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Marketers might be quick to assume teens have short attention spans, but that’s not necessarily the case. Rather, teens can quickly assess whether or not an app or a social platform has staying power, and they refuse to waste time on something that won’t last. Jane Buckingham, founder of research firm Trendera, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about why teens are losing interest in Facebook and why one-to-one messaging apps are becoming more popular with them.
eMarketer: Adults often say that teens have short attention spans and forget about apps and social networks quickly. Is that an accurate assessment?
Jane Buckingham: It’s not that they have attention deficits, it’s that they’re attention discriminant. They decide quickly what they want to pay attention to, and once they do, they’ll devote their full attention to it. They binge watch shows all the time, for example. They choose what to dive into, and they can usually decide in 3 seconds whether they’re interested or not.
eMarketer: Are teens shifting away from Facebook?
Buckingham: They’re still using Facebook, but it’s not the cool platform anymore, and it’s not their go-to platform. Facebook is a place to catch up with everyone and get access to a wide group of people that they may not talk to on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Snap is where they consistently talk to people that matter most. Teens prefer Snap because of its visual nature and its one-to-one messaging capability.
eMarketer: What about Instagram?
Buckingham: Instagram represents the face teens want to present to the world, even if it’s not necessarily the real face. “Finstagram,” which is what teens call their separate, more private Instagram account, is another story. On Instagram, they’ll only post beautiful pictures that show them living an amazing life. Their Finstagram is only for them and their closest friends. This is where they post silly pictures of themselves. They feel less pressure to be perfect with a Finstagram.
eMarketer: There’s been a recent surge in WhatsApp usage also among teens. What could be behind that?
Buckingham: It has such a strong international presence, so it’s not surprising that it would come to the US eventually. It’s another app for person-to-person communication. Plus, parents haven’t really discovered it yet, so it’s more private. It’s free, whereas texting isn’t, and it’s a way to communicate with friends that aren’t on Snap.
eMarketer: Parents might not be on WhatsApp, but they are on Facebook. Is that the reason teens don’t find it “cool” anymore?
Buckingham: Definitely. It just doesn’t have the “cool cred” that Snap does. It used to be that kids couldn’t wait to turn 13 so that they could open a Facebook account, but that’s not the case anymore. They’re still using it because their school and activity groups are on there, but the excitement level is different.
eMarketer: Are there smaller-scale social networks or messaging apps that are growing quickly among teens?
Buckingham: Sarahah is one, but it’s still early. It allows users to leave anonymous comments on Instagram posts. It’s not clear if it will stick because it’s anonymous, but it’s been bubbling up recently. It became big because it provided something no one else was providing, which is always the challenge for up-and-coming apps.
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