumblr.
Overall, people use social media and messaging more across a wide variety of platforms, but that hasn't hurt Facebook, which remains the most popular social-media, site with 72% of online adults in the U.S. using it. That's 62% of all the adults in the country.
"Growth on the site has largely plateaued," according to the report. "There has not been a significant change in the overall share of users since 2012. Those on Facebook remain highly engaged with 70% saying they log on daily, including 43% who do so several times a day."
What this means
Facebook has avoided the cycle that brought down many of its predecessors. It has managed to prove useful and relevant even when huge groups of people are also using other services. That's partly because of what the company does well and partly because it has achieved a critical mass that no other platform has reached.
Lots of young people may use Snapchat and plenty of women are on Pinterest, but everyone is on Facebook and that makes it relevant. There might be some individual things a rival site does better than Zuckerberg's platform does, but ultimately if you don't check in on Facebook, you will be missing something.
Facebook has plateaued, but it has reached such a large audience that it's not going to fall off a cliff because a new company comes along that does one thing better. For example, Classmates.com was once a viable way to contact people you went to high school with. It was supplanted by Facebook, which made it essentially irrelevant.
By growing so big and becoming so ingrained in people's routines, Facebook has gotten to the point where it would need a series of missteps or a number of rivals undercutting its usefulness before it could be knocked off its perch.
Facebook has moved beyond being a social-media network. It's now an institution. Those can fall -- we're seeing it happen with the phone and cable companies -- but it doesn't happen quickly. The social-media giant may not be here forever, but it's here for the foreseeable future.