Zuckerberg’s in a tough spot.
Privately, he must balance his new vision to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together with his assumed political ambitions (which should not be understated) and his guilt about how 2016 played out on his platform.
Professionally, he faces the headache of running a platform with 2 billion monthly active users — many of whom he likely disagrees with politically, the need to retain and monetise those users for his shareholders in an increasingly competitive digital climate, and an innumerable list of other challenges.
Facebook is under pressure from the tech and political communities to “grow up” and take responsibility for its inaction during the 2016 election, while facing the looming threat of regulation and taxation from Washington. The platform also finds itself making concessions to a now-energised ethical design movement to build products that actually improve people’s lives.
And if all of these issues weren’t enough, they have a community of advertisers — Facebook’s actual customers — that’s deeply frustrated by the runaround they’ve been given for two years (see: the infamous “pivot to video”). This is an audience who woke up two weeks ago to discover that their business models, built around organic Facebook traffic, now possess the structural integrity of a staircase made of jelly. By the looks of it, some of the most affected organisations will include the media giants of our time, such as The New Yorker, Buzzfeed, and NPR.
It’s an understatement, therefore, to suggest that Facebook’s challenges are myriad. The question is, are their recent News Feed changes the beginning of a longer term strategy to move them to stronger, more own-able ground, or the desperate cry of a wounded animal?
Either way, time is against them.
Their user base, while large, doesn’t skew quite as young as they’d like. Unlike its sister company, Instagram, Facebook faces a major problem with Gen Z, whose declining faith in established institutions, preference for smaller, more closed groups, and instinctive desire to leave a minimal digital footprint has made Facebook borderline toxic.
On the business end, the shadow of Jeff Bezos looms large over the platform as Amazon looks to lure Facebook’s disgruntled advertisers away with new ad offerings.
One might think that Facebook and Google should feel comfortable with their very large share of digital advertising spend, now projected at 73%. But Amazon’s market share is growing rapidly. While its stake is currently only 2.5%, just a few days ago experts predicted that this will increase by 40% YoY. Bezos once famously declared that “given a 10 percent chance of a 100-times payout, you should take that bet every time.” This year, we’ll see him bet big on his ability to turn the advertising duopoly into an oligopoly, placing Zuckerberg’s platform squarely in his crosshairs.
2018 is shaping up to be a crucial year for Facebook. The platform is beset on all sides — by their competition in the market, by public distrust, and by general user fatigue. Zuckerberg needs to decide on what exactly Facebook contributes to both the civic and business worlds — a question that would only be further complicated by a possible presidential run.