In a recent New York Times piece, veteran Facebook watcher Mike Isaac provided "Six Reasons Meta Is in Trouble." Isaac's "reasons" are actually the results of deeper problems with the company and its products. Here's Isaac's diagnosis:
- User growth has hit a ceiling. Facebook lost "about half a million users over the fourth quarter from the previous quarter."
- Apple's changes are limiting Meta. iPhone users can opt-out of usage tracking, limiting the Facebook's ad-targeting data.
- Google is stealing online advertising share. Google "reported record sales, particularly in its e-commerce search advertising."
- TikTok and Reels present a conundrum. TikTok "is fiercely competing with Meta's Instagram for eyeballs and attention."
- Spending on the metaverse is bonkers. Zuckerberg sank $10 billion into the metaverse, even though widespread rollout of 3D is far from imminent.
- The spectre of antitrust looms. "Meta faces multiple investigations, including from a newly aggressive Federal Trade Commission and multiple state attorneys general."
That's all solid thinking, as far as it goes but these six surface problems are actually a manifestation of a much deeper flaw: Facebook's products and brands are aging poorly and Mark Zuckerberg clearly has no idea how to reverse the downward trend.
Zuckerberg prides himself on being a millennial, but Facebook is an app that only a Boomer could love. On the PC, Facebook presents a pig's breakfast of windows, ads, geegaws, links, and photos. Hey Mark, 2002 called and wants its GUI back.
On phones, Facebook--like all apps originally developed for PCs--feels crabbed and clunky. While Instagram mobile feels a bit more modern, it still smacks of menu-centric design. Posting a reel is awkward and bizarre compared to TikTok's extraordinarily clean creator interface.
When was the last time you ever heard anybody saying that they enjoy using Facebook's products? It's not so much that Facebook has "hit a ceiling" as that Facebook has become so dull and boring that people use simply because others use it, too. As alternatives emerge, the cool kids are leaving the building.
And it's not just the cool kids! Hard to remember now, but Facebook was once the beloved company that brought families and friends together while Zuckerberg was the cool young iconoclast whose business smarts and casual style warranted a puffy bio-pic.
Funny thing though. It's hard to keep people loving on your brand when they can't trust whether you're keeping their data private, when they know that you're playing favorites while enforcing rules, and when they're painfully aware that you're making money hand over fist by spreading poisonous misinformation.
As a result, nobody trusts Zuckerberg or his judgment, all of which casts a deep pallor on the metaverse strategy, which (if he and his firm still held substantial brand goodwill) might otherwise cause investors to overlook other problems. The only way to fix this root cause of Facebook's problems is for Zuckerberg to fire himself... and even then it's unlikely that would revive the company's glory days.