ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Jake Rowland/WIRED
Will the Decline in Facebook’s Popularity Affect Musicians?
THERE are all kinds of problems brewing…
ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash
at Facebook H.Q. right now. The main image is from a New York City-based artist, Jake Rowland – it appeared on the cover of WIRED and, aside from the fact I am unsure whether I can use the illustration in my piece (always hard to tell...); it reveals a very glaring portrait of Mark Zuckerberg. The website/social media platform has been around since 2004 so one can forgive a decline after a near-fourteen-year regency. Twitter has been accused of losing focus and not evolving since its inception. A BBC article raised eight arguments to state why Facebook is in decline. The amount of users has gone down slightly – dropped to 184 million users – but it seems like a drop in the ocean. Many users, myself included, are fed up with the changes and tweaks that are not enhancing the user experience and creating any development. The news feed ‘prioritises’ important news and pieces – often stupid statuses and banal videos – so people have to switch to see most-recent news. I wonder who actually wants to see the ‘most-important’ news above a conventional timeline. It is irksome having to change and get things chronologically – rather than what Facebook deems to be the best and most-relevant news! That drop in figures – down from 185 million – might seem expected but, for a site that invests so much and holds such power…should it be levelling out at all?!
The more people that come into the world; the more social media users available, no?! Twitter is not really exploding so you have to wonder whether people are coming off social media altogether. Factors such as ‘fake news’ call into question the ethics-driven approach of Facebook. The site prides itself on openness and transparency: not wanting to promote falsehoods and those who seek to spread hate. There have been controversies and accusations leaders in Russia and the U.S. use Facebook to perpetuate their questionable ideals; extremist videos and graphic content has slipped through the net – disturbing content and sexual content has also got through. There are concerns over cyberbullying and privacy; how safe our details are and whether, in fact, we need to spend so much time on sites like Facebook. Not only have executives spoken out against Facebook – and the culture employed – but one wonders, as the Internet population explodes – can sites like Facebook control that influx and adequately safeguard privacy and their users?! You have to ask whether this kind of scenario was conceived back in 2004. I imagine Zuckerberg and his staff and doing the best they can but, right now, it seems like a mansion coming under fire from a crusade of fighter jets. Facebook is influential and one of the most-important websites in history: the fact it has peaked, by the looks, makes one wonder whether there will be a decline coming.
Business owners like Mark Zuckerberg have to look at money and ways of funding their ventures. That means, more and more, advertising takes a bigger role. People’s lives and data are being seen/used and we are bombarded by adverts – part of a marketing machine rather than a social network. Bringing it to music and how it affects artists; the argument comes down to two factors: whether people are spending less time on Facebook and whether the site is equipped to deal with the needs of musicians and the complexities of the industry. I have always argued Twitter is more versatile and useful for the artist/creative. It is easier to connect with well-known figures and hook up with people. You do not need to send requests and wait for permission: you can follow someone right away and tag them into posts. Retweeting means posts can go out super-quick and it is a far less complex layout (compared to Facebook). I am less harassed by adverts and there are fewer needless functions and areas of the site – like events and apps; marketplace and all the other, needless tinsel. I will look at Twitter soon but I am concerned musicians are struggling to compete and succeed on Facebook. They rely on social media more than any other industry. Whilst many can get the word out and build hype without spending time on social media: most share their music that way and find it easier to get fans and followers their way.
It is great having a site like Facebook where you can share news and information with friends without much of a struggle. Perhaps Facebook is better aimed at normal people rather than musicians. That raises another concern: are artists being ignored and do the top bods at Facebook realise how important social media is to musicians?! The fact the site is not as broad as Twitter – in terms of the people you can connect with and how quickly you get information to more people – is a natural limitation for an artist. I worry whether the rise in fake news and the vulnerability we feel is making them less intrepid and more worried. I wonder how my posts are being viewed and how far they are going. Facebook is limited in regards its scope but it has not really progressed and evolved in terms of functionality and reach. There are fears the Chinese-speaking world could create a rival site or something that reaches more of the world. The data/information-obsessed nature of the world means it is harder to police those who view what we put online. Threats to democracy and personal privacy are putting people off using the platform. Musicians are in the same boat: they have material out there and share their details with fans/friends. A lack of trust and disinformation means many advertisers are retreating and losing faith in Facebook!
For musicians, as opposed average users; they utilise advertising more and often use Facebook to advertise their own music – collaborating with brands and raising finance cohabiting with marketing companies. The BBC article raised an interesting point I had not considered:
“The new superpowers in the world of business are a new kind of media-technology giant who monetise personal data. And with the evolution of the data economy comes the evolution of data regulation. GDPR, the European Union's incoming data protection regulation, is due to come into force on 25 May and will have a massive impact on companies such as Facebook, who could face huge fines for breaches. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said the company has already adjusted privacy settings in anticipation. At its recent earnings call, Facebook specifically warned that GDPR could be an impediment to future growth”.
There are worries surrounding tighter regulations and fines. Will these fears and protectionist impositions mean Facebook scale-back the site or compromise users in another way? My biggest concern surrounds every point I have already raised: how the cumulative effect will cause detriment and damage to musicians’ prosperity and success. Users are being put off by adverts and the way their data is handled; whether there is any substance in social media – and whether the short-term dopamine burst we get from social media ‘success’ (people liking our work and sharing it) is becoming an unhealthy addiction.
The fewer people subscribing to Facebook and remaining on the site; the fewer people there are to support your work and share it. I feel there is general apathy and fatigue creeping in as well. Maybe we have come to a point where we’re numb and using social media for no good reason – rather than making new connections and broadening our horizons. The main use I have for it (and Twitter) is sharing my posts and trying to build my profile. It is okay for personal interaction but that might be an oxymoron: we are not actually interacting or connecting in a human, real way. The competition from Twitter means musicians and creative sorts and spending more time here. If Facebook made it easier to follow successful bands/artists and those you want to connect with; maybe that would keep people in and provide a more attractive option. Twitter is more user-friendly because there are fewer distractions and it seems a lot wider-reaching. The rise in anxiety and isolation is alarming and evident. Rather than blame Facebook and point fingers at its faults; should we be looking at social media in general and weeing people off? It is hard to say that to musicians: the competitive nature of the business means social media is a very important part of their everyday life. It is impossible to detach from these sites - careers will suffer – but Facebook could offer a bespoke look for artists/creatives – something that could take away the bad points and mean users’ time was spent more effectively. Everyone needs to feel they are safe and their data is not being shared improperly; they want to feel secure and understood; they want to feel the information they are seeing is factual and true.
It might seem an extreme measure creating a separate site for musicians but, as social media becomes an important part of the mechanism – and less important for regular users – adapting the way it operates and looks might be a preventive measure. I am worried musicians are losing trust in Facebook and not really seeing ‘value for money’. There are some great articles that offer suggestions and tips for musicians looking to get the most from Facebook. One interesting point from the author, Leah McHenry, suggested way musicians could better spend their time on Facebook:
“I will schedule 1-2 posts per day (if that), and make sure that each post is more meaningful, entertaining, inquisitive, or somehow conversation-stimulating to my fans. Beyond that, I will post spontaneous “mini blog-type” posts, personal thoughts, more text, and photos that I think will resonate with the culture I’m creating around my music.
I also pay attention to the pages I’ve liked in my own news feed, and whenever I find something amusing, thought-provoking, or entertaining, I often will spontaneously post that to my page on the spur of the moment. I believe this will really work well if you’re posting often, at least every day”.
Devices like Facebook Live are good ways of streaming videos to followers and letting them into your world: should the site be moving in this direction and removing some of the flaws and needless pages people do not really want to see?
I’ll end this piece by asking whether social media, as it stands, needs to be scaled-back and integrated – there are many different sites doing the same thing. Everyone uses social media for different reasons: for artists, there is a personal, business and promotional aspect to their experience. Designing something for them – that does not get them addicted and offers constructive progression – would be a sage move forward. I think Facebook as it is not really winning new fans and voices: at the worst, it is driving people away and revealing its cracks. I know there are great points to Facebook – there are many reasons I will remain with it – but, as more people flood in and fears around security rise; is Facebook equipped to deal with all of that?! It is a hard time for them but one that can be salvaged. It is clear constructive talks need to take place and Mark Zuckerberg needs to face his critics. It is a tough time for any social media business leader right now. There are so many factors that are causing people to rethink the time they spend on the sites: this is detrimental to business and means popularity will wane. It is clear things need to change and we all need to be more aware of how we use social media – and how much of our lives are spent there. Artists use social media to get their music out there and, with competitors like Twitter proving more appealing to many; is the hegemony of Facebook a thing of the past? A few newer inventions (Facebook Live) are steps forward but I wonder, fourteen years after its inception, these minor moves are enough to…
KEEP musicians invested.