What will Happen when Teenagers Leave Facebook?

tumblr_lgfj0tfVVo1qdetk0o1_400I have two teenagers at home, so I can safely call myself the world’s foremost EXPERT ON TEENAGERS!!!   Actually, as a parent of teenagers, I have absolutely no clue what’s going on.  But that’s a whole different blog.  What I have noticed in 2013 is that my two teenagers aren’t using Facebook at all.  A sample of two:  my 16-year-old has only 5 posts this year and my 15-year-old has 7 posts.  I know 40 year-olds that have that many posts in a day, posting anything from photos of cute cats rolling on the grass to a hilarious video of an old lady dancing to 28 photos of their 3-year-old at the zoo pointing to a Lion or commenting on “what’s a color without the letter E in it”.  Unknown-1

And we can’t figure out for the life of me why teenagers would want to leave this cool and fun party?  Actually, the answer is pretty easy: “YOU GUYS ARE SUCH LOSERS”.  I hear that one every day.  Keep in mind, we drop them off where we can’t be seen.  This is the same thing that goes for social media.  Don’t embarrass me!

Facebook was originally developed by College Students for College students and then quickly followed by High School students.  It became the place to be around 2007.  Then 20 somethings got on, then Moms then snuck on in 2010 and now….Grandmas are on there.  The biggest growing demographic is 55+.  And they are commenting on photos.  OMG!!!  WTF!!!  IKR!!!  GTFO!!!  We had to tell my mom not to comment on my daughter’s Facebook page anymore for fear she would be unfriended and blocked.   We are already blocked so we know what that feels like.   It stings.

This is pure comedy, an example of the horror teens are facing.  It’s a mother trying to defend her son, on his girlfriend’s Facebook page.  My guess is they are no longer dating. 


Are we starting to get a picture of why the teens are leaving Facebook?  Just keep repeating this and it will help you understand teens:  “YOU GUYS ARE SUCH LOSERS”.  And then maybe go slam your door.  

Let’s Look at the Facts
  • The active number of Facebook users in the US is down 7.4% in 2013.  The average age continues to climb every year, with 65% of Facebook users are now over 35 years old.  The biggest complaint people have is that it’s boring.  As my friend says “how come people will watch videos of cats falling off a sidewalk on-line, but if we said that’s a TV show, no one would watch it”.  The answer is likely novelty.  
  • Moms have gone on Facebook in droves:  72% of Moms are now on Facebook.  Half of them said they are really just going on to keep tabs on their kids.  And 74% of Moms say they check their kids Facebook several times a week.  Slide1
  • On the flip side, one in three teens are embarrassed by their parents’ Facebook comments.  The problem is that your teenagers know you’re spying.  And they don’t appreciate it.  Over 30% of teens say they have unfriended their parents.  Teens complain they don’t get enough privacy on Facebook.  
  • Teens continue to turn to smartphones as their primary source and as a result prefer App based programs such as SnapChat, Twitter, KIK Messenger, Ask FM and Instagram. Adults can’t even find these and when they do, they can’t even work them. And when you figure it out, teens will just move on to something else.
  • Recent study found 33% of teens called Facebook the most important social network, closely followed by Twitter with 30%.  Twitter is significantly gaining.  Just 6 months ago, the scores were 42% to 27%.  
So now what happens? 

A few things come to mind.  

  • Kids want something that is uniquely their own.  It reminds me of what happened to the Gap Clothing store.  Back in the 1990s, it was the cool brand for teenagers.  Then Baby Gap and Maternity Gap meant teens would now be wearing the same clothes as their cute little nephew or their hugely pregnant Aunt.  Total Horror.  So the teens stopped going and then the pregnant aunt didn’t want to dress like someone uncool.  So sales tumbled.  This could be a metaphor for Facebook.  Once you are everything to everyone, you end up nothing and to no one.   
  • One less chance for Control Freak Moms:  If a lot of moms are on Facebook only to spy on their kids, maybe they’ll now move on and stop using Facebook so much.   How many pictures of Cats can we really “Like” while waiting for your little precious to post something you can tell her is totally inappropriate?   And other moms are likely only on Facebook because it’s the cool thing that teens do.  Once they find out it’s no longer cool, we could have our new version of the tipping point that Gap went through.
  • Advertisers are confused by Social Media yet again.  Just as they were finally able to start putting numbers to social media, the whole world has changed yet again.  Advertisers want to know reliable sources for where to invest their advertising dollars.  They need payback and if the audience keeps moving, then it’s hard for them to have a steady reliable place to invest in.
The same problem continues:  How do we Monetize Social Media Platforms?

Most social media platforms follow the same pattern.  They launch with a unique way of communicating that is a dramatic improvement over prior methods.  There is minimal advertising because they are focused more on gaining a large following that might take a year or two.  Plus, they are so unproven, making it very hard to get advertisers to buy into it.  They end up with a large audience but no proven method of making money from that large audience.  And then they take it public with a promise that “we’ll now use advertising to our huge audience to drive future revenues”.  teens-on-cell-phonesThe claim is that the value of Social Media platforms should not be based on current revenue streams but on future revenue sources.  They say “trust us, this will be huge”.  Right?  You’ve heard this story before.  But as they said in Jerry McGuire:  “Show me the money!!!”  

We have to be able to see how a social media platform can make money.   With some of these sites, I’m not seeing it yet.  But now, as Facebook is still trying to figure out how to monetize their huge user base, that user base is starting to leave.  Down 7.4% is pretty significant for something that is free.  The new mediums they are leaving for look like a total fad.  How do these new vehicles make money?  There are no ads on Instagram or Snap Chat.  Yes, Facebook now owns Instagram for a tidy $1 Billion.  But how do you now make money on it?  By the time they figure out how to monetize, the teenagers are likely already moving on to what’s next.  And the cycle continues.

Facebook had quickly become the wonder-drug of Social Media, the one powerhouse that everyone was engaged in and Advertisers were starting to understand.  Will there be a new version of the mega social media platform or will the future just be fragmented into unique platforms for unique groups?  Does that make it harder or easier on Advertisers?  Yes, there will be better segmentation but confusion over how to go about reaching.  Too many executional options for too many media choices.  

Is Facebook at a Tipping Point?  Will they just become the social media site for the over 30?

What’s Your Next Move Facebook?


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14 thoughts on “What will Happen when Teenagers Leave Facebook?

  1. Pingback: What will Happen when Teenagers Leave Facebook? « Beloved Brands

  2. Nice one Graham. I was just scoping out my daughter’s Facebook posts when your post popped into my mailbox…a crafty summing up of the traditional tensions between North American teens and their suffering, needy, protective parents being played out in the pages of social media.

    I particularly loved your summary of Facebook’s arc: when you are for everybody, you are for nobody. This is a common refrain for us Branding Guys, but it’s always good to have new ammo to support the point – your post provides that.


    • Yes, we see that same trend over and over. The analogy I use is if you go to Vegas and put one chip down on every number, at the end of the night you will walk away owing Millions of dollars. All you are doing is spreading your resources and diluting any possible return you can get. Focusing on those already the most motivated to buy you is what will get you the return you need. You have to Matter the most to those who really care.

  3. Communication is fragmenting for young and old alike and Facebook, which is essentially a communication tool, is feeling the transition big time. Just as Facebook diminished the telephone and emails, other apps are now continuing the shift even further away from single channel conversations. A conversation will start with a text to a teen on an app like http://www.whatsapp.com [free and does not require anything more than wifi], then when the teen heads out continues the next bit of conversation on iMessage, then gets a reply on another free app like http://www.textplus.com, this time with an image attached of where his or her friends are hanging out. This conversation then turns to voice when the two start to play a game on Xbox live and use their headsets to talk privately about pwning each other. Teens crave privacy from their parents, Facebook used to provide that for them, now it does not and they bounce from app to app adapting hyper quickly to keep the conversations away from the adults. One day I’ll see that my son and all of his friends are using one text app, a few days later they are ALL using another one to communicate. When I ask what happened to the last app I get “Oh, that one sucks, we’re all using this one now.”. Brand loyalty? Nope the loyalty is with the conversation, not the platforms or the software.

  4. And as everyone keeps moving to the next best communication tool, how does anyone make money off these tools? And if no one makes any money, what’s the incentive to keep coming up with new tools? In the 100 years of media, we’ve only been able to figure out two media models for making money–you either give it for free and advertising covers the cost/profit needs or you charge a price for it. Given everything on-line is free, you need a revenue source to be able to keep it going. Or else it dies.

    • That’s where Google & Apple come in to play buy owning the device, the software, and advertising network. The mobile ad network is communication tool agnostic and as most of these tools are free – which teens love – and are advertising financed. I am not saying that the tiny banners in the bottom of the apps are top performers at the moment, but I suspect that’s one way to get the message through regardless of tool the teens are using. The key for planners, and networks will be to string up the buys accros these tools. This will be done through geo, encouraged user id’s and giving permission to sharing your personal information, which as we see with companies like Google is being encouraged continually for this very purpose.

  5. Why should Facebook care if teenagers are leaving? Granted they helped create traction behind the business when it was sitting on a server at Harvard but its gone mainstream now. Facebook is still used by 1.1 billion people on the planet every month. Its revenues are up 38% and it generated $1.25billion in advertising pushed via mobile & tablet versions of their product. A year ago everyone was worried that Facebook’s lack of a decent mobile product would doom them. With the recent launch of Facebook Home, which will be the default screen on HTC and be available on several Android devices, Facebook has become a genuine mobile player. And they did it without having to buy a manufacturer (Google & Motorola) or create an entire ecosystem like Apple has from iOS to phones. Teens, as we’ve all commented, are the worlds most fickle and brand agnostic audience. If you were Zuckerberg would you chase them? Why not chase markets like Asia, Africa and Latin America where FB (and now FB Home) will soon be THE gateway for many consumers to access the internet. That sounds way more lucrative to me than teens.

    The Instagram purchase was a 1 time thing IMHO. It cleaned a competitor off the table and secured genuine creds in the photo-sharing content space. Smart move.

  6. I’d be mighty concerned that teens are leaving, but I’d be even more concerned that overall usage is down 7.4%. That decline is not just teens, but an overall number. Given it’s a free service, that’s a problem. The biggest concern I have with facebook is the #1 reason people are leaving. Boredom. That should concern them.

    I think a lot of people do follow what teens do. You might not know it, but the songs you might choose, the clothing you were, the shows you might watch or even the social media you may engage in. I know I do. Every time my kids are into something new, I say “what is that”…some I choose (Instagram) some I reject (snap chat). But because I’m not a leader in technology, but rather a follower, I need sources to figure it out for me. I think now that teens are walking away, there might be some college kids or 20-somethings that might think twice about posting a lot of stuff because they don’t want to look like losers. And then if those 20-somethings start talking at the corporate lunch table about not using it, next it’s the 30 year olds and so on. Facebook only really makes money if consumers are engaged with it. It’s a little bit like my wife who sells golf balls…she only makes money if people lose a lot of golf balls and the only way they do is if they play a lot of golf. I’d be concerned that this declining engagement could be the start of a tipping point, not just some new segmentation.

    Also as per their results: most times business results are current results and can even be a trailing indicator. Apple’s stock price tumbled 25% in the same quarter when sales, margins, profits and new users were all up dramatically. Brand Health is a much more important indicator of future success. One thing that Facebook does that irks the crap out of me is they rarely think of the consumer first. They aren’t quite in Apple’s zone of starting with the consumer and working back to the technology. Over the years, they’ve changed their format, not to meet the needs of consumers but to fend off competitors or to set up new revenue streams. To me, as their free consumer, they almost act like a utility in the way they go about things.

    If I were Mark Zuckerberg and I saw this, I’d be asking “why are they leaving, does anyone else feel the same way but hasn’t left yet, and what are we doing about it?”

  7. Graham – agreed on Facebook’s cavalier and disdainful approach to consumer privacy and the fact the platform regularly defaults to privacy settings that AREN’T customer-centric. No debate there. That’s an area they’re gonna get a legitimate backlash.

    No debate that there is Facebook fatigue but, as I referenced earlier, that appears to be the case in Western countries – NOT in Emerging countries. Strikingly as those emerging consumers leap over laptops and go straight to mobile as their internet gateway, this could be a huge boon for Facebook. Facebook Home is a huge opportunity if they get it right.

    Facebook is likely concerned they’re losing a demographic because they’ve become very mainstream. However, I’d suggest there’s still a lot of gas in their engine and they’ve shown themselves capable of significant changes when necessary.

    Interesting times ahead.

  8. I’ve been bored with FB for several months now. That said, I can’t break away – just yet. Reaching target audiences and inspiring them to act now has long been an art and a science. Every generation demands that brand leaders communicate with them “their way.” Your article aptly illustrates this point. As brand leaders, our work is never done. It’s always a work in progress looking for the next great communications channel on which to pitch our story.

  9. Personally I rarely use my Facebook anymore. Every upper level class I took in college recommended that you wanted to make your Facbeook appear professional. You don’t want a potential employer to see you as a fun college student, but instead as a mature, ready for the real world adult. Which at the end of the day makes Facebook dull.

    As for the teens, well I think it has a lot to do with this generation or perhaps the parenting techniques used. You should be able to trust your childen and know that they will make good decisions. I know teens don’t always make good decisions, but that is part of being a teen. I think the overly monitoring of children on social media (and off social media) is what teens are running for hills to get away from. If parents and marketers could look back at when they were a teenager and try to give teenagers more of the freedom and space they were searching for and develop that into a social media outlet, you could have a winner.

  10. I believe that very same reason why user base is starting to leave is because as much as it’s “free” is starting to advertise, push buying/sell messages down through people and they don’t like it, especially the younger audience that what the want most is freedom and to be trusted with their own choices.

    Plus everyday we see more and more “spam” on our newsfeed thanks to the Edge of Rank formula that does nothing but to stereotype yourself (something not everyone likes) and keeps telling you what you should SEE/BUY/LIKE/GO, that’s like taking orders from your Mom! so Facebook has become your Mom and well no teen likes that at all, and deep inside you know neither do you.

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