It’s crazy what nine months can do. If you’re able to remember that far back–I know, it’s eons ago–that was right before the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to a head. At the time, Facebook was widely considered the smaller part of the digital ad duopoly–the unofficial online empire comprised of the social network and Google. Together, they controlled the lion’s share of digital consumption; they were the online ad kings.
Now, the duopoly certainly still exists, but it’s clear Facebook’s role in the ad game is showing ever-increasing signs of decay. A new report from Pivotal’s Brian Wieser states that digital content consumption on all Facebook properties–which includes Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp–was down 7% in September 2018. Things weren’t so great on the core Facebook platform, either. Though it saw more users this month, those users used the site less. This, wrote Wieser, equated to a “-20% decline in consumption per person of the core platform.” That’s . . . a lot.
While in percentages this is stark, Facebook is still the second most popular digital player. It accounted for 14.3% of all digital consumption, second to Google’s 32.5%. In third was Verizon-owned properties, which accounted for only 3.7% of total digital consumption. Even with Facebook’s decline, it is still the second biggest platform, by a big margin.
Still, the drop is noticeable. Facebook’s consumption share was 16.5% in September 2017; now it’s at 14.3%. This is, perhaps, by design. Over the last year, Facebook has announced that it’s retuning its feed to improve the quality of time spent on the platform; it’s been trying to de-emphasize clickbait or third-party content in the hopes of garnering better user engagement. Months ago, Mark Zuckerberg admitted that he expected some engagement metrics to go down as a result of the algorithm change. As Wieser notes, it’s impossible to know if this drop in consumption is due to the newsfeed tweak, or to the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Whatever the reason is, it seems Facebook is experiencing a prolonged downward trend. A year ago, the clear winners were the duopoly. We may now be seeing the dynamics change. The question remains: If Facebook continues to fall, who will take its place?