Is Facebook Losing Teens?

    November 2, 2013
    Chris Crum

The kids aren’t digging Facebook as much as they used to be. That’s the message that has been coming through the blogosphere, and finally, even kind of admitted by Facebook itself.

Do you think Facebook is at risk of losing teens? Let us know in the comments.

Facebook released its Q3 earnings this week. While there was plenty of positive information in there for Facebook, CFO David Ebersman brought up a decrease in teen engagement during the conference call.

First, he noted, “728 million people used Facebook on an average day in September, up 25% from last year. Growth continues to be driven by mobile. In Q3 for the first time, daily actives on web declined year over year, albeit very modestly.”

He then said, “I want to say a few words about youth engagement on Facebook. 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.”

He continued, “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. 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.”

This is quite a different tone from the company that we were seeing after its Q2 report back in the summer. Mark Zuckerberg, at the time, brushed off the idea that teens were losing interest in Facebook, saying that teen use had held steady for the past year-and-a-half.

“One specific demographic I want to address is U.S. teens,” he said. “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.”

“Teens also remain really highly engaged using Facebook,” he added. “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.”

Obviously something has changed, though Facebook is still high on its Instagram stats (150 million users as of a month ago).

Last month, Facebook made some changes to its privacy policy, enabling teens to be able to post publicly.

“Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard. So, starting today, people aged 13 through 17 will also have the choice to post publicly on Facebook,” said Facebook at the time. “While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services.”

It wasn’t long after that that a study from Piper Jaffray came out finding that Twitter has become more popular among teens than Facebook for the first time.

26% of teens, according to the study, preferred Twitter, compared to 23% for Facebook.

Given Twitter’s more public nature, you might agree with Facebook that kids just want to be heard, and to some extent, that’s probably true, but it’s only part of the story. Kids also increasingly don’t want to be heard by people they’re not talking to, and don’t want everything they do to remain on the web, preferring more communications with apps like Snapchat.

According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, Facebook approached Snapchat about a possible acquisition for more than $1 billion (so more than it paid for Instagram), but the company declined.

That in itself is a pretty powerful statement on Snapchat and teen use. Facebook is losing interest from young people, and both Facebook and Snapchat know it.

Snapchat investor Bill Gurley said at TechCrunch Disrupt this week, “For kids, the Internet is increasingly becoming a place that you can’t share, that you can’t have fun, that you can’t socialize in the way you want to. I think that’s really the essence of Snapchat. It’s a platform where they can communicate and have fun without any anxiety about the permanence. You hear about kids not getting jobs because of what’s on their Facebook page.”

Despite its challenges, Facebook still has plenty of teens, and probably will for the foreseeable future. Facebook simply has such a higher volume of users (including teens) than anything else, and that has to count for something.

AdAge put out a new report called, “Marketers: Facebook Still Has Way More Teens Than Anyone Else.” In it, they quote PayPal head of social media Dave Peck as saying:

“Find me a better network. You take half of what Facebook has, and it’s still more than anyone else has,” he said. “It’s not like I can advertise on Snapchat.”

Pew found in August that 94% of teens had Facebook profiles, compared to just 26% for Twitter.

Are you concerned about declining teen Facebook use? Let us know in the comments.

Image: Thinkstock/Josh Wolford