Facebook, that magical place of college hookups, ex-stalking, and most importantly, exclusivity, is no more. To many, the real Facebook died years ago when Mark Zuckerberg and company decided that it had to be an egalitarian network. Facebook died when your grandma started liking your posts.
What we have now is Facebook, said with a palpable derision. Facebook is where your mom shares a little TMI. Facebook is where your news feed is overstuffed with ads for Combos and real estate ventures. Facebook is your dad, in social network form. Facebook just isn't cool with the teens anymore.
Or is it? What seems like an accepted fact these days, that Facebook is dropping teens like flies, may not be entirely accurate.
Do you have teenagers? What do they think about Facebook? Is it losing its draw? Let us know in the comments.
But first, how did we get to this point? How did the 'teens abandoning Facebook' narrative develop? How did we get to the point where the President of the United States casually remarks that nobody's really using Facebook (a billion+ user site) anymore?
Though rumblings about a potential teen crisis began a couple of years ago, a major Piper Jaffray survey made waves in the spring of last year. The survey, which asked teens about the most important social networks in their lives, showed a decreased importance on Facebook (from 42 percent to 33 percent over a six-month period). Networks like Twitter and Tumblr seemed to divide Facebook's share of teen popularity.
Soon after, during Facebook's second quarter earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg addressed the growing concern specifically.
“One specific demographic I want to address is U.S. teens. There has been a lot of speculation and reporting that fewer teens are using Facebook. But based on our data, that just isn’t true. It’s difficult to measure this perfectly, since some young people lie about their age. But based on the best data we have, we believe that we are close to fully penetrated in the U.S. teen demographic for a while, and the number of teens using Facebook on both a daily and monthly basis has been steady over the past year-and-a-half,” said Zuckerberg.
Fully saturated and steady, but not growing. But at least Zuckerberg assuaged concerns of a Titanic-sized teen leak, you know, if you believe a captain when he promises the ship's integrity is just fine.
“Teens also remain really highly engaged using Facebook. Now it’s also worth mentioning that these stats are for Facebook only. Instagram is growing quickly, as well, so if you combine the two services together, we believe our engagement and share of time spent are likely growing quickly throughout the world.”
Facebook had just snagged Instagram, an app that was growing (and continues to grow) at a very rapid rate among teens. But more on that later.
Over the next few months, various studies surfaced, all showing a rapid decline in teen interest in Facebook. The language was harsh – Facebook is "dead and buried" among the teen demographic; teens are "embarrassed even to be associated" with Facebook.
Again, Facebook responded to the chatter. In a post-IPO world, little fluctuations in use among certain demographics aren't such a little deal. They mean quite a bit to investors. By the end of last year, Facebook had changed its tone a tad and admitted to a small decrease in daily teen users.
“I want to say a few words about youth engagement on Facebook,” he said. “As we’ve said previously, this is a hard issue for us to measure because self-reported age data is unreliable for younger users, so we’ve developed other analytical methods to help us estimate usage by age. Our best analysis of youth engagement in the U.S. reveals that usage of Facebook among U.S. teens overall was stable from Q2 to Q3, but we did see a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens," said CFO David Ebersman at the Q3 earnings conference call.
“We won’t typically call out such granular data, especially when it’s of questionable statistical significance, given the lack of precision of age estimates for younger users, but we wanted to share this with you now since we get a lot of questions about teens,” he added. “We’re pleased that we remain close to fully penetrated on teens in the U.S. Our monthly user numbers remain steady, and overall engagement on Facebook remains strong. We’ll continue to focus our development efforts to build products that drive engagement for people of all ages.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was quoted as saying that the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.
But the narrative persisted. Another study in early 2014 showed an 11 percent drop in active teen users. Another study showed an apocalyptic scenario for Facebook, a ghoulish nightmare of fast, unstoppable blood loss.
Sure, Facebook has over a billion users – but it's not cool anymore, especially among teens.
But wait – what's this?
That's the latest news from Forrester research, who asked over 4,500 teens about their social media use.
What did they find?
"The results were clear: Facebook remains young users’ favorite social network. More than three-quarters of online youth use Facebook – twice as many as use Pinterest or Tumblr or Snapchat, and more than use Instagram and WhatApp combined. And 28% of young users who are on Facebook say they use it “all the time,” a higher percentage than said this about any other social network.
Or more simply put...
"The bottom line: The sky is not falling. Facebook does not have a problem attracting or retaining teen users."
The takeaway is clear. Through teen use may have dropped a few points, Facebook is still the most-popular social network among teens – and it's not even close. That sure seems to back up Zuckerberg's original 'saturation' argument.
And what about this?
That comes to us from Niche, who looked at the social media habits of 7,000 high school graduates. They found that 47 percent of those surveyed say they use Facebook "a few times a day." For comparison, the second and third place network in the department were the Facebook-owned Instagram (43 percent multiple times a day use) and Twitter, with only 28 percent admitting to persistent, daily use.
Niche found that 87 percent of their high school graduates use Facebook in some capacity. For comparison, only 55 percent use Twitter at all, only 44 percent use Pinterest, and only 34 percent use Tumblr.
"While some media outlets have reported teens tiring of Facebook in favor of whatever is the latest craze, Facebook still reigns number one in both total adoption and daily usage," says Niche.
Maybe those reports of Facebook's teen death were a bit of an exaggeration? Or at the very least, short-sided?
Facebook may not be leaking teen users at some mortal rate – but the company has to know that competition for teens' eyes is getting fierce. Their $1 billion purchase of Instagram nearly two years ago could be seen as a move to snatch up an app, exceedingly popular with the younger crowd, before it got too big for its britches.
Maybe that's why Facebook, unable to court Snapchat, tried to make their own version.
Maybe that's why Facebook is acquiring popular (among teens, especially) messaging service WhatsApp for nearly 20 billion dollars.
Or maybe, just maybe, Facebook's "teen problem" isn't that much of a problem.
What do you think? Does Facebook really have a teen problem? Is Facebook simply not cool anymore? Let us know in the comments.