In the new Pew Internet & American Life Project teens and social media report, Facebook is shown to be by far the dominant social network — in some ways surprisingly so. I say surprising because the Pew data seem to be partly contradicted by anecdotal evidence that many teens are ignoring or abandoning the network in favor of other social sites such as Instagram (also owned by Facebook), Snapchat and even Twitter.
(My general write-up of the Pew study’s findings is here: Pew: 94% Of Teenagers Use Facebook, Have 425 Facebook Friends.)
The first chart below shows the percentages of US social media-using teens that have accounts with the various services. Accordingly, 94 percent of teens say they have a Facebook profile. Twitter is the second most widely adopted service (26 percent), with usage basically doubling among teens in the past last year. Instagram is also fast-growing.
Facebook bought Instagram in part because it saw/sees the service as a threat. The numbers above don’t really suggest that, but “real-world” evidence supports the idea that Instagram was growing at Facebook’s expense among those aged 12 to 17.
The second chart shows social media usage frequency among teens, again with Facebook dominating all other sites.
The Pew report found that teens with the largest networks on Facebook and who exhibited the greatest frequency were also more likely to be users of other social media sites: “Teens with larger Facebook networks are fervent social media users who exhibit a greater tendency to ‘diversify’ their platform portfolio.”
The report adds that “Teens with more than 600 Facebook friends are more than three times as likely to also have a Twitter account when compared with those who have 150 or fewer Facebook friends (46% vs. 13%). They are six times as likely to use Instagram (12% vs. 2%).” Thus, these teen power users are more likely to be active on alternative social sites.
This was also the case when MySpace started losing users to Facebook. People who were on both sites could easily switch to Facebook when the party died on MySpace. However, Pew says they’ve seen “no indications in either the national survey or the focus groups of a mass exodus from Facebook.” And Facebook is today in a much different position than MySpace was when it started to decline.
Pew reports that teen “diversification” of social media usage is based on specific features and functionality or compartmentalization of use cases:
Ultimately, teens, like adults, are finding ways to “diversify” their social media portfolio for different purposes. In some cases, it helps them to compartmentalize smaller groups of friends and certain kinds of interactions. In other cases, the newer platforms are appealing for the features (or lack thereof) and functionality they offer.
There is evidence, however, of increased dissatisfaction or “waning enthusiasm” among some teens with Facebook:
[O]ne of the most striking themes that surfaced through the Berkman focus groups this spring was the sense of a social burden teens associated with Facebook. While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own.
This idea of ambivalence toward Facebook is reflected in a summary of focus group discussion that identified to the sources of declining enthusiasm:
In focus groups, many teens expressed waning enthusiasm for Facebook. They dislike the increasing number of adults on the site, get annoyed when their Facebook friends share inane details, and are drained by the “drama” that they described as happening frequently on the site. The stress of needing to manage their reputation on Facebook also contributes to the lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the site is still where a large amount of socializing takes place, and teens feel they need to stay on Facebook in order to not miss out.
Users of sites other than Facebook express greater enthusiasm for their choice.
Those teens who used sites like Twitter and Instagram reported feeling like they could better express themselves on these platforms, where they felt freed from the social expectations and constraints of Facebook. Some teens may migrate their activity and attention to other sites to escape the drama and pressures they find on Facebook, although most still remain active on Facebook as well.
The following are some verbatim focus group comments from the report adding more color to the summary above:
- Female (age 19): “Yeah, that’s why we go on Twitter and Instagram [instead of Facebook]. My mom doesn’t have that.”
- Female (age 15): “If you are on Facebook, you see a lot of drama.”
- Female (age 14): “OK, here’s something I want to say. I think Facebook can be fun, but also it’s drama central. On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a like, that they wouldn’t say in real life.”
- Male (age 18): “It’s because [Facebook] it’s where people post unnecessary pictures and they say unnecessary things, like saying he has a girlfriend, and a girl will go on and tag him in the picture like, me and him in the sun having fun. Why would you do that?”
With my own daughter (age 13) and her friends, Instagram and other sites are much more important than Facebook. This has been echoed by other parents I’ve spoken with about their kids’ social networking habits.
While the Pew report shows “no mass exodus,” and the site seems far ahead of its rivals with teens, the comments and observations above do indicate some degree of risk for Facebook. Teens’ diminished enthusiasm (“Facebook fatigue”) should be a concern. In addition, if they no longer feel it’s “necessary” to participate in Facebook — meaning many of their friends are no longer active — usage will certainly go down.
The company was clearly smart to buy Instagram.