In early October, the media lit up with news that teens were fleeing Facebook for other networks like Twitter and Instagram. Chatter that the network no longer gave youth the digital freedom they crave sparked many to investigate further. Has this once student-driven community now become overrun with parents who just want to keep an eye on their kids? Have corporations flooded the interface with ads and have, in turn, turned off the younger crowd?
Facebook users, including youth, continuously come and go. Similar reflections were shared across the web in 2011 and again in 2013. Welcoming its billionth user in late 2012 and expanding ever since, I don't believe Facebook is concerned or surprised. And it shouldn't be. I think the main reason why teens abandoning their profiles and timelines is simple (hint: marketers shouldn't be surprised). First, let's take a closer look at the speculation.
Parents Are Driving Teens Away from Facebook
Seeing that the majority of Facebook users leaving the network are teens, it's easy to blame the parents with Facebook accounts of their own. Look out parents! Your kids no longer want you to see what they really did last night while you thought they were studying!
Let's take a step back. Why would kids flock to Twitter and Instagram where privacy seemingly isn't even in the game rules? Parents can easily follow them, although, for the so-called "older crowd" who just learned how to navigate their way through one social network, it might seem too daunting to start again with another. Maybe teens recognize this, but would this be reason enough to take their status updates elsewhere? I don't think so.
Corporations Have Ruined Facebook for Teens
We could also look at Facebook and conclude that its transition from its private Harvard roots to what it is now, a publicly-traded entity, has turned youth off. With over a billion users, Facebook is certainly a hub of worldwide reach. Seeing opportunity in its colossal community it's cashing in, offering businesses with a valuable platform to reach their audience through ads. Who can blame them? The network earned $642 million or 25 cents per share, in the January-March 2014 quarter, up from $219 million, or 9 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. It makes sense that kids with no income and no desire to participate in the business world are leaving Facebook in search of someplace else to show off their new shoes and funny faces. Still, I'm not convinced this is the main motive.
Teens Are Simply Human
I think teens simply want something new. It's human nature to be drawn to the next bigger and better thing. Many in the PR and marketing world call this the Big Shiny Object Syndrome. Others might call it Apple. We see something that appears to be newer and appeals to our needs at the time and so, we gravitate towards it. The latest study conducted by Piper Jaffray reveals that Twitter and Instagram are becoming the top choices for teens now. This makes sense in a lot of ways. For one, they're not Facebook. In other words, they offer something fresh. Instagram, a visually-focused tool, allows teens to show off their latest and greatest purchase, night out, or selfie without having to think about a hindering algorithm that might affect the amount of "likes" and comments they receive.
They not only get more attention on this network, but can share their lives through photos rather than words. This is why Twitter is gaining steam as well. The 140 character update is attractive to youth who just want to get noticed without having to take up too much time. Younger generations tend to like sharing stories with visuals and adults tend to share stories with words. Facebook's audience might simply be changing and that's OK. In fact, it should be expected. I can see it either making another design modification to further accommodate the rise in a desire for visual communication (as it has in the past with larger images), but I don't see it changing its entire platform (after all, it owns Instagram too). If kids return, it will be on their own accord. Regardless, the online networks that might be hot right now, will be replaced by the next best thing, whether it's a new Facebook or something yet to be introduced. Give it time.
While trolling parents might be concerned, marketers shouldn't be surprised by the drop in teen Facebook usage. After all, target audience behaviour is never set in stone. It's not the consumer's job to remain loyal, it's the business' job to keep up.