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Are Teens Really Unfriending Facebook?

Visual content-based apps on the rise—but Facebook is still No. 1

A brand is in a tricky position when it has no place to go but down. Given its must-have status among US teens in recent years—eMarketer estimates 95.9% of social networkers ages 12 to 17 used Facebook in 2013—that’s the position Facebook finds itself in, according to a new eMarketer report, “US Teens: Sizing Up the Selfie-Expressive Generation.”

And there are indications it’s vulnerable to a downturn—including an acknowledgement in Facebook’s Q3 2013 earnings call that it suffered a quarter-to-quarter dip in daily usage by younger US teens.

A rising number of options may be dispersing teen activity across a broader social landscape. A November 2013 item in The Futures Company’s online Monitor Minute newsletter caught this theme: “We expect this fragmentation to continue as teens test and adopt new social upstarts.” While noting that Facebook “is still huge among teens and 20-somethings,” it added that “the way some are using it has changed from an all-encompassing, one-stop shop to a quick check-in before moving on to explore their other social networks.”

It’s not so much that Facebook is losing teens as that it’s losing the exclusive power to define what social networking means for them. In the process of taking social usage mobile, teens aren’t just plopping the old school of social onto mobile devices. They’re adjusting the nature of what constitutes social networking.

This is evident in the skew toward visual elements. The social channels generating recent teen-related buzz are about sharing visual content, whether on Snapchat, Instagram or Vine. While one can share visuals on Facebook, it’s not the site’s claim to fame. And it may not be where teens feel most comfortable doing so—thanks to uptake among teachers and parents.

That’s created an opening for mobile messaging apps to help teens create social networks of a sort—often restricted to a smaller circle of real-life friends vs. the broader universe of Facebook “friends.” In GlobalWebIndex’s November 2013 “Where Are the Facebook Teenagers Going?” bulletin, the firm answered its question by identifying the “big winners” among global teens as “messenger, video and photo apps.”

Time will tell whether any current players in the social mobile apps arena have staying power. While noting their 2013 gains, GlobalWebIndex added, “The growth rates, impressive as they are among teens, mask the all-important fact that Facebook is still far and away the largest social platform and mobile app used.”


The full report, “US Teens: Sizing Up the Selfie-Expressive Generation,” also answers these key questions:

  • How big is the US teen market?
  • While teens are digital natives, are there digital areas in which they underindex?
  • How is their usage of social networks and other social channels evolving as alternatives to Facebook proliferate?
  • What are the distinctive features of teens’ behavior as shoppers?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.

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