If you saw the headline, it might sound slightly dramatic – but in my opinion 2019 will be the year when the Airsoft Community (and potentially the industry) faces a social recession.
At this point; Facebook has all but killed 70% of any fresh airsoft group conversations. Beyond the Facebook-addicted players who have no idea where else to look or post, we’re recycling the same discussions.
It’s like watching a crack addict who only knows one dealer.
Facebook Declares War on Airsoft
You see, In 2017 I explained why Airsoft wasn’t welcome on Facebook but as a community we hoped for the best and continued onwards.
We tried to change group names from Airsoft, to Pew Pews or Toy Guns. When that failed, we turned groups into secret or hidden…refusing to think Facebook can see their own groups.
Somehow we survived the year but 2018 came in harsher than ever. One-by-one we lost groups, accounts and pages – but we refused to give-in and made new ones, ever hopeful of Zuckerberg’s mercy.
At the start of October 2018 our 3 largest groups (in size order) were:
- UK Airsoft Community (UKAC) ~ 21,000 members
- Pew Pew Airsoft Community ~ 19,000 members
- Airsoft Addicts UK ~16,000 members
Pew Pew Airsoft Community was created in 2017 during the ‘Facebook Groups land grab’, over a weekend that UK Airsoft Community was taken offline; but in October 2018, just a few thousand members from being the largest airsoft group – it was deleted.
8 weeks later, Airsoft Addicts UK fell to Zuckerberg’s hammer. Leaving UK Airsoft Community the largest group by a long stretch.
You don’t get a lot of warnings with Facebook, and you only ever get an ‘Appeal’ button with no idea what was reported. If you fail the appeal and the group is deleted.
The worst thing, as an ex-admin of a large group – I’ve seen first hand that it’s mostly member and player reports than AI itself.
So we were cut down from 3 major groups to 1, there has been a lot of accusations, rumours and presumptions why UKAC still stands, and I have my own opinions but that’s not to be discussed today; because realistically…their time will come.
We Have No Control
By now you’ll hopefully recognise the problem, and understand why it’s a lost cause. Here are just 4 reasons Airsoft will never survive 2019 on Facebook.
1. Are Your Members – Pro-Airsoft? How About Pro-Your Group Name?
- With the size of our groups growing larger, anti-airsoft, or even anti-group admins can easily jump in and report threads.
- Even as an Group Admin, you do not see what reports go to Facebook or know who did it within your group. By the time you know about the report, action has been taken.
2. Did you hurt another player’s ego?
- You’d be surprised that it only takes a small group of renegades with an agenda to report targeted posts and get a Facebook moderator involved.
- Even groups that have ‘Post Approval’ are easily circumvented if you know how.
- Oh, and do you remember the “Is this gun real or fake” photos? Well a Facebook moderator has less than 20 seconds to make a decision on whether a group s within the rules or not…
3. Our Community Members Aren’t Returning?
- Look at the re-created groups 3 months after deletion – only 20% of their original members returned. Why is that?
- It’s because most of the players were already inactive or they can’t find the new group. Quite simply put, Facebook isn’t designed to be search friendly.
- Even in UKAC, the largest airsoft group – only average 70-80 posts a day (2200/30days), with most posts having under 50 replies.
- That isn’t a 22,000 member strong community, thats 500-1000 regular players in addition to businesses posting events or advertising services.
- If we’ve got 60,000 members on the UKARA database, where are these players?
4. Welcome The New Blood, For The Old Are Tired
- The greatest thing Facebook has done for airsoft is make it a breeding ground for new players.
- Everyone is on Facebook, which means it’s easy to find a new hobby, or a group based around a hobby you’re remotely interested in.
- You’ve seen it before – a new, excited player jumps into a group, skipped the rules and ‘About’ section before asking to buy the best gun, the best this, fastest that and then how to get around the VCRA.
- The more seasoned players, especially those from 2000-2008 tend to get a little defensive knowing our history; while some one newer will want to defend a illegitimate defence system and the conversation goes so far from the original question.
- Anyone in Groups will have noticed that groups have caused people to ask questions before looking at answers. This isn’t always bad, but in groups over 20000, it’s like watching Groundhog day everyday of your life.
- Consequently, the longer you’re in a group, the more likely you’re going inactive or be one of the 500-1000 daily posters.
What does this mean for Players?
Well as the groups are slowly strangled, we will see further fragmentation of the player base.
Players looking for information will be required to start searching online again. Those sticking to Facebook Groups will largely be rolling dice every time a new member joins.
The secret underground groups will stay relatively small and under a strict ‘invite only’ control. These eventually die of inactivity and do not create long term community growth.
This means new players will struggle to find adequate information about airsoft on Facebook if they’re not invited by a friend, or using a search engine.
So now they look elsewhere…
What does it mean for Airsoft Businesses?
I genuinely think we will see some sites downsize, or disappear. The paintball sites that switched to airsoft for a quick customer base will probably be the first to go as their exposure to the players gets smaller.
Any sites that don’t have a way to contact players, will now be relying on word of mouth and the internet via websites/directories. They will have to build a loyal player base, and improve player retention (returning players) – good news for the players, but expect familiar faces more often.
Physical retailers, will also have to work to build a ‘community’ of regular customers. Group skirmishers organised by the retailer to keep players coming back to the store.
Online retailers will definitely suffer since they won’t have the same easy reach as before, hobbyist retailers with less overheads will survive but not scale up the same way we’ve seen in the past. Some may continue but others will get bored with the lack of growth.
The bigger retailers will have to rely heavy on search engines and old school advertisement via Adsense.
With that said, I believe in 2019 we will see one of the big 5 retailers close up shop. I’ll leave you guessing who I think.
We’re potentially moving back 5 years of community building, to older (almost neglected) infrastructures.
So what’s the alternatives?
Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Hi5, Snapchat
Ah yes, we can go from one mainstream Social Network to another. Only issue here, is that we’re going to be treading the same ground in the near-future.
Instagram is a prime example as it’s already owned by the same corporation that’s anti-airsoft.
With Instagram you don’t even need to be banned.
They can simply shadow-ban your account, and the hash-tags associated with Airsoft so you’ll continue talking into a vacuum with no chance of anyone hearing talk about your latest Crye gear.
YouTube is viable for the airsoft influencers – get that Community Tab and continue the conversations over there. But it’s hardly industry building.
Insert Unproven Universal Social Network Name – AKA The Promised Land
Whether they’re declaring they have no rules, no privacy restrictions or just being better – all social networks have the same long term issues.
- Can they grow users to the masses?
- How do they make money from users to scale up?
- How much money do they have to keep the lights on/investors?
MeWe is a perfect example here, as we’ve seen a few airsoft groups promoting it in the past as a far superior alternative.
Coming to the limelight after the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, MeWe value your data and don’t sell your details – but if you read the T&C they can…after it’s anonymised.
Want to upload photos and videos? Well there’s a storage limit before you pay £5 a month. Oh and you can pay a fee to unlock certain GIFs/Emojis.
Right now it’s advertisement free, but when they need to make money that scales up – advertisers are an easy win. Does the new advertiser want to be associated with gun/airsoft pages?
What about the company leader? Well let’s look at the founder: Mark Weinstein. He sold a social network in the DOT COM era just when the bubble burst. So, he already cashed in once on a social network. What happens when he wants to cash out again?
Then we have the fact on his own MeWe profile – “You may NOT: Post content that is hateful, threatening, harmful, incites violence; or contains graphic or gratuitous violence…”
This sounds great but what’s considered violence, and graphic violence?
What about the investors who put more than $10 million into the company? Most investors make money by selling companies…so is this their next big cheque? And what happens if the new buyer isn’t pro-gun, or even pro-privacy (if you can call them that now).
MeWe may not be censoring Airsoft for now. But Facebook didn’t in the beginning either. The point is, there there could come a day when they do.
If you haven’t noticed yet, every alternative so far has the same issue.
You’re building a community on a someone else’ platform,
It’s like building a house on land you don’t own.
Taking Some Control
I have no doubt that forums will pick up some players for sure (and already have). I frequently use Airsoft Forums and have noticed an increased rate of members recently, but it’s definitely got a hardcore user base who probably (like me) grew up on forums.
A lot of the Facebook Generation will lose interest as there just isn’t the same polish, functionality and native experience that they’re looking for.
Sites & Retailers on Forums will be interesting, as they will be be forced to join the community discussions to benefit. Gone are the days of posting adverts one after another without paying forward in community discussion.
When was the last time you noticed your site owner or retailer post in a generic airsoft group?
That’s also depending on who creates the forum, Zero1 owns Zero-In forums, so we’re unlikely to see a freedom of choice when it comes to retailer promotions there.
Discord / WhatsApp
These solutions were never designed for large communities, and there is always going to be a hard limit into how useful these are.
Much like the Community Tab on YouTube – It’s an influencer’s tool to keep building their following.
But once the channels reach the thousands of live users, it’s going to be a small % of active users, and the rest of the players lost in notifications and meaningless messages.
If we want to unite the community, you can’t put a limit on a community player size.
I’m in 4 separate Airsoft Discords, all of them have lost my interest because they’re either too inactive, or so overly active that I can’t keep up on a daily basis.
Beyond that, there is still a huge issue with these solutions – none of them focus on being Search Engine Friendly, and thats largely where we hope to get new players into airsoft..
The WHY of Airsoft Nation
I didn’t start this article with an intention of promoting Airsoft Nation, but rather a nag onto Facebook and how I’m starting to move away now.
But, this article really does help highlight the WHY of Airsoft Nation, which started in 2016.
Airsoft Nation aims to be more than a social wall to throw pictures and updates. It’s serves to be a hub of information, full of airsoft news and articles (just like this).
A place to find information, and then ask more questions in the Groups.
Together we should be helping new, existing and returning airsoft players.
- When you need to find a local site? Check the Map
- Want to find certain Item? Search the Product Finder
Even the Airsoft News can be player submitted (or by businesses) within the community.
The fact it has apps both on iOS and Android, providing the natural touch and feel for players who are used to Facebook.
Join groups, where a report won’t delete a segment of the community.
And a player with a grudge can’t report an account until it’s banned for another 30 days.
This is a platform that’s pro-airsoft from concept, only wants to be pro-airsoft and is only focused on building a better community.
Sure, it’s not got the polish of Facebook, but nor does it have the funding and infrastructure. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but as more people lived there, it grew into the empire.
Airsoft Nation has the foundations in place and now it needs users, industry support and financial growth to be that long term replacement for the community.
Day-by-day it’s getting there and as we head into 2019, the future looks great.
So, if you’ve got this far – what’s your opinion…?