Not having Facebook is the new not watching TV. Or is it?
According to this post on mashable.com, the average Facebook user spends almost seven hours a month logged in.
It's no secret Zuckerberg's social networking powerhouse is deeply ingrained in culture. Most of us check it daily, many of us are addicted (whether we admit it or not) and globally it's been responsible for reuniting long lost siblings, raising millions of dollars for worthy causes and sparking a revolution.
That's what makes it so unbelievable when someone utters the phrase: "I don't have Facebook".
I'm not sure if people are attracted to the romantic notion of not having a Facebook account, consider it a badge of honour (in the same way people used to brag about not owning a TV) or they're generally concerned about security and privacy issues. But one thing is certain: there exists a portion of the population firmly committed to the rejection of all things Facebook.
I'm not just talking about baby boomers or the technically inept, either. There are young, modern men and women making the decision every day to continue treading water, keeping their heads above Facebook's rising tide.
As digital (and social media in particular) becomes an increasingly legitimate marketing platform it's important for us as marketers to be aware that (despite the significant ROI possibilities) social media messaging doesn't reach everybody under 30.
I use Facebook every day, but I sympathise with those who don't. There are plenty of valid reasons why a person would choose NOT to have an account. Here are just a few (gathered from this TED conversation).
"I suppose I would be in the classification of not having one, even though I used to. Because I don't use it anymore and don't see myself ever going back. And it was because of stupid update[s]..."
"I participated for about a year in a site that I thought was going to be a discussion site but which I found after giving it too long a chance to be principally light chat and repetition of trite, simplistic, predictable mantra."
"Facebook allows us the freedom to be so completely self-centered that little else matters. And I'm not being hypocritical. I'm guilty of this myself."
All good points.
And of course, the obligatory privacy concerns
"I do not like to be monitored, observed, judged, by others. Humans need privacy. If we do not have privacy, that's stripping. Ancient Romans did a poo together while having conversation. Egyptians had public sex. Nowadays we have it too."
My thoughts exactly...wait, what?
Back in the day
When I was at college I knew a number of people for whom not owning a TV was a point of pride (and this was before everyone had a computer, or even an email address). Whether some sort of protest against modernity, or an identity statement intended to convey something about intellect, people did it. And I'm sure there were lots of very late adopters to telly – whether older people who didn't want to change, or technical illiterates – and many who didn't adopt at all.
Nowadays, though, you don't meet so many people who reject telly. Yes, viewing behaviour has changed, and, yes, many people now avoid scheduled TV (and the advertising that comes with it), but do they consume video content via a screen of some sort? Yes they do. TV has reached a level of maturity where almost 100% of the population has it.
I wonder whether the same thing will happen with Facebook: is the 'I'm not on Facebook' cry motivated by the same thing as the 'I don't own a TV' cry? Will Facebook reach a level of maturity where it has reached almost 100% of the population?
I'm not so sure. It seems there exists a 'natural ceiling'; a constraint on the proportion of the population willing to join Facebook. At least, growth in the social networking site has begun to level off in mature markets. This is what makes it so critical to take a closer look at why people aren't using Facebook and what it means for marketers.
The decision to eschew Facebook might be the result of human value judgement, disillusionment or any number of behavioural paradigms. Understanding the hows and whys of consumer behaviour is the holy grail of marketing, but the reality is we can't know every motivation a person has, or predict their every move.
Having said that, the emerging field of neuro science is starting to predict behaviour and enable us to understand motivation – and as a result we might be able to work out what drives Facebook deniers (and therefore work out a better medium through which to connect with them).
We've survived this long in spite of the fact that some people refused to watch TV, and we'll survive Facebook denial too, as long as we accept that we need to be willing to react to consumer behaviour and endeavour to find the best way to connect.
Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.