Monday, September 16, 2013

Teens Are Not Leaving Facebook

Kids are leaving Facebook. You know it, your kids know it, marketers know it. So, let me present all of the evidence as of September 2013 that teens are abandoning Facebook:

That was it. There is no evidence. None.

Source: Pew Internet
This may change in the future, but to date there has not been a shred of objective evidence of this frequently repeated and well-known "fact." The latest data from Pew, based on Q3 2012 research, demonstrates that the percentage of teens using Facebook has been steady, increasing from 93% to 94% in the year prior. In addition, Facebook was the social network used most often by 81% of the teens active in social media (and no other social network was even in the double digits!)

While this year's research from firms like Pew, Nielsen and Forrester could furnish the evidence many people anticipate, Facebook has warned us not to expect any significant shifts in teen behavior this year. Mark Zuckerberg, on the company's second quarter earnings call, flatly rejected the assertion that teens are abandoning the platform: "Based on our data, that just isn't true." Zuckerberg added that activity for teens has been steady over the past year and a half, not including Instagram.

If there is no evidence of teens flowing off Facebook, why do so many take this as fact? Every blog post and article on this topic seems to cite one or both of two clues:
  • A Pew Research report: In its May 2013 report, "Teens, Social Media, and Privacy," Pew Research Center noted that teens "have waning enthusiasm for Facebook, disliking the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful 'drama.'" Case closed, or is it? "Waning enthusiasm" is hardly the same as abandonment--people have not been "enthused" about email since around 2002, but how many have eliminated their inbox? We may find using email to be more of a chore than an exercise in fun, but we still do it because email is essential (and today, so is Facebook).
    Another interesting thing about that quote from the Pew Research report is that the excerpt above is not the complete sentence from the publication. Most people do not seem to read or share the second part of the sentence, which is, "...but they keep using it because participation is an important part of overall teenage socializing." In fact, the Pew report has been cited in so many "teens are fleeing Facebook" blog posts that the research organization clarified its data on its own blog, unambiguously titled, "Teens Haven't Abandoned Facebook (Yet)."
  • Anecdotal evidence: "My child/niece/nephew tells me they have stopped using Facebook." I swear I hear this at least once a week, but this is not evidence; it is an observation, and not a very reliable one at that. Neither is it substantiation of a Facebook exodus when a single teen writes an article on Mashable entitled, "I'm 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook." It goes a long way to show people's bias about Facebook's future that this article was shared 1350% more often than the Mashable post two days later, "I'm 15 and All My Friends Use Facebook." (I wonder if anyone has yet studied the relationship between cognitive dissonance and social sharing.)

    There are at least three reasons why children's anecdotal evidence might be less than reliable. First, teens (like everyone else) are poor observers of their own habits. Second, teens (like everyone else) are not eager to admit how much time they spend on Facebook, and this may lead them to under-report their Facebook usage. Finally--and hold on to your hats for this--teens lie. Some have learned how to use Facebook's lists to continue social networking away from the prying eyes of their parents, and they are fine encouraging adults to believe they have abandoned or reduced their use of the platform. To be honest, there is not hard evidence of this; Pew Research found that just 5% of teen Facebook users say they limit what they permit their parents to see. That said, I suspect this number is quite possibly under-reported and very likely to be growing. 
While there is little evidence to support the idea that kids are abandoning Facebook, that doesn't mean that teens' social and mobile behavior is not changing. Teens are broadening the tools they use for communications, and some of their options should give both marketers and parents concern. Tomorrow, we will explore the new breed of mobile communications services that are probably much more popular (and treacherous) than you think.  


Anonymous said...

Great post Augie, you really hit the nail on the head with this one. Unfortunately the media hype machine warps reality and our culture is all too eager to figure out what the "next thing" will be.

Our survey of 11,000 high-school and college students in 2012/13 found similar Faccebook penetration as Pew. While Facebook did take a 1% dip according to our survey there is no other network with as much daily active users or total users for this age group.

Full results can be found here -

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Brandon. A 1% dip is probably, I'm guessing, within the margin of error of the survey. It's obvious Facebook has become saturated and it may someday start shedding teens, but I'd like to see some data about that before everyone starts assuming it to be true! :)