Poke, SlingShot, Camera, Moments: The list of Facebook’s not-so successful apps is fairly long. But that hasn’t prevented Menlo Park from launching LifeStage, an app that apparently has nothing to do with Facebook as we know it. You’d think being the world’s most successful social media platform will be enough for Zuckerberg & Co, but clearly the company is hungry for more.
With LifeStage, Facebook is targeting a new audience, an audience that appears to be disinterested in Facebook: teens. For LifeStage is a social network, meant only for high school students in the US who have an iOS device. Don’t forget Facebook first started out as a photo-sharing platform only for college students in the US, before it morphed into the social media giant that we now use on a daily basis.
So what is LifeStage? LifeStage only works for those who are 21 and younger, is all about posting video profiles, and users will be able to interact with others in their school. If you’re 22 or older, you can see your own profile, but not those of others. We’re guessing this is supposed to be one way of dissuading the older audience from latching onto this platform. The app has been conceived by the company’s 19-year old product prodigy Michael Sayman. TechCrunch quotes Sayman as saying, “I went back and looked at Facebook from 2004. At the time I was in the second grade.”
Of course, the question with LifeStage is going to be: Why? Why now? Why does the world’s most successful social media platform with over 1.7 billion monthly users need another app? Don’t forget the billion users on WhatsApp, another billion using Facebook Messenger and around 500 million odd users on Instagram. The answer: a drop in personal sharing and yes, the rise of Snapchat, which has proven much popular with the younger audience, especially teens in more developed countries.
The exodus of the teenage audience from Facebook has been reported since 2013, and while the social network’s overall numbers are growing, the younger audience has been finding other platforms. For instance, a report by iStrategyLabs in 2014 showed that 13-17 year olds on Facebook have declined by 25 per cent over the last three years for the US, while the 55+ age group has exploded on the platform. More worryingly, there’s now a perception among teens that Facebook is uncool.
In 2015, a report by Forrester Research showed while 78 per cent teens used Facebook, it came seventh in the ‘cool’ list, well below YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, and other. For teens, ‘uncool’ is a word usually reserved for parents, and one that no social network wants next to it. Add to that there’s been a decline in personal sharing, something Facebook itself acknowledges, even if not in so many words.
Reports on The Information and Bloomberg showed total sharing declined 5.5 per cent year over year for mid-2015, and overall original broadcast sharing was “down 21 per cent year on year”. Facebook admits personal sharing has moved on to apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, which is a problem because original posts are what boost engagement on the website. The reports said the problem was particularly “acute with Facebook users under 30 years of age”.
So now we have LifeStage, an app supposedly to help revive Facebook’s street cred with teens, perhaps be a challenger for Snapchat, which has caused worry for Facebook. Snapchat might only have 150 million daily active users, according to unconfirmed numbers, but Facebook is trying hard to kill it. For instance, Instagram now has Stories, an exact copy of the feature made popular on Snapchat. Then there’s MSQRD, an app that provides video filters similar to Snapchat and one that Facebook acquired. The social network is now testing MSQRD filters on the Facebook camera app, in order to make it a more hip, trendy feature than what it currently is.
Of course, SlingShot was Facebook’s previous attempt at challenging Snapchat and that didn’t go so well. The app relied on a similar ephemeral messaging style like Snapchat and allowed users to doodle/edit on photos, but it failed to win users, and was eventually shut down by Facebook. But fun it was not, and so it didn’t survive.
For Facebook, the challenge has been evolving from the Blue and White News Feed which has come to be very familiar to most users, but for teens is the equivalent of boring and old. Snapchat for all its flaws of being difficult to master, has somehow managed to convince the younger audience, that it is cool and relevant. And Snapchat thanks to its ten-second videos has also become a popular form of storytelling for teens. For social networks, video is the future, which also explains why this app is such a big threat.
For now Snapchat lives on despite Facebook’s attempts to buy out the app, or kill it by copying features. Whether LiveStage turns out to be a better rival than Slingshot will be closely watched.