As Facebook shares tumbled following its IPO last year, its detractors rubbed their hands in glee. This was the beginning of the end! Privacy issues would kill the social network, and people were leaving it 'in droves'! A Pew study out in February this year shows that the Facebook activity of most users will 'remain flat' in 2013. All exciting stuff for the Facebook cynic: cue lots of gags about Facebook not 'liking' this news.
The user figures, though, tell us a completely different story. (Note: I'm not talking about stock value here - I'll leave that to the financial analysts.) More than one billion people use Facebook across the world. And these figures are still growing. Users from emerging markets like Brazil and Russia are still rising (according to Social Bakers, Facebook added five million new users from Brazil in the last three months) and Facebook recognises the huge potential for growth in Asia.
So why is there such a discrepancy here between those who love Facebook and those who leave it?
People are naturally resistant to change. When Facebook introduced Timeline last year there was an outcry. More than one journalist heralded the mass exodus of users. But still the network grew. Last year saw a spate of (apparently un-ironic) posts and articles by people declaring publicly that they'd been driven to leave over privacy concerns. Still it grew. A vociferous minority of users still seem horrified that Facebook is a commercial entity and is funded primarily by advertising in news feeds. A few people leave, and more join.
Communities and social networks of any kind have a natural lifecycle of users. People get bored, find fault, move on. Some will miss it, and come back. And there's always a group of early adopters who'll move away from anything that's gained mass popularity, and on to the next big thing.
That's all quite healthy. Any thriving community needs turnover of users. It needs to adapt and change and add more features if it is to attract new people and stay relevant. That will inevitably lead to some of the early adopters leaving the community.
Peter Cohan talks about the concept of the 'value cycle': how a product creates, captures and renews value to users. I'm particularly interested in the 'value renewal' part of this cycle with regards to Facebook - how Facebook can respond and adapt to changing customer needs and market conditions.
The value we find in Facebook comes from two things. Firstly, from Facebook itself, its features and functions. We invest a huge amount of time and effort in it. It's a repository for the memories of almost every major event in our lives: photos, births, deaths, holidays, contact information, history. And it records the minutiae of our daily lives. If you're a regular Facebook user, it's pretty hard to move all that on to another network.
And Facebook is adapting to the changing behaviour of its users. Of Facebook's one billion users, 60 per cent access it via a mobile phone, and 70 per cent use Facebook daily. In September 2012, Zuckerberg publicly declared Facebook a mobile company, saying that in the long-term, its revenues will mostly come from mobile. Facebook is thinking long-term, and changing to adapt to market conditions.
The second place we find value is from the communities created within Facebook. (Old hands in the social media world will tell you that Facebook isn't itself a community - it's a network that houses a number of different 'communities' within it.) We use Facebook to connect with and talk to friends, companies, charities and celebrities; to share information and content; and to promote, share and support causes.
True, Facebook isn't without its faults. It's stumbled a few times on its growth path, and it doesn't always make life easy for its users. But it's evolving, and that's exactly what will shore up its future.
It's worth considering that the people who herald the death of a network or community may be exactly those who should be leaving, to allow the network to grow with a new generation of users.