The Great Social Migration: Five+ Years Later

unnamed-24What were you doing about five years ago? If you were in your thirties, you may have just discovered the wonders of social media and it was quickly becoming clear that there was pretty much only one game in town—Facebook. But if you were in college, you may already have passed the saturation point and been looking to the next innovation.

I have always been fascinated by how Facebook struck a chord with so many different people around the world. What else can you name that touches over a billion people? One-time events like the Superbowl, maybe. The World Cup. Air.

Five or so years ago, it was just getting going. Already popular among the teens and twenty-somethings, the Facebook platform saw the beginning of a massive universal adoption at the time. In 2008, the site hit 100 million users for the first time and in 2009 its registered users, for the last time, more than doubled the previous year’s total.

I had been invited to Facebook by 2007, among the earliest among my mid-thirties friends but didn’t begin using it in earnest for over a year. Funny thing about a social network is that it only works if you have friends on it, or if you find new ones. More quickly than the economy was tanking, social networks were soaring in 2008 and new childhood, high school and college friends were signing up in droves and signing in multiple times a day. It started to get interesting.

Many people were using the platform to discover what old friends were up to and it was perfect timing for me; as it so happened, I had been organizing my high school class reunions for 20 years. Facebook made all the difference in the world. Through my experience of planning, organizing and running these events as well as communicating with many classmates, I can say that each one had its own distinct ‘flavor’.

–        The ‘Clique’ Reunion (5-year): Few people changed since high school. We had only been out of college for a year. People were in new jobs but nobody really had gone far in a career. Most people hung out with all the people they had in high school. Everybody was friendly, but it was the one that was most like the movies that stereotype reunions; all the cliques were intact.

–        The ‘Showoff’ Reunion (10-year): Most people were—in a good way—proud of how far they had come in 10 years. Careers were in full gear, many people were newly married or engaged and the next generation was beginning to come to life.

–        The “Too Busy to Have a Reunion” Reunion (15-year): I had two toddlers with a third on its way and was transitioning jobs. I didn’t plan a reunion and I imagine many others may have been living a similar chaotic lifestyle.

And then there is the 20-year: The ‘Facebook’ Reunion. Getting the word out went from a process of stuffing envelopes and snail mail (5-year) to e-mail (10-year) to a combination of Web technologies including a website service specifically for creating a community around a reunion. It was also the first one that enabled us to accept credit card payments. But the reason why I call it the ‘Facebook’ reunion is because of what happened as a result of the platform becoming popular within a year of the event.  As classmates began getting back in touch for several months through social media—interacting, joking, reminiscing—we weren’t strangers anymore.  We knew about each other’s kids, jobs, spouses, divorces, losses, deaths and had an overall big picture view of the entire room before we said even one word to anybody at the reunion. By the time the day came, much less time was spent on catching up on our lives, making the party more about having fun and laughs together, just as we did two decades earlier.

Facebook also did and does something more than just get old friends back in touch with each other. As the years pass, the site allows one to learn more about old classmates that they never would have took the time to learn in high school. If a person didn’t travel in your circles or were in your classes, you likely didn’t have a chance to get to know him or her. With the high school facades down and people comfortable with themselves and their lives, we got to know each other again—and for some, for the first time—which made conversations at the reunion so much more rewarding.

Now I am a few months away from turning on the lights to our 25th reunion. This time all communications and collaboration are going exclusively through Facebook as almost all alumni are now on it.

I understand Facebook, as a company, isn’t without its faults. It has replaced the ‘Google is evil’ sentiment from several years ago for many. While its numbers are still astoundingly strong, some of their marketing practices are devious, disingenuous and downright fraudulent, in my view.

I also find fascinating my kids’ evolving attitudes toward Facebook. Five years ago my son couldn’t wait to turn 13 so he could sign up for the site. He has since joined but hasn’t written one status in over a year.  He and his sisters trend toward Instagram, Vine and other more visual forums.

The next five years will be interesting as Facebook matures. As its growth rate slows down due to its shear mass, will revenue plateau? Or will they find ways of opening up new streams of income? Will they be innovative or will they be acquirers? Will they continue to prosper like Google or become irrelevant like MySpace?

What were your earliest experiences with Facebook like?  Where do you see it going in the future?

Marc Baskin is the co-founder of inControl Ads, a technology platform that puts consumers in control of their advertising experiences across all devices and screens. He has helped several start-ups go from just a few people, to public companies. Marc frequently writes pieces regarding the industry, as well as culture, history, and science.