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Photo: Taking a Nap Credit: Luiz Farias

Last week, the Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study showing that 61% of Facebook users reported taking a hiatus from the social network.  It was widely reported as a huge gap in our knowledge about social media and how people use it.

I’m not sure that Facebook fatigue as is prevalent as the study suggests.  Let me explain why:

Self-reporting and that other study….

You might remember last year there was a self-reported study of Facebook users published by Reuters determining that 34% of Facebook users were using Facebook less frequently.  The problem?  ComScore published a report the next week showing that Facebook users were spending more time on site than they ever had.  Facebook had become a dirty little secret for a legion of closeted virtual farmers and Mafiosos.  That should have clued people into the fact that there was some social desirability bias with Facebook.   A lot of people don’t want you to know they use it as much as they do.

Also, consider this passage from another study from February 2012:

“We found no evidence among our sample that length of time using Facebook is associated with a decline in Facebook activity. On the contrary, the more time that has passed since a user started using Facebook, the more frequently he/she makes status updates, uses the “like” button, comments on friends’ content, and tags friends in photos”

It was a self-reported study of Facebook users published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project entitled “Why most Facebook users get more than they give.”  So has something changed in a year that the same institution can sense the same audience and diagnose Facebook fatigue for two-thirds of Facebook users?  Probably not.  Which is not to say that there isn’t some truth to the idea of Facebook fatigue…

I’d rather have a small community with a few engaged people…

There may be Facebook fatigue to some degree, but in aggregate Facebook time-on-site is larger than it has ever been.  Users spend nearly an hour on Facebook a day.  If there is fatigue, someone is picking up the slack.

The key takeaway for businesses is that scale rules in social media.  Some people may disagree, preferring a highly-engaged smaller community, but consider how much more beholden a  business is to each individual member of a small community.   Assume Facebook fatigue is real, it would have a much greater effect on smaller communities than larger.  Assume EdgeRank is real, the 15% of your community that sees your posts would decrease much faster in a small community of fatigued Facebookers than in a larger community (that’s a joke by the way, EdgeRank is real).

My point is, there’s very little evidence that people leave Facebook as often as Pew suggests.  Graph Search is going to increase time on site when it is fully rolled out.  The conclusions that people are drawing from the Pew study are pretty unlikely and will probably be refuted by Neilsen and ComScore when their next social data is released.

The big take-away from this study should be as a thought-experiment: if this were true, are you responsibly mitigating your risk by growing your communities?

What do you think?  Is Facebook fatigue a real thing and what is the implication for businesses?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I aspire to give people something to think about rather than tell them what to do. My favorite Google Alert is "social media research," I am increasingly compelled by Gen Z, and I appreciate good writers agnostic of where they write. At one time I was Kred's 12th most influential social media blogger and Klout's most influential person on the topic of David Hasselhoff. Transplant from Seattle living in Cincinnati. Haven't entirely adopted the local sports teams yet.
Jim Dougherty
Jim Dougherty
Jim Dougherty
  • Jennifer Bourn

    Jim – I do believe in Facebook Fatigue … But not that people are using it less. In a recent discussion among my entrepreneur and small biz friends, we all agree, we’re OVER Facebook — over the Facebook news feed that is.

    But not over private groups. I still spend time daily on Facebook, but my time isn’t spent trolling the news feed. It’s spent in private groups.

    Private groups allow me to quickly communicate with the I care about most, without all the rest of the spammy, self promo, my-kids-are-so-cute, picture/quote crap.

  • http://twitter.com/jessbovey Jess Bovey

    I agree with Jennifer’s comments below, I find I mainly use it to admin my page now. My feed is being taken over with hideous links being liked or shared by friends, the advertising is taking over and its becoming a lot like Bebo….

  • http://twitter.com/jessbovey Jess Bovey

    Very well said :)

  • jimdougherty

    Thanks Jess! The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently that correlated the percentage of ad product in users news feeds with Facebook revenue. It’s disappointing that the experience is so poor, but not entirely surprising.

  • jimdougherty

    Thanks Jennifer! I imagine from Facebook’s standpoint a user that is on the site but uses ancillary features like groups is as good as any other user. But from a business standpoint, that underpins my point about the neccessity of scale to mitigate risk. Great insight. Hopefully people don’t get wind of groups and start a migration, or Facebook will have to find a way to integrate more ads into them! :D

  • http://twitter.com/profkrg Kenna Griffin

    I wonder if I could take a break from Facebook if I tried. I don’t think it stresses me out (fatigues me), but it certainly is a habit.