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:

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.

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