Digital Marketing

If Teens are Bailing on Facebook, Where are They Going?

I have a niece, who’s a college freshman this year. While she was still in high school, I could keep up with her school activities and day-to-day musings through Facebook. But a few months ago, I noticed that she was posting a lot less on Facebook. We were able to catch up in person during the Christmas holiday, since I live in Virginia, and she lives and attends college in South Carolina. I peppered her with the usual questions you ask a newly minted college student.

How’s college going? Are you getting along with your roommates? Did you enjoy your first semester of classes? And finally, I asked her, “How come you’re not posting much on Facebook anymore?”

She explained that she was spending much more time on other social sites like Twitter and Instagram. She then asked me, “Are you on Instagram?” My reply, “I mostly stick to Facebook and Twitter.”

It’s official. Teens — at least in the U.S. — don’t want to hang with their parents and grandparents on Facebook, or in my case, with their uncle. In October, during its 2013 fourth quarter earnings call, Facebook indicated that teen usage on the social network decreased.

“We did see a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens,” said David Ebersman, Facebook chief financial officer.

So if teens are bailing on Facebook, where are they spending their online time these days?

The Rise of Twitter; The Fall of Facebook?  

A recent study by financial firm Piper Jaffray found that Twitter is the new social media darling among teens, at least in Fall 2013. The study, compiled by Statista, found that Facebook’s popularity among U.S. teens was indeed on the decline, from 42 percent in Fall 2012 to 23 percent in Fall 2013. By comparison, Twitter’s popularity among teens remained relatively stable, with 27 percent of teens surveyed saying it was their most important social site in Fall 2012, 30 percent in Spring 2012 and 26 percent in Fall 2013, surpassing Facebook as the most popular social networking site among U.S. teens.

Not Just a U.S. Thing

The teen migration away from Facebook isn’t isolated to the United States. Facebook has apparently become “uncool” and is “dead and buried” as far as 16- to 18-year-olds in the U.K. are concerned, according to Daniel Miller, professor at University College London, who is leading an eight country, multi-city analysis of how Facebook is used, particularly among teenagers, called the Global Social Media Impact Study.

“Mostly [teens] feel embarrassed to even be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives,” Miller wrote.

What’s a WeChat, WhatsApp, Keek and KiK?

Another recent study – this time by GlobalWebIndex (GWI) – indicated that mobile chat service WeChat has seen the most rapid growth in active users ages 16-19 globally, by 1,021 percent.

Twitter’s video-sharing app, Vine, which some considered dead not so long ago, has climbed to a 639 percent increase among active teen users from the previous year. Even the photo-sharing app Flickr has more active usage (a 254 percent increase) among teens, and the mobile instant-messaging app WhatsApp experienced an 81 percent increase, according to Forbes.

“It’s also interesting to note that even though Facebook is losing the popularity contest with teens, it can take solace in the growing adoption of its recently acquired photo-sharing app, Instagram, which has seen a hefty 85 percent increase in teen usage in 2013,” Forbes reported.

The GWI study also indicated that Snapchat has seen tremendous gains among teens. The photo-sharing app is growing strong, with 10 percent of teens globally using the service. Because photos and videos on Snapchat only have a 1- to 10-second viewing life, it mostly keeps parents at bay.

Other social media sites and apps on the rise among teens include:

  • Keek, a social media site and app focused on sharing short video clips (much like a video version of Instagram), which has already surpassed 45 million users, making it one of the largest in the world with more than 24 million users joining in the past four months.
  • KiK also is an app popular among teens, with 100 million users. This instant-messaging app is similar to texting but offers some of the same features that social sites do, such as photo and file sharing and group chat. The app has no parental controls and prides itself on being an app that allows users to stay constantly connected with their friends anytime, anywhere.

Not Quite Dead and Buried Yet

GWI said don’t count Facebook completely out among teens just yet. In fact, the group says Facebook is still “alive and kicking.”

Miller’s Global Social Media Impact Study, which proclaimed Facebook “dead and buried” among teens, relied on qualitative ethnographic research, which involves observing every facet of participants’ lives, meaning the research must be limited to very small groups of people.

“While the methodology itself is certainly sound, the types of insights that we can draw from ethnographic research are limited primarily to developing theories about the behavior of the study’s participants. Conclusions, such as those claimed by Dr. Miller that Facebook is ‘dead and buried,’ can’t possibly be drawn from such limited research in a credible way,” according to researchers at GWI, which conducts quantative research with nearly 170,000 online interviews per year across 32 countries.

“We find that 56.2 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds globally (32 GWI markets) are using Facebook on a monthly basis. This may not sound like a lot, but it is important to put it in perspective with the other social services claimed to now be more popular among teens. Looking at things in this light, Facebook is actually the most popular social network on the planet among teens with 59 percent more active teen users than the nearest competitor, YouTube (35.4 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds). Twitter is a distant third with 30.1 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds around the world using it on a monthly basis,” according to GWI.

It’s enough to make your head spin! But fear not, no social networking site can rest on its laurels. Can you say MySpace? Before long, fickle teens will move on to the next hot social network or app, once again leaving their parents to play catch up.

About Jeff Wilson:

Jeff Wilson, APR is vice president of business development and agency marketing at PadillaCRT. Jeff has earned some of the PR industry’s most prestigious awards, including PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvils, a PRSA Health Academy Innovation Award and an IABC Gold Quill. He was named one of PRWeek’s “2008 Top 40 Under 40” as well as one of Richmond’s “2007 Top 40 Under 40” by Style Weekly.

8 Comments on “If Teens are Bailing on Facebook, Where are They Going?

  1.  by  Rosalie

    Great post, Jeff! My friend who is a teacher has definitely observed this trend, seeing a lot of her students using Instagram and SnapChat much more. Interesting to see the data behind it. Good thing Facebook snapped up Instagram. Also, it goes to show why they were so keen to buy SnapChat a few months back.

  2.  by  Rachael Seda

    I totally agree Jeff! My cousins have done the same thing and I don’t blame them. If my mom had been on Facebook when I first got it in college, I likely wouldn’t have used it either. I even have found myself much more into Instagram, it’s more clean, simple and I have a much smaller group of people to keep up with. I’m sure there will be many more social networks that arise and steal Facebook’s attention from the next generation. It will definitely be interesting to watch it unfold. That’s what makes social media fun – when you least expect it something new comes along and shakes things up!

  3.  by  Jeff Wilson

    Thanks Rachael and Rosalie. I’ve been reading for a few months about teens abandoning Facebook, and I even spoke on a panel about generational use social media for ConnectVA. Someone at the conference said to me afterwards, I understand teens are leaving Facebook, but where are they going? That stuck in my head and prompted this blog post.

  4. Emily Valentine
     by  Emily Valentine

    I’d say this trend is extending beyond teens even into 20-somethings. My 25-year-old brother and his friends use Snapchat all the time, and my 28-year old brother announced his engagement on Instagram, not Facebook:)

    Ch ch ch ch changes!

  5.  by  Jeff W.

    Emily, you are so write. A former extern of mine from a few years ago, who’s in her mid-20s, pretty much said the exact same thing as you. The Millennials also are abandoning FB for green social networking pastures.

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  7.  by  Jim Oree

    So, I am reading this really interesting article from Jeff Wilson. Good research, very informative, not at all what I am used to when I read articles on FB. But it was posted by a former UB student of mine, so I checked it out. Then I see that I know the author of the article and I am no longer surprised at how good it is. Great to see your work Jeff and great article.

  8.  by  Jeff Wilson

    Jim! So good to hear from you! And thank you for reading my blog post. When I saw your comment I thought, “What the heck is UB?” Then I looked you up on LinkedIn and realized it was Upward Bound! But I wasn’t a student. I was a counselor with you. It was after my freshman year at Carolina. That was a long time ago! The Internet certainly makes the world smaller!

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