Facebook looks to recapture its youth—and college students—with Campus
Facebook wants to revisit its college days with a new students-only club that requires a university email address to access, just like “The Facebook” when it appeared on the campus of Harvard University in 2004.
“Facebook was a college-only network, and now we’re returning to our roots,” Facebook said in its announcement of the launch of "Facebook Campus" on Thursday.
The Campus section has a unique, college-focused News Feed, too. While there are no ads, it’s unlikely to remain ad-free. As with everything Facebook, Campus is also a potential source of consumer insights and data that will affect what ads the students see on other parts of the platform. “As with other Facebook products, we may use your activity from Facebook Campus to personalize your experience on our apps to show you more relevant content, including ads,” Facebook notes under its terms and conditions.
Facebook Campus is an obvious attempt for the social network to spark renewed attention from younger internet users who might be more interested in Instagram, which Facebook owns, or younger-skewing apps including Snapchat and TikTok.
Even Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said that her own children, who are approaching college age, don’t even have Facebook accounts. On Wednesday, Sandberg joked about her household’s internet habits during an interview video at The Information’s 2020 WTF Summit. “My own kids are much more on TikTok than they are on Instagram,” Sandberg said. “They don’t even have a Facebook page.”
It’s been a well-known sore point for Facebook that it does not generate the same enthusiasm among 13- to 24-year-olds as its rivals. TikTok, the Chinese-owned social video app, is one of the fastest-growing platforms of all time. Sandberg said that, by Facebook’s estimation, the app has already topped 1 billion users worldwide.
TikTok says it has 100 million monthly active users in the U.S. Facebook apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, reach 3.14 billion users a month.
Losing its cool?
Facebook is still the dominant social network, but there are signs that it has lost its cool factor among teens. Last month, a report from Sprout Social, a social media analytics firm, said Facebook usage among teens has “dropped in favor of YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.”
Last year, a Pew Research report said that Facebook “no longer dominates the teen social media landscape as it once did.” Pew found that 51 percent of U.S. 13- to-17-year-olds use Facebook, down from 71 percent in 2015.
Facebook has been trying to build its next hit product to capture youthful internet trends. This summer, Instagram introduced Reels, a TikTok-like video feature. Facebook also bought Giphy, a GIF-generation service. Facebook has mimicked Snapchat by developing augmented reality and Bitmoji-style avatars.
Campus could offer a new reason for, at least, the college set to keep checking in on the platform. The exclusivity—needing a college email to enter—was one of the factors that made Facebook attractive in its early days, after it was co-founded in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room.
Campus rolled out on Thursday to a select group of colleges and universities, before it opens to more schools.
The Campus section is within the Facebook main app and directs participants to a News Feed customized for the specific college the user attends. Students are granted access only to the happenings on their campuses, not a hodgepodge of content from all colleges.
There is also a campus directory, which is the type of product that motivated Zuckerberg to build Facebook in the first place. When it was still TheFacebook.com, Zuckerberg described the site as “an online directory that connects people through universities and colleges through their social networks there.”