By Richard Anderson Observant, cunning and ever-present, if Facebook were human, by now it might also be hysterical. Imagine living w...

Facebook’s Teen Headache

By Richard Anderson

Observant, cunning and ever-present, if Facebook were human, by now it might also be hysterical. Imagine living with thousands deliberating whether you were in fact dead, or if not dead, then imminently so. The main reason - teens. The fickle segment that made it the behemoth it is today have become bored and are moving on, en masse. But what does it mean for Facebook? 

I imagine some cool heads at their California HQ circulating the articles about “Dying”, being “Dead & Buried”  or “Doomed to die”  with an air of relaxed superiority, safe in the knowledge that there is no integrated social service ready to compete head-on. That said, the tabling of a $3bn offer for Snapchat indicates a strong resolve to repair their weak spots, with many labeling it a knee-jerk reaction - especially since it’s failed to demonstrate any real revenue streams. Such an acquisition would be a gamble, a new medicine – temporary, unproven, and not least, pricey. 

Mark Zuckerberg appears unconcerned, or at least did when he compared Facebook to electricity just a few months ago His rationale was that being cool was never his goal, and likened Facebook to electricity in that it might no longer be discussed about as much, but that didn’t lead to a decrease in its use. But then Facebook’s usage (among the young) actually did decrease, with photo-sharing and instant messaging identified as the key threats to the Californian giant. It’s where competitors such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat now specialize and they’ve done a great job pinching a significant and growing slice of the younger audience. But does their new-found popularity really make them a threat to Facebook? 

I honestly think it doesn’t, not yet anyway. This study from the Global Web Index shows the fastest growing platforms between Q1-Q3 in 2013 included WeChat, Vine and Flickr (Snaphchat interestingly not recorded) and they’re clearly very niche, serving a very specific purpose. And that’s what’s loved about them. Facebook’s biggest strength is there isn’t an integrated service that provides comparable utility, which keeps the ‘laggards’ joining and the ‘early majority’ from leaving, perhaps nullifying the impact of teens leaving. 

Facebook-owned Instagram is interesting, since their latest product releases such as video and Instagram Direct are clearly moves to improve their value as a service. Revenue streams are also being rolled out on the platform; all significant moves that other ‘competitors’ to Facebook might struggle to do with such success in the future. If and when they do, we’ll have a more realistic idea of their ability to threaten Facebook’s position.

Considering the foreseeable future, we mustn’t forget that the younger generations are typically early adopters who trigger behavioral change on a wider scale. However, the oft-cited reason for their migration is the much-hyped ‘mummy factor’, the notion that teens are leaving Facebook because it’s no longer cool, and more specifically because their parents are all with them! But surely this won’t phase adults or be a genuine reason to leave the platform. Therefore I believe that teens should be seen as an isolated demographic with limited influence on Facebook’s future.

Unless Facebook continue to be shrewd with their acquisitions in the future then the young-uns will continue to lose interest and defect to other niche services. And consider that teens, or rather, kids are consuming technology at an unprecedented scale; their take up of tablets, familiarity with social media and even software such as augmented reality, is at an unprecedented scale. This “access to the same communication channels as their older counterparts” might indeed speed up the rate of tech diffusion through society. Just look at how quickly Snapchat has grown; a 75% increase in photos snapped per day between June 2013 and September 2013, 200m to 350m. Whenever that killer, utility-rich rival (that appeals across demographics) finally appears, it might just creep up on Facebook much, much quicker.

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