What do social media and infectious diseases have in common? More than you might think, according to a recent study by researchers at Princeton University.
Sitting at the top of the social media heap, Facebook has captured the attention of both consumers and businesses. With more than 1.19 billion active monthly users, it's difficult to see how Facebook could go away anytime soon.
But in a report at Vocativ.com, Princeton researchers theorize that Facebook and other social media sites function like infectious diseases, and are governed by the same rules of adoption and abandonment.
According to the researchers, Facebook is essentially based on an idea, and "Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models."
Although Facebook spread very quickly during its early stages, it's inevitable that the social media site will reach a critical peak and then experience a sharp decline. Based on their model, Facebook's critical peak has already occurred, setting the stage for a steep drop in users over the next few years.
"Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017," said the researchers.
Sound far-fetched? Maybe. After all, the study was done by Princeton's department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, an academic discipline far removed from marketing and social media circles.
But on the other hand, consider MySpace. Once the darling of social media, MySpace suffered a relatively sudden demise, completing the full life and death cycle described by the Princeton researchers' infectious disease model.
For small businesses that use Facebook to connect with customers, the key takeaway may be to avoid putting too many eggs in the Facebook basket. Even though Facebook offers abundant opportunities for forging connections with new and existing customers, Facebook--like the bubonic plague--will eventually disappear. And when that happens, businesses that have created a diversified social media and marketing strategy will be best positioned to enjoy uninterrupted connection to their customer bases.
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