Bad news for social media giant Facebook: its appeal seems to be fading among teens and young adults. According to the most recent eMarketer forecast on US mobile and internet usage, monthly Facebook users in the 12-17 age group will slide by 3.4 percent in 2017, marking the second consecutive year of decline for that age group (compared to a 1.2 percent fall in 2016).
As for Snapchat, eMarketer predicts user growth of 25.8 percent in the US, with users between the ages of 18 to 24 rising 19.2 percent. What this means is that Snapchat is set to overtake Facebook in the 12-17 and 18-24 age groups for the first time with its share of US users surging a whopping 40.8 percent in 2017.
What this Means for Facebook
Snapchat and Instagram have found more success with the teen demographic since they are more aligned with how they communicate – namely through visual content. Snapchat’s format, where messages are automatically deleted, does away with the “this will follow you forever” feeling some get from Facebook. Instagram strips away news stories, birthdays and other digital detritus giving users a simple stream of pictures and videos of their friends and family. Meanwhile, Facebook is where tweens can find their parents (and even grandparents), greatly diminishing the ‘cool factor’ it needs to keep these younger audiences engaged.
How has Facebook Responded?
Snapchat’s rise in popularity clearly has Facebook feeling the heat. The social media giant has attempted to copy Snapchat at every turn with varying rates of success: first with a short-lived messaging clone called “Poke” in 2012, then with another short-lived messaging clone called “Slingshot” in 2014.
A little over a year ago, Facebook launched its least successful attempt to compete with Snapchat to date. The Lifestage App, a teens-only platform created by 21-year-old Facebook product manager Michael Saymann turned profiles into video content that others can watch. This was an attempt to streamline its text-heavy platform and eliminate fears that parents and teachers will see content that’s either personal or embarrassing. Unfortunately, the app was met by resounding apathy and recently came to an unceremonious end.
The most successful venture has clearly been Instagram Stories, a copycat of Snapchat Stories where users can broadcast multiple videos and photos throughout the day, complete with overlays of doodles, stickers and fun filters. The ‘reel’ then disappears after 24 hours, maintaining Snapchat’s ephemeral vibe. It’s notable that Facebook’s only successful attempt to imitate Snapchat comes through a subsidiary company. It seems the best way to convince younger users to enjoy a new Facebook feature is to hide that it comes from Facebook at all!
Despite its shortcomings with teens and tweens, Facebook remains the world’s most popular social media platform with more than 2 billion users worldwide. The main problem, it seems, is that parents, teachers, bosses and even grandparents use the platform. It makes sense then that teens are increasingly relying on Instagram and Snapchat to interact with their peers due to its simplicity and impermanence.
Through its many failed attempts to entice Generation Z, perhaps Facebook has learned it will simply never be cool, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be popular.