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Happy birthday, Facebook

Social expert Lyle Wetsch talks about what’s changed in the last 12 years

Campus and Community

By Meaghan Whelan

Much like in dog years, 12 years in the life of a social network is practically ancient.

In light of Facebook’s recent birthday, the Gazette spoke to Lyle Wetsch, associate professor in marketing in the Faculty of Business Administration, about how the social network has changed.

According to Prof. Wetsch, one of the biggest changes is in the demographics.

When Thefacebook, as it was known at the time, launched at Harvard in 2004, the focus was on finding friends on campus and visualizing your network. Only Harvard students had access to the site, but access expanded over time to include university students in Canada and the United States. By 2006, everyone over 13 years of age with a valid email address was welcome.

“Facebook began as a student network and the age demographic was quite young. Over time, the demographics have shifted considerably towards the older market,” said Prof. Wetsch.

This is borne out in the Newfoundland and Labrador demographics. Within the province, there are 320,000 total Facebook profiles, with 150,000 users over 40 years of age.

In NL, approximately 3 out of every 5 people have a Facebook profile

“Teens usage of Facebook has changed with less time being spent on the channel, but other demographics have continued to make it relevant,” he explained.

Business applications

In particular, the addition of Facebook pages for businesses in 2007 revolutionized the way organizations can interact with customers and consumers.

“Consumers today expect to be able to talk to organizations and brands, largely due to the increasing influence of networks like Facebook and Twitter,” explained Prof. Wetsch. “Facebook is continually evolving to be more effective for advertising and business use. As a paid advertising channel, it’s very relevant.”

Far from networks like MySpace or Friendster that fell out of favour over time, Facebook will continue to be a part of people’s lives for some time to come.

“It was the first network to really make social media a mainstream communications channel and it has led to the dynamic social media world we live in now,” said Prof. Wetsch.

Where will the next 12 years take us?

Prof. Wetsch sees the future of social media as connecting closely with the ‘Internet of Things’, the network of physical objects, devices, vehicles and other items, that are embedded with software, sensors and network connectivity to collect and exchange data. Wearable technology like Fitbit and Apple Watch; smart refrigerators that can track food expiration dates and help with meal planning; and vehicles that link seamlessly to internet services are all examples of the Internet of Things.

“Although not the first social network, Facebook was the first to be able to capture the mass audience. Expect to see the network continue its evolution, stay ahead of the changes in the industry and stay relevant to consumers.”

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