Inside Facebook’s march to total world domination
Its 1.65 billion users average nearly an hour a day on the social media platform as it supplants other online media as a major distributor of news.
Facebook’s 1.65 billion users spend an average of 50 minutes a day on the social media colossus, more than just about any non-work activity other than eating or watching movies and television.
The time figure, which includes users of Facebook’s Instagram and Messenger applications, is significant because it gives the platform more time to learn about the interests and behaviors of its users so it can target them with relevant ads.
By comparison, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people spend a little more than an hour a day eating and drinking and nearly three hours a day watching television or movies. Considering people sleep for an average of nearly nine hours a day, Facebook platforms could account for nearly one-fifteenth of the average user’s waking minutes.
“They’re doing a tremendous job of finding ways to keep people on the site,” Ken Sena, managing director of Evercore told The New York Times.
YouTube trails Facebook
According to ComScore data, the time figure for U.S.-only Facebook users is a bit lower, 35 minutes a day on average. But the only other platform that comes close is YouTube, owned by rival Alphabet (Google parent company), whose users spend an average of 17 minutes a day, about half the time spent on Facebook.
Facebook’s heaviest users tend to be younger, with those spending the most time in the 18-34-year-old age group that is attractive to advertisers.
“Generally speaking, higher usage on Facebook skews to younger users, and specifically towards millennials,” said Andrew Lipsman, vice president for marketing and insights at comScore. Lipsman said younger users tend to gravitate toward multiple platforms but spend significantly more time on Facebook.
More users consume news on Facebook
One growing source of Facebook engagement is news.
As Facebook evolves, it is increasingly becoming a source of news for users, putting pressure on online news sites that are losing traffic – and advertisers – to the social media giant.
A May study by Pew Research found that two-thirds of Facebook users get some news on the platform, compared to fewer than half in a similar study in 2013. The Pew study found that Facebook was by far the largest social media site, used by two thirds of Americans. That means 44 percent of the total U.S. population is getting news on Facebook, Pew said.
Meanwhile, Facebook reported a staggering net income of $1.5 billion in the first quarter of 2016 on revenue of $5.4 billion.
Trending controversy roils conservatives
A recent controversy underscored Facebook’s growing importance as a way people fine news in the digital environment.
There was a national conservative outcry in May after anonymous former employees of the social media platform told Gizmodo they routinely suppressed conservative news and promoted progressive stories in Facebook’s highly visible Trending Topics feed.
Trending Topics are popular stories selected by a mix of artificial intelligence and human staff. The AI suggests topics and then staff reviews them. Staff review eliminates about half the suggested topics, usually duplicative stories or old stories still under discussion but with no new developments, according to Colin Stretch, Facebook general counsel, who investigated the Gizmodo report.
Facebook also used a list of 10 news organizations to verify importance of a topic, a practice that has been dropped as a result of the controversy.
Stretch said an internal investigation analyzed 3,000 reviewer decisions and found no evidence that conservative views were being suppressed.
He said in addition to dropping the list of verifying news outlets, which included the BBC, Washington Post and Buzzfeed, Facebook will provide more training to employees who work on Trending Topics.
Improving Facebook News Feed
In its quest to use up even more of your time, Facebook is working on improving the targeting of its news feed so users can receive more tailored headlines and formats such as video.
One recent innovation is Instant Articles, which enables publishers to select stories from their sites that will appear in the Facebook News Feed.
It’s a mixed bag for publishers. Instant Articles offers them an opportunity to get exposure on Facebook and, importantly, on mobile devices. But it will not automatically send traffic to their own websites so it’s unclear how they can monetize story views.
But it could prove to be an important element as Facebook marches forward.
Company spokeswoman Jessie Baker said Facebook is focused on delivering value to users and time on site is a good measure of success.
“The better we do at providing what people most want to see, the more likely they are to return to the app and spend time,” Baker said.