It has been clear for some time that Facebook has been struggling to hold on to the youth market, and one study has looked at the reasons why this is occurring. It seems that the single biggest factor is that young people do not want to inhabit the same social spaces as their parents.
The Global Social Media Impact Study was funded by the European Research Council and looked at nine towns around the world over a 15-month period. Part of the study was focused on 16- to 18-year-olds. Although social media habits among adults varied considerably by geographic region, the habits of young people had far more in common: they thought of Facebook as an old-fashioned place and very much part of the establishment.
For Facebook, there does not seem to be any way to recover from this. Young people say that they would never use it because their parents are there, sending friend requests and expecting to have access to every detail of their lives; what is more, for every one of their friends who chooses to avoid it, they have less reason to join – the reverse of the swarm effect that made it a success in the first place.
It is not all bad news for the social media giant, however, as some of these young people are opting instead to use Instagram, which Facebook owns. Others are moving to Snapchat, attracted by the fact that images sent using it quickly disappear; therefore, users do not need to worry about everything being on their permanent record as it is with Facebook, where it recently emerged that everything a user types is recorded, even if it is deleted before a post is made. WhatsApp seems to be overtaking Facebook in the mobile market – one of its strongest areas – when it comes to message exchanges between teens; meanwhile, Twitter seems to remain attractive to the young, despite having a large number of older users.
What this means for businesses is that social media marketing is entering a new phase where much more diverse strategies are needed. It is also an object lesson in the importance of rebranding and revamping a company image from time to time to avoid looking old-fashioned. This illustrates the importance of remembering that social media is shaped by social factors in the offline world as well as online.