Will private sharing make Facebook irrelevant one day?

In Hong Kong where I live, 98% of active Internet users are on Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook account some people consider you a social pariah. You certainly miss many invitations to parties.

I joined Facebook in 2008, to share significant moments with my friends and co-workers. How I use the network has evolved. Over the years I’ve posted less frequently, and now I mostly consume news on it, occasionally posting a photo or two. Genuine moments, the sharing of joy at a newborn member of someone’s family, a minute of commiseration over the death of a friend’s pet, are fewer and farther between.

Last week one friend announced (on Facebook) that he was quitting Facebook for good. Separately a business associate announced he was taking a temporary break while he went home to England for the summer.

What’s going on? It might be the rise of sharing in “dark social”–messaging networks such as Snapchat, WeChat, or Whatsapp. For example, I have three Whatsapp chat groups that are more than a year old. One has 256 members, comprising fellow students from my high school year. Another is my Polytechnic year-mates, and a smaller one, my immediate family. Each group is active, in fact one of them averages over 100 messages a day. I have notifications turned off for that group so I don’t wear out my battery. A ton of sharing goes on in those groups. I use Facebook Messenger too, but most of my friends don’t use it unless they have to. (Facebook was smart to acquire Whatsapp.)

I’m also on Snapchat. Snapchat today feels like using Facebook five years ago: you only connect with your trusted network of friends or colleagues, you share genuine moments that don’t feel like humble-bragging (mostly); you are not afraid to be silly and fun. Because after 24 hours…poof! It’s gone.

For work we use Slack, a closed messaging system, for friendly social sharing we use Whatsapp or Snapchat. What do we use Facebook for? My company spends a ton of money advertising on Facebook on behalf of clients, so we knowingly take advantage of how consumers use it to stay close to brands. But what drew those consumers to Facebook in the first place was the social connection, which is gradually weakening.

Is this a threat to Facebook? If it is, what can they do? I’ll address that in another post.