Facebook’s Teen Problem


GlobalWebIndex’s latest figures reveal mixed news for Facebook. It’s still number one in the social networking world, but half of its members say they’re using it less frequently – a figure which rises to two thirds among the key teen demographic. Jason Mander, Head of Trends at GlobalWebIndex, exclusively talks us through some of the key findings from the new GlobalWebIndex Social report.

In the last few months, it’s been common to see reports which attack Facebook and claim that it’s losing its relevance and popularity. Although there’s no easier way to grab attention and headlines, this simply isn’t true. The fact remains that no other social network can currently offer a comparable reach, no other social network has such consistent popularity across countries and no other social network is integrated so comprehensively within the infrastructure of the internet (e.g. via “like” buttons).

Our latest results in fact show that, outside of China, more than four fifths (83%) of online adults are members of Facebook, while close to half (47%) consider themselves to be actively using the network. For a service which is now more than ten years old, this is an extremely impressive achievement.

Facebook can also claim the best engagement rate: more than half (54%) of Facebook’s users are logging in more than once a day – a figure which puts it 20 percentage points ahead of second-placed Twitter. And, along with all other social networks, it enjoyed a boost in active usage during the World Cup as the tournament became a major online talking (and sharing) point.

So, all’s rosy in the Facebook garden, then? Well, not quite. Facebook does have some clear challenges to face. Firstly, usage continues to become more passive in character as users turn to other platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and messaging apps to carry out behaviors that were once hosted directly on Facebook itself.

Over the last six quarters, the numbers messaging friends on a 1-to-1 basis have dropped by 20 percentage points, there’s been a 17-point drop in updating one’s profile status, a 10-point drop in uploading videos and – perhaps most starkly of all – a 24-point decrease in photo uploading. People are still visiting Facebook, but they’re doing fewer things once there.

More worryingly for Facebook, there’s a boredom factor at work too. When GWI surveyed nearly 12,500 Facebook members in the UK and USA, some 50% said that they were using the site less than they used to. The top reason was that members were simply less interested in it than they used to be (45%). But more than a third (37%) claimed to be bored of Facebook and close to a fifth (18%) think that the site is no longer as cool as it once was. Privacy concerns loom large too, with nearly 3 in 10 saying that they don’t believe Facebook is secure or private enough – something which might help to explain why Facebook recently released a Tor hidden version of its site.

Even more critically, it’s among the most coveted but fickle teen demographic where pretty much all of these figures peak. Nearly two thirds of this audience say they are using Facebook less than they used to. But while they under-index on saying that they’re spending less time on social networks generally, they then over-index on almost all of the specific anti-Facebook options (including being bored of it and using alternative types of networks instead). Put simply, teens are less likely than others to be moving away from social networks as a genre but more likely than other audiences to be moving away from Facebook.

Take a glance at the figures for other platforms and its clear which services are benefitting from this. In the last six months, Tumblr (+120%), Pinterest (+111%) and Instagram (+64%) have been the fastest growing platforms (compare that to Facebook, which grew by just 2%, and the difference in momentum is clear).

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Tumblr and Instagram also have by far the youngest audiences – 38% and 37% of their respective users fall within the 16-24 demographic, with more than 70% of their audiences being under the age of 35. In contrast, Facebook has the oldest audience of any major network, with nearly a quarter of users over the age of 45. Even LinkedIn has a younger overall profile.

In the messaging space, meanwhile, Snapchat is not just the fastest growing app, it’s also the one with the youngest user base. Worldwide, teens are more than 2.5 times as likely to be Snapchatting as the average internet user, but this figure rises much, much higher in certain countries – with Snapchat performing much more strongly in Europe and North America than in the other world regions. In some countries, Snapchat has in fact become more popular with teens than either Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp – something which helps to explain why the service which so famously refused Facebook’s advances remains a serious thorn in its side.

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Of course, some caveats are needed here; Facebook is still top, after all, and not many teens have actually left it. Similarly, Facebook doesn’t need its users to love it; its Atlas platform and its ad-based revenues are underpinned by the proposition of reaching specific audiences. So, as long as membership and visitation rates remain strong or on the rise – as they are – profits will follow. Nevertheless, ten years ago Facebook was the site that any teen wanted to be on; now, Facebook has become the opposite – it’s lost a serious part of its appeal among this key demographic. And you can expect to see it launching a range of new features and tools in the coming months in a bid to counter this trend. 

Note: GlobalWebIndex conducts quarterly research across 32 markets, representing nearly 90% of the global internet audience. It surveys more than 170,000 internet users per year, including 30,000 in both the US and UK. Download a free summary of the new GlobalWebIndex Social Q3 report here.