Many companies are trying to mine Facebook and other social media sites to get a feel for trends in consumer behavior and attitudes. Last week I saw several articles (here’s one) about a Princeton University study comparing the growth of Facebook to infectious diseases and predicting that by 2017 Facebook will lose 80% of its users. The study made quite a stir in the blogosphere and Facebook responded by pointing out that using the same methodology they predict Princeton will lose all of its students by 2021 and Earth will run out of air by 2060. Here’s an article about Facebook’s response.
Regardless of whether or not Facebook will suffer the same fate as MySpace, this discussion points out something important to consider when using social media as the source for research. Social media is a very dynamic environment. Things are always changing on a site-by-site basis in terms of usage, demographics of users, and other variables – and that change can be very fast. When one sees changes in volumes of mentions and other measures, it can be difficult to know if they are due to the changing environment or if they are “true” changes. The only way I can think to guard against this problem is for companies to also monitor mentions of their competitors and always measure themselves relative to the competition, all the while hoping that changes in the environment affect competitors and their company equally.
What do you think? Is Facebook going the way of MySpace? How do you guard against the changing tides of the social media environment from affecting your social media insights?