On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is considering lowering the minimum membership age to include tweens. It raised eyebrows and kindled a new discussion about privacy and the propriety of inviting youngsters into what the company aspires to make the world’s biggest salesroom.
But I have a different concern: Soliciting children would be pretty strong evidence that Facebook needs a big boost to its already staggering 900 million membership to justify its valuation and business model. Having courted every early, middle and late adopter possible, there isn’t much low-hanging fruit for Facebook anymore. But courting tweens would inevitably invite scrutiny and regulation, since the prospect of cyberstalking is even more toxic that cyberbullying.
In other words, the potential rule change looks like an act of desperation. Coming off a miserable stock market debut, both the merits and atmospherics of this notion are decidedly bad.
It’s easy to see why this would be on the table. Facebook has to prove that it can sell things on a massive scale, that it is the 21st century’s answer to television. All of that seemed possible before it went public on May 18, as the company’s valuation was pushed up steadily for months in thin trade on private exchanges among well-heeled insiders. But the question of just how good an advertising medium Facebook can be has been pressed by a steady decline in its share price during 12 days of trading – to about 60 percent of its historical high. Until Facebook can prove its business model, it’s a good idea to keep bulking up so that a leveling off of membership, or even a decline, doesn’t turn the story really ugly.
For Facebook greater, and growing, numbers are essential. Like panning for gold, you need a lot of water to come up with a few grains. So to achieve gold-rush growth, Facebook has to mine the young end of the spectrum.