We tend to think of Facebook as an 800 lb. gorilla, lumbering toward an IPO and world dominance in social networking. The user growth (350M+) has indeed been impressive, but the question I have is about user engagement. Is it as strong as before? Is Facebook experiencing problems with retention?
The question seems pertinent because Facebook very recently made a big push for users to find more of their friends on Facebook through use of their friend finder tool. This has gotten a lot of attention. Andrew Chen tweeted: “wow, huge “find friends” ad at the top of Facebook today. Wonder if they are trying to juice their growth?”
I think the answer is that the user growth is just fine… it’s engagement and retention where Facebook is trying to move the bar.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed quite less usage from a many friends who used to be very active on Facebook. Based on my friend’s list I would say that the regular users from a year ago are a lot less active on Facebook now. Additionally, the most active users in my friendfeed are not even hopping on Facebook to update their status, but rather are doing so via Twitter.
So I’m betting that Facebook has a problem with user engagement. Revenue does not come from adding new users, but retaining engaged users. The more engaged users are, the more time the spend on the site and the more pages they see. The more pages they see, the greater the number of ads that Facebook serves. This certainly is not rocket science.
So Facebook tries to solve the problem of decreasing engagement and retention.
I wouldn’t be surprised if someone asked the data warehouse to analyze the user activity and find out more about the most active users and how they differ from less active users. And I’m sure they were told something like this.
- Active users average 37 more friends than inactive users
- Active users are 5 times more likely to receive an e-mail than inactive users.
Hence the push of the friend finder tool and hence the messages you get on the sidebar to send someone an e-mail. Take a look at who they want you to send a message to. It’s invariably someone who is not very active on Facebook.
So these are the tools that Facebook is using to boost engagement and aid retention, but do they work? Hard to say, but it’s important to remember that correlation is not causation. Trying to artificially create user behaviors without understanding the motivations behind them seems superficial and short-sighted. Engagement and retention come from understanding the the customer and the why. Facebook seems to be focused on the how.