Every now and then articles crop up stating “Facebook is dead”, or “young people don’t use Facebook anymore”, or “LinkedIn is the new Facebook”.
But none of these are true. Nor have they ever been, since its launch in 2004.
Facebook has gone from strength to strength over its thirteen years, leaping over various hurdles, molding its offering and diversifying extensively to suit its users’ needs with each passing year.
It now sits at the top of its sector, boasting 1.87 billion monthly active users and four million active advertisers. What started essentially as an online yearbook now manages to take up a fifth of all time spent on the internet. But this is not referring to Facebook as a stand-alone application but rather to the Facebook Ecosystem as a whole; while Facebook itself is the biggest and most notable of the ecosystem’s applications, ‘Facebook’ now includes Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp - three more of the most popular social apps - all under one roof.
So why is having these fellow high flyers a big deal for Facebook? Let’s take it one at a time:
Instagram: To up its Photo Game, Quash Competitors, Collect More Data and Improve its Mobile Experience
Acquired for a cool $1 billion in April 2012, Facebook made sure no competitors could snap up the super-popular photo-sharing platform and just like that, Instagram (IG) ceased to be its biggest market threat.
At the time, sharing photos was one of the most popular activities on Facebook, and thus the acquisition helped to cement this, linking the platforms and merging the filters and effects that users loved so much with their favorite and most-used social platform. Storytelling is what makes social media tick, and nothing does this better than photos and videos. Thus, Instagram helped to put some feeling into Facebook, which had previously been judged as somewhat soulless within the social space.
Furthermore, Facebook is all about the data, which is what helps to make so much of your Newsfeed content so relevant. Acquiring Instagram meant a whole heap more user data; the photos and hashtags posted by IGers brought another level of user-knowledge for Facebook to harness, including friend lists, facial recognition and location data as well as specific user interests.
What’s more, mobile-only Instagram - and the impressive mobile development team that came with it - helped transform Facebook’s app from clunky and not remotely pleasurable to use, into the sleek user experience that it has today.
And finally, we can’t deny the cool factor. Sure, Facebook is popular with everyone - your mum’s on it, your grandad’s on it, your old teacher’s on it… but five years since the acquisition, Instagram withholds its hipster image helping to give Facebook that little bit of extra street cred.
Whatsapp: For World Domination
Well for starters this bad boy was acquired in 2014 for a not-so-tiny $19 BILLION. An unimaginable amount of money. But why? At the time many called out the decision as ridiculous or stupid, but was it? I don’t think so.
Believe it or not, Whatsapp users are even more active than Facebook users. The usage statistics explained in our recent blog Why Facebook is An Essential Tool for Any Small or Local Business were pretty mind boggling, but get this - Whatsapp users are even more active, and their number of users grew more than twice as fast as Facebook’s.
Aside from its user numbers and its position as the leader in the global instant messaging arena (any platform with so many users is of course extremely valuable), an apparent stand-out factor for Zuckerberg was the geographical location of Whatsapp’s users. As of January this year the platform had 1.2 billion users, many of which are located in developing countries.
In the last few years, it’s been no secret that Facebook has been keen to boost its numbers outside of the US & Europe, and acquiring Whatsapp has allowed it to do just that. The acquisition helps with Zuckerberg’s vision to connect the whole world, aiding its internet.org initiative and allowing the Facebook Ecosystem to reach parts of the world that it had barely featured in before.
Oculus: For the Future
Now this one’s a little different, as Virtual Reality is not something we’ve seen a lot of up to this point. While Facebook already dominates the now, acquiring the leader of the VR space suggests that Facebook is also looking to dominate the future, where it’s expected that the main technology platform will no longer be mobile but instead, augmented and virtual reality(!). On acquiring the company for $2 billion in 2014, Zuckerberg said in this TechReview article, “There are not many things that are candidates to be the next major computing platform… [This acquisition is a] long-term bet on the future of computing.”
So it looks like the lenses and filters that are so cherished today will eventually be replaced with immersive augmented and virtual reality. In fact, augmented reality is already managing to sneak in a little bit in the form of the interactive filters that we most commonly associate with Snapchat, but are as of this month, also on Facebook’s native app.
And while it would seem Facebook is looking to continue to rule not only social but computing on a greater scale, it is only to be expected that it’ll use this acquisition to do what Facebook does best - capture data. Could we see our facial expressions being tracked to learn how we react to certain things in coming years?! Spooky.
And finally to Facebook Messenger, which was not an acquisition but rather a strategic transition from part of the native platform to a stand-alone application. Which begs the question, why have your own competing app when you’ve just bought the world’s leading messaging platform?
Messenger: Because it Can
Similar to acquiring Whatsapp, having a separate messaging platform to its native app allows it to reach yet more users, like those who do not want a Facebook profile. Messenger allows you to sign up with just a mobile number, meaning people who don’t want an account can still chat with their Facebook-using friends. Which of course means yet more data for Facebook, and a reasonably high chance that they’ll get pushed over the edge and sign up for a fully-fledged account anyway.
Plus, removing chat features from the native app and forcing users to a separate platform means a third additional location through which to reach more of the world. And if the news from this year's F8 conference is any indication, Messenger will continue to grow, evolve and add features well into the future.
To summarize, by acquiring these social leaders but keeping them separate, plus creating its own standalone messaging app, Facebook continues to expand its global reach and dominate not just social media as a whole but the greatly important sectors of instant messaging and photo-sharing. With it’s team of MVPs it’s now hitting almost every corner of the Earth, it can’t be long before almost the entire population is connected via the vast Facebook Ecosystem.
10 Reasons Why Facebook Bought Instagram; Hill, K
Why did Facebook buy WhatsApp?; Swider, M