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Facebook Makes a New Bid to Woo Teens

Positive-minded app tbh has found a strong audience among teens

October 18, 2017 | Demographics | Social Media

Is Facebook worried that it’s starting to show some gray? This week the world’s most popular social network acquired the teen-focused platform tbh, as in “to be honest,” for an undisclosed sum. (TechCrunch reported the purchase price was less than $100 million.)

tbh has generated a following among younger users with its unabashed embrace of positivity. The service lets users anonymously send compliments to their networks by responding to emoji-laden polls that ask questions such as, “Who makes you laugh the hardest?”

Unlike on other anonymous messaging services like Yik Yak, users are constrained in their tone by the poll questions, which are either generated by tbh or vetted by staff before being sent out to ensure they don’t stray from its sunny ethos.

“When we set out to build tbh, we wanted to create a community that made us feel happier and more confident about ourselves. We felt that people craved genuine and positive interactions in their online experiences,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing its sale to Facebook.

That approach has clearly struck a chord with users. tbh reports it has catalogued 5 million downloads since its September launch, and that its users have now sent more than 1 billion messages to one another.

Facebook is likely drawn to the platform’s popularity among younger demographics, which the aging social network is having some trouble with of late. eMarketer projects there will be more US Snapchat users than Facebook users in the 12-to-24-year-old demographic by the end of this year.

US Child/Young Adult Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat* Users, by Age, 2017 (millions)

And smaller user numbers among younger age groups are only a part of Facebook’s problem. “Teens and tweens remaining on Facebook seem to be less engaged—logging in less frequently and spending less time on the platform,” said eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Oscar Orozco.

Facebook has made a practice out of attempting to acquire services that might present a threat to its grip on social media. That strategy has proved successful with its purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp, the former of which has turned into a cash cow for its parent company. But Facebook also remains plagued by its one major failure—Snapchat.

“Facebook famously tried to acquire Snapchat, and ever since has made it its mission to build or buy things that usurp Snapchat’s power,” said eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

In the case of tbh, Facebook has made a relatively minor bet that the app might be the thing that can upset Snapchat’s growing grip on younger users. But Williamson is quick to note that tbh’s newness also means it remains an unproven quantity.

“It’s clear that tbh has already struck a chord with teens,” she said. “What is less clear is whether this app has staying power and will actually expand and grow, or whether it will be something that teens will tire of and move on from. Facebook has a history of launching features and apps that never really took off, such as the Poke app—a Snapchat knockoff—and the news app Notify.”

Rahul Chadha

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