IMAGE: Serhiy Kobyakov — 123RF

Young people are abandoning Facebook. Says who?

Enrique Dans

In October 2013 Facebook CFO David Ebersman announced that the company was witnessing a relative decline in daily use by younger subscribers.

In reality, what Ebersman said was that use by younger US Facebook users in the second and third trimester of that year had “remained stable”, and that there was “not much evidence” to suggest that young people were actually abandoning the social network. But the story hit a note with the public, particularly parents, who had noticed how their children were horrified that what had previously been their sanctum sanctorum was now being trammeled by grownups, who were even going so far as to comment and like things on their pages.

Based on this admittedly anecdotal evidence, a whole narrative has sprung up about the “difficulties” Facebook is experiencing in preventing a mass exodus by young people either fleeing their parents or bugged by the social network’s lack of respect for their privacy, or worried that all those compromising photos they had posted would be seen by their prospective employers. “Facebook is for old people,” the teenage son of some friends told me not long ago.

At the same time, a parallel narrative emerged, that of Snapchat, set up by the visionary bad boy Evan Spiegel, and that Facebook had tried unsuccessfully to buy for $3 billion, and that had outwitted the grownups, fetched skyrocketing high valuations, started making some serious money, and just kept growing.

The truth, however, seems to be that despite Snapchat’s rapid growth, there has been no mass exodus of young people from Facebook. An April 2015 report by Pew Research affirmed Facebook’s continuing popularity among teens, as did last week’s data from comScore, which showed that daily use of Facebook by young people continues to outstrip that of its rivals, in fact that of all of the other social networks put together.

Looking into the data a little more closely we see that comScore’s covers the 18-plus segment, while the 13- to 17-year-olds, included in Pew Research’s show that use of networks like Snapchat and Instagram is higher, but that this hasn’t been accompanied by a mass exodus from Facebook. It’s simply that kids use several networks at the same time. They may be unfaithful to Facebook cheating on it with other social networks, but they haven’t dumped it at all.

As the graph shows, Facebook stands out over other social networks in terms of penetration and in terms of the amount of minutes spent using it each month, triple that of Snapchat, and way ahead of Tumblr, Pinterest, or Twitter, which however interesting they may be to advertisers, are but a shadow of the mighty Facebook.

In other words, the whole Facebook is being abandoned by young people story needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s a nice story, but isn’t backed up by the facts. The kids seem to be saying one thing, perhaps to look cool, while they are doing something else. It could be that they want to be seen using apps that mum and dad have no idea how to use (or interest in using), or it might just be that they are not trustworthy as indicators of technology adoption, and that kids end up going back to what they know best.

Reports of the death of the most popular social network ever — now standing at 1.6 billion users — would seem to be exaggerated. And as Facebook likes to point out, the company hasn’t even achieved 1% of what it aims to.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

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Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)