Facebook’s New Goal: Is It Turning Into TikTok?

As TikTok gets more popular, Meta wants Facebook to be more like the rising video app. We look at how the platform may compete with its current rival.

Bernadette Catalan
Bernadette Catalan August 23, 2022

Eighteen years ago, Facebook launched as a small social networking platform that connected Harvard students. Since then, the social media giant opened up its digital doors to the public and acquired several tech companies, namely Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus—all familiar names now under the company’s domain.

But like other firms, Facebook has faced numerous challenges. These obstacles began escalating in 2016 when users put the platform on blast for spreading fake news. The following year, Facebook dealt with a flood of offensive and abusive posts that necessitated revising its regulatory measures.

Facebook’s troubles didn’t stop there, though. 2018 saw the platform taking a massive blow with the Cambridge Analytica data breach, which revealed that millions of users’ data were leaked and allegedly utilized to help former U.S. President Donald Trump win the country’s elections. Facebook has since taken steps to resolve election-related issues within the website, especially during the recent Philippine elections.

Controversy still followed Facebook as the new decade began. Over the last three years, the company suffered from penalties, compromised security, and a global outage. But despite these hurdles, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s rebranding to Meta in 2021 in its bid to build the metaverse—an immersive, integrated network of 3D worlds.

Now, Meta is facing yet another hurdle: TikTok. Analysts already see the new social video app overtaking Twitter and Snapchat in ad revenue, and this challenge may force Facebook to follow in TikTok’s footsteps. Here’s a look at TikTok’s recent rise and how Meta plans to compete with its new rival.

TikTok’s Climb to the Social Media Summit

Current forecasts predict that TikTok will surpass Snapchat and Twitter in ad revenue this year. Moreover, it’s poised to catch up with YouTube by 2024. Analysts expect TikTok and YouTube to receive nearly $23.6 billion in ad revenue during this period.

But even before experts started weighing in on TikTok’s future, the video platform was already growing fast. In 2021, it gained a billion users after launching only four years prior. As for demographics, TikTok has successfully lured a large percentage of 18 to 25-year-old users into its fun virtual world. 

Despite this, Facebook is still going strong; 9.3% of females and 13.3% of males under the 18 to 24-year-old bracket use the platform worldwide. When it comes to monthly active users, Facebook still reigns supreme. Current statistics show that the platform hosts 2.9 billion monthly active users. 

But this February, Facebook’s user growth took a hit, a situation that Meta partly pinned on TikTok. So much so that reports revealed the multinational company’s fear of Tiktok led it to hire a lobbying firm to paint its foreign-owned rival as the real threat.

Why People are Flocking to TikTok

One undeniable fact about TikTok is that it gained momentum in the social sphere because of the endless stream of content and engagement opportunities it provides. 

Some compelling videos even have audiences giving quasi-cash gifts—virtual purchases converted to real cash—to content creators, which amounted to over $840 million in the first quarter of 2022. Last year, it surpassed many online games in consumer spending.

TikTok is also using the news to its advantage. In September 2021, the Pew Research Center noted that 31% of Americans got news from Facebook. But the Russian-Ukrainian war—which brands responded to in various ways—turned people on to TikTok in search of user footage from the war-torn country. Currently, #Ukraine-tagged videos on the app have garnered around 40 billion views.

Facebook’s Game Plan to Follow in TikTok’s Footsteps

With everyone spending more time on TikTok, Meta has devised a plan to keep up with its supposed rival. Recently, The Verge reported on an internal memo from Facebook head Tom Alison that revealed the platform’s potential next moves. 

Among the most notable changes mentioned in the memo include integrating the Messenger app into the Facebook app, similar to TikTok’s messaging feature. It also noted that the News Feed would now recommend specific posts to users regardless of their location and source. 

But how exactly will these features work? Here’s a simple breakdown:

These potential changes may help Facebook keep up with TikTok and mimic how its addictive “For You” page works. 

Right now, Facebook recommends posts based on specific user activities. Meanwhile, Tiktok determines what people like using historical data of their passive viewing habits, using this information to deliver an endless stream of short videos. Users can even consume content without following the creators behind them, helping those people go viral.

Facebook’s Discovery Engine: A Smart Move or Not?

While a “discovery engine” (what Facebook calls its TikTok-like algorithm update) seems like an innovative idea, some expressed concern over the change. The Verge quoted remarks from several Facebook employees over the potential update, including this noteworthy comment:

“I think there’s a real risk in this approach that we lose focus on our core differentiation (the social graph and human choice) in favor of chasing short-term interests and trends.”

Simply put, Facebook would be capitalizing on what’s hot rather than sticking to its roots. But Alison thinks otherwise. He assured stakeholders that Facebook would still recommend shareable content, but it would deliver more content using the discovery engine. Nevertheless, we’ve yet to see whether that change will turn Facebook into a more passive experience.

Prepare for Facebook’s Potential New Era

Facebook has drastically evolved throughout its 18-year history. But a new challenger in the form of TikTok has recently threatened Facebook’s position as a social media giant. In response, Facebook plans to tweak its algorithm to compete with its rival. The platform hasn’t formally implemented the change, though, so we won’t know whether it’ll work until it’s live.

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