Facebook is losing face. Or so it seems among its younger users. An official statement released last month, admitted that “some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook.” While this may not sound incredibly alarming, the statement continues:
In the event that our users increasingly engage with other products and services, we may experience a decline in user engagement and our business could be harmed.
For Facebook to publicly concede that their business could suffer as a result of teenagers tuning out of the social network, this means that the situation has already begun to reveal itself.
More importantly, this news shows the danger of relying too heavily on the teenage demographic for sustained growth. Teenagers are notoriously fickle and trend-driven. It was only a matter of time before Facebook became untrendy. It’s surprising that it has taken this long. Newer sites like Tumblr, Snapchat, and Instagram are taking the place of Facebook for the teenage crowd. It should be noted that Facebook owns Instagram, which serves to strengthen the notion that the downward trend has been obvious to Facebook execs for years.
What was unexpected though, was how much Facebook would come to be used by adults. Although it still seems to be widely used by women to communicate with other women, there is also a large contingent using it for social activism and public awareness. Twitter, which began as something of a Facebook-lite, has become a valuable tool for retailers and customers. Its original purpose as a “mini-blogging” network has been eclipsed by its ability as a direct route to being heard. Companies that long ignored their customers’ complaints and frustrations have learned that that the internet has a way of finding them. Fighting your way through a telephone menu tree used to be a sure way of scaring away all but the most persistent, but Twitter has enabled the voice of the people to be heard loudly and quickly. No company worth its salt will allow its reputation to be questioned publicly for long.
This should be encouraging to Facebook. Rather than worrying about the loss of teenage eyes, the social network should be looking for ways to maximize its effectiveness to adults, businesses, and other groups. Facebook is a great way to mass communicate, but it must also be an easy way to mass communicate. As powerful as Facebook can be, it can also be unintuitive to many new users. If Facebook is making the admission that its user base is getting older, than perhaps it’s also time for Facebook to make some structural changes to make it easier to learn for the older and less tech-savvy crowd. If the younger demographic is fleeing for Instagram, then Facebook should make it a priority to focus on the demographic that isn’t. It is precisely at times like this that companies can be either made or broken. If Facebook simply laments the loss of teenagers without catering to the older than teenagers, it will be nothing more than a memory five years from now. It will be interesting to watch how they handle this.