Facebook is putting its short-term money where it’s mouth is, reducing the presence of viral videos in an effort to boost well-being of users of its site. Today in Facebook’s Q4 2017 earnings report CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that “Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day.”
That’s a reduction of roughly 2.14 minutes per day per user, given that Facebook has 1.4 billion users now. Zuckerberg later said that’s a reduction of total time spent on Facebook by 5%.
The viral video changes led to a reduction of daily active users in the US and Canada region of 700,000. That’s an unprecedented decline for Facebook which has done nothing but grow since its launch in 2004. Facebook’s CFO David Wehner says he believes this is a one-time decline and not a trend. That could depend on how many time-reducing changes Facebook is willing to make.
Even if Facebook hadn’t lost the 700,000 daily users in the US and Canada, the company would still have had the slowest quarter-over-quarter percentage daily user growth ever at 2.24%. The 2.18% growth it did experience is much lower than its previous worst quarters, Q4 2016 and Q4 2017 when it had 3% growth.
Still, once Facebook explained that US & Canada DAU decline wasn’t a trend but a result of the viral video and well-being changes, Facebook’s share price rocketed up from being down as much as -4% in after-hours trading to around +4%. Investors may believe that this means Facebook won’t be taking massive user count hits from the changes, and that the overall growth trend persists.
Facebook is making good on the promises Zuckerberg made on last quarter’s earnings call when he said ” “Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.” It shows Facebook is executing on the big News Feed changes it announced earlier this month that were designed to reduce passive browsing, video consumption, and news in favor of active interactions with close friends.
Facebook’s willingness to promote user well-being over its bottom-line is unusual amongst big corporations. Some see it as an act of compassion. Others believe it’s just a long-term strategy designed to prevent a bigger “ditch Facebook” movement from emerging that could cost it a lot more than the time spent reduction announced today.
For more on Facebook’s struggle with Time Well Spent, check out our feature piece: