An incisive article called “So long social media: the kids are opting out of the online public square”, looks at a trend underway for some time now but that hasn’t been discussed much: the decision by the misnamed “digital natives”, i.e. young people, to leave the social networks in favor of instant messaging, which is correctly seen as offering greater privacy.
But the truth is that the “kids” have never fully convinced by the social media: for the so-called millennials they were about talking to friends and workmates, with the inconvenience of having to do so in public. The dreaded “Like” approved by a mum, dad, or grandmother, or that photo of you drunk uploaded by an idiot friend, or the fear of compromising their future now means that networks like Twitter or Facebook are anything but the place to be for young people. These days, the target audience for most social networks is aged from 30 up to 50, while the teens and twentysomethings are more likely to use Snapchat and similar apps.
The much-feared privacy phenomenon that led Mark Zuckerberg to offer $3 billion for Snapchat, and that was roundly rejected by the founder of the company, tells us everything about young people’s habits. According to a Pew Research report from August 2015 (pdf), some 49 percent of 18- to 29-year olds regularly use applications like Kik, Whatsapp, or iMessage, while 41 percent say they prefer Snapchat and its self-destructing messages. For some time now we have been hearing about the hordes of young people who are abandoning Facebook, while Twitter seems stuck in the doldrums and is dead to the under-30 market segments, who at best might do a bit of lurking, picking up stories but without engaging, or in the case of beliebers and directioners, simply following their idols.
If anybody is keeping a close eye on these developments, it’s Mark Zuckerberg: the purchase of Instagram, one of the few social networks young people still use, or WhatsApp, which led the transition toward instant messaging and is clearly in need of replacement, illustrate the trend. Whether or not Zuckerberg’s acquisitions ever make Facebook any money is another question. One thing is Instagram, with a well-managed business model and non-intrusive advertising, and quite another is a WhatsApp that has closed the door to many revenue streams thanks to policy of “no ads, no games, no gimmicks.”
We need to start rethinking the social networks. If young people continue to abandon the social networks in order to communicate only by instant messaging, and if they watch and share videos on Snapchat or WhatsApp groups, and if the idea of taking part in chats that might be open to the rest of the planet sends them running for cover, then surely the time has come to take a fresh look at things. One way or the other it’s going to mean a bumpy road ahead for some players.
(En español, aquí)