Since many of my readers are undergrads and my blog feeds into Connect2Mason (a new student media site at GMU), many are users of Facebook and have been since the site’s early days — before Microsoft and Google were fighting to buy it. (Eventually MSFT got a few percent of the company and set the value at around $15 billion.)
Well, Facebook turns 4 on Feb 4, 2008 and like many 4 year olds, it development since birth as been amazing to witness.
Undergrads, the original market for Facebook, still dominate the site (by various measures) but in fact represent the past for Facebook.
You see the future of Facebook lies in the “young parent” segment. In my estimation that is the 22-45 year old segment of college/HS educated Americans, Canadians, and others who have kids under 13. Let me explain what happened in my household recently regarding Facebook and you will understand how I have come to this vision of Facebook’s future.
Three weeks ago my wife (35 years old, full time ER Physician, mommy of a toddler) asked me if I had an account with Facebook. I explained that I created an account a few years earlier as I had an edu email from my Phd (which meant I could join a few years before Facebook opened to the ‘public’ in September 2006). I was curious about the Faceboook phenom and joined. I went on in 2005.
I watched lots of undergrads behaving badly. Fun, yes, especially for an 18 year old partying til 3 am and sleeping past noon, but not for a 32 year old, married, entrepreneur, trying to complete a PhD at night.
In early January, my wife was invited to Facebook by her best friend from college and she joined. This is when she asked me about my Facebook status. She was becoming friends with all kinds of people from her past and loving it. A week after joining she had more friends than me (I think it was 22 to 8).
My wife then informed me that she wanted to post pictures of our son! I chafed a bit at this, but she stated that all of her friends had pictures of their little kiddies. Accepting the realities of the internet and marriage, I sent her a friend request (so I could watch her actions). Of course the number of friends I had increased dramatically once I was hooked in to her and my profile that I had set up years earlier was completed with HS, college, etc. information.
I began to get some friend requests. And a majority of those contacting me were women aged 28-40. Almost all of those were married and had kids under the age of 10. Most were college educated, some had attended graduate school. Some work, some stay at home, some work from home.
Like all Facebook users, my friends represent many parts of my life — college, camp, my wife’s friends, high school, previous jobs, different graduate schools. Many are wives of my buddies. I began to ask all of them how long they had been on Facebook. Not one had been on for more than six weeks (as of Feb 1, 2008).
I did a search for “Facebook and Moms” and found an interesting article from June 2007 in the NY Times written by Michelle Slatalla and another from Liz Ryan of BusinessWeek in September of 2007. In both pieces, the moms discussed were parents of teens who were on Facebook before the moms. In each case they bumped up against their kids, sometimes with each party in disgust.
Among the mommies I am observing and friends with (there are some dads, but far more moms), they are using it to post pictures of their newborns and toddlers, pet each other’s dogs, and start alumni clubs for their grade schools. They compare movie tastes, cheer for their favorite professional sports teams, and organize trips to the local museum.
These young mommies are merging their pasts, presents, and futures. As is the case with many ventures launched by campus entrepreneurs, these newer users (younger mommies) are taking a product, behavior, or consumption pattern from the campus and making it mainstream.
For these mommies, whose kids aren’t capable of participating on Facebook, the site is a combination of free email/IM/texting/pop culture/shutterfly. It is a competitor product for regular internet surfing, channel surfing, and the phone (both cell and land).
There is none of the turf battle that the NY Times and BusinessWeek outline and for these newer mommies and daddies, Facebook will be theirs to create, not an environment already defined by their children.
This young parent segment will continue to grow for two reasons: 1) more current parents of non-Facebook users will join b/c the value proposition/needs fulfillment is great and 2) members of the “young professional” Facebook segment — those who joined Facebook in college over the past 4 year and have moved on to graduate school and work will stay on Facebook and eventually marry (or not) and have kids.
The young parent market will likely be Facebook’s best hope for growth over the next 3-5 years.
- They are far more technically savvy (due to age) than older Americans (boomers etc) and
- They have higher incomes and spend far more money (from minivans and diapers to mortgages and Disney vacations) than the original college segment and the growing young professional segment
So for my readers who are still on campus — you may want to find somewhere else to do you social networking as you are soon to been run over by hordes of parents pushing strollers, singing the tunes of Justin Roberts, arguing about 529 plans, and reliving their glory days on campus.
For those who are entrepreneurs, campus and otherwise, Facebook is losing its youth as it passes its fourth birthday and becomes the social networking choice of young parents. This brings huge opportunities, but a fundamental shift in what kinds of products, advertising, and applications will be effective on Facebook.