The Facebook Fatigue Dilemma

February 9, 2017

Facebook Fatigue or Facebook Burnout?

Facebook is facing a difficult challenge.

How to read: Our sample of Facebook users were asked to rate their Facebook experience. This graph charts the "Not Using As Much As I used to" response over time. Negative political posts during 2016 contributed primarily to these findings. Click on image to enlarge.

With nearly 200 million U.S. Facebook users in 2016, Facebook is experiencing social blowback specifically from user postings of a political nature that could negatively impact or slow future growth.

Facebook satisfaction levels in the latest Bridge Ratings Facebook performance study have deteriorated in recent months (see chart to the right).

The Facebook Satisfaction Study IV was conducted throughout 2015 and 2016 and as we saw dissatisfaction levels increase, we continued tracking Facebook user attitudes into January 2017.

Of all age groups in our sample, satisfaction levels among 35-44 year olds decreased the most between 2012 and 2017 (25%-41%).

Considering the large user base Facebook enjoys, these percentages make a significant statement about the mood of the country and how social media is affecting behaviors on and off line.

The following chart is based on a recent analysis posted by Statista showing the U.S. user growth of Facebook.

This analysis was created prior to the U.S. election in 2016.

This chart shows the number of Facebook users in the United States from 2015 to 2021. In 2018, the number of Facebook users in the United States is expected to reach 201.1 million, up from 191.3 million in 2016. As of the first quarter of 2015, the social network was accessed by close to 1.65 billion users on a monthly basis.

This chart shows the number of Facebook users in the United States from 2015 to 2021. In 2018, the number of Facebook users in the United States is expected to reach 201.1 million, up from 191.3 million in 2016. As of the first quarter of 2015, the social network was accessed by close to 1.65 billion users on a monthly basis.

A Toxic Social Environment

You may have felt the anxiety that many have been feeling since the U.S. election cycle for 2016 started in mid-2015. Bridge Ratings - as part of our annual social media review - started noticing a stalled growth pattern for Facebook as early as the first quarter of 2016.

We wondered why.

Click on image to enlarge.

According to interviews conducted both online and through random telephone interviews, "Facebook fatigue" has increased among those who have been using the service for at least six months. Interviews were conducted throughout 2016 and through January 2017.  

Mentions about a key change in the social environment of Facebook have increased as posts have taken on a more frequent toxic tone due to "friends" posting about the 2016 election. Users of all ages in our study found the social platform to be an outlet among their friends to post frustrations regarding the candidates and their platforms.

Words like "vitriol" and "hate" were used frequently to describe an increasing number of posts on Facebook newsfeeds.

Reductions in User Activity

In the four activities we tracked in this study (Average Check-ins per day, percent of visitors who check in several times a day (frequent), the number of daily visitors and weekly visitors, the downtrend since July 2015 is clear.

In July 2015, 70% of Facebook's visitors were highly engaged with the platform saying they use the site on a daily basis. As of late January 2017, that number had fallen to 61%.

Average log-ins and weekly visits have also decreased.

By April 2016, our tracking showed an up-tick in average Facebook users who began signing on to the social platform less frequently. Unfriending long-standing relationships and completely disconnecting from Facebook are more common occurrences than in past studies.  We saw a direct correlation to use of alternate social networks like Instagram during the course of 2016.

Articles began to appear reflecting the negative political discourse including this recent example on The Federalist.

Unfollow and Unfriend

Prior to 2016, reasons to unfriend or unfollow Facebook friends tended to be rather simple.

Click on image to enlarge.

Prior to the 2016 U.S. election political commentary as a reason to unfriend someone, was hardly on our research radar.

However, during the 2016 election season, political comments or negative postings increased and many users of the service began to feel anxious about logging on.

These are trends we have never seen before. We expected the trend to reverse once the election was over in November 2016, but as you can see, the behavior of changed Facebook usage increased in December and again in January when this latest study was conducted in the days following the inauguration of Donald Trump.

And it's not getting any better.

As the following chart clearly shows, the number of Facebook users who have reduced or eliminated the platform from their social behavior has grown significantly since mid-2016.

While these numbers may appear to be small, the trend speaks to the dissatisfaction. With 200 million Facebook users these percentages reflect large numbers of people.

The number of Facebook users who unfollowed or unfriended people has grown from 18% in July 2015 to 31% in late January 2017. Click on image to enlarge.

For example, in our tracking during the month of July 2016, 0.1% of our representative sample had removed the Facebook application from their phones. That number represents 200,000 Facebook users. By December that number had grown to 1.3% or the equivalent of 2.6 million users.

Those using Facebook less grew from 7.6 million in July of 2015 to 14.4 million following the inauguration in late January 2017.  We have also heard feedback from our sample indicating that their Facebook behavior was negatively affected due to frequent negative political postings. This chart trends the percentage of our sample who unfollowed or unfriended people on Facebook over time.

Facebook vs Instagram

The study also revealed a benefactor from the negative postings by users on Facebook: Instagram.

Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing site that allows users to share pictures and videos either publicly or privately on their app, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.

Facebook vs. Instagram activity trends, July 2015 through January 2017. Click on the image to enlarge.

Photo and video sharing is one of the top two reasons Facebook users visit the site and with decreasing daily usage of Facebook, our sample shows increased usage and visits to Instagram.

When comparing the trends for both platforms since July 2015, the benefit to Instagram is clear.

 

Remedies for Facebook?

These findings raise a number of questions:

- Is Facebook working on a solution to resolve public reaction to unwanted negative posts? One expert we spoke with offered the idea of an algorithm that could be customized by the user to screen out specific types of content in addition to unfollowing friends.

- Will the number of negative political postings subside as 2017 progresses or will it increase?

- If the numbers in our report reflect only the beginning of user attrition, how will Facebook respond?

The Bridge Ratings full report on evolving social media usage and behavior will be released late first quarter 2017. We will continue tracking these trends to learn how social media is impacting personal behavior.

Methodolgy:

This study was conducted between January 3, 2016 and January 30, 2017 with a sample of 4428 people ages 13 and older.
51% of the sample was female, 49% were male.

62% of the completed sample was derived through monthly national random stratified telephone interview calls and on-line questionnaires (38%).