Teens Weigh-In On Facebook Changes

As marketers, we know that even small changes to any user experience can have a dramatic impact on how engaged consumers are in our social-digital ecosystems. Teens are the most sensitive, savvy and fickle to these changes -- and lack the years of entrenchment in any one social network to keep them from jumping ship and trying something new. So what do teens think about the most recent changes on Facebook? We surveyed 2,000 (14 to 17-year-old) teens to find out what they like, love and hate about the platform where they spend at least 90 minutes each day.

Spending Less Time On Facebook

Female 17: "I use it about the same amount of time as before, but if they make more changes, I'll probably stop using it and go over to Google +."

Overwhelmingly, teens are openly and seriously considering spending less time on Facebook as a direct result of the recent changes. Only 4% of teens plan to spend more time on Facebook. According to our research, 47% will maintain the same level of usage, electing to "put up with the annoyances" in order to access the features that made the platform valuable to them in the first place: visiting friend pages, commenting on their walls and engaging in chats.

User Experience Is Confusing, But Tolerated

While teens admit that it will "take some getting used to," the challenges are much deeper rooted than becoming comfortable with changes in navigation. Many of the teens who participated in the survey called the changes "confusing, annoying, disappointing and useless," (among comments made repeatedly in our discussion forums). Teens mention Facebook's biggest strength is its simplicity and ease of use. Only 19% of teens felt that the interface was easier to navigate, with 45% saying the page feels cluttered by all of the new features. Social media fatigue may become a bigger problem, with an onslaught of updates streaming through the newly-added ticker, causing 35% of teens to feel "uncomfortable" with the new level of sharing.

New Timeline Is "Awesome"

Male, 15: "It's a relief from Facebook's dizzying new attempts. It's basic, streamlined and awesome."

In the eyes of our teens, the Timeline is everything that the other improvements are not. While it has not officially launched to the masses, we were able to find a handful of teens that were ambitious enough to have installed timeline on their own. Timeline received the most praise from teens in our study (27% said it was their favorite above all Facebook features). Securing a position on a teen's Timeline will have meant that your brand achieved a defining connection in the life of a teen. In contrast, apps that are currently auto-posting their way on to Timelines of unsuspecting teens will need to quickly adapt in order to maintain long-term relevance and placement.

Ticker Is A "Scrolling Stalker"

Female, 15: "The new ticker drives me crazy. The constant movement is distracting, plus it's so fast sometimes it's unreadable."

Since most teens have between 100 and 500 friends, the ticker scrolls too fast to provide meaningful updates. The ticker is seen as a distraction, over-communicating their activities without providing any real value. Only 17% see any value in viewing friend activity this way, with 31% of teens trying to ignore its very existence on the page. They worry that a ticker provides information that "is not theirs to see" in the first place, with the word "stalker" being mentioned on several occasions.

Auto-Posting Apps, When Done Right, A Risk Worth Taking

Female, 17: "I do not want everyone I am Facebook friends with seeing every single time I use an app -- it's annoying. If it doesn't change soon, I will use Facebook 10 times less."

Overwhelmingly, teens view apps as not adding value to their news feed. They view apps as "clogging" their wall with "spam" and an unnecessary level of communication. At best, "it depends" on the type of app being used. The top apps on Facebook with teens are Twitter (27%), Ticketmaster (21%), Yahoo (24%), Netflix (20%) and Spotify (15%). Apps that allow teens to discover new content they might enjoy (like Spotify) were tolerable, with 37% of all teens liking apps that allow them to share music. Apps provide an additional way for brands to gain awareness, with 42% of teens noticing a brand through a friend's app usage. Based on these responses, we can surmise that for an app to be received favorably, it must deliver value, not only to the initial user, but also to the user's friends as well. Do this correctly, and you are likely to win new users (70% of teens are "likely" to try an app that they see a friend using).

Door Opens For Google +

Female, 16: "I still like Facebook better, but I can see Google + taking over in the near future."

The opportunity for Google + as a result of the changes to Facebook is a viable one. According to the survey, 25% of teens will be using Facebook less and Google + more, with 10% saying they would drop Facebook completely. Among teens that are already using Google +, they rave about the platform as being cleaner and "more social" than Facebook. Lack of knowledge about Google + seems to be the biggest barrier to entry among teens who express interest in staying loyal to Facebook. Also, teens have opted for staying with Facebook over Google + because the majority of their friends are already on it.

Teens Take Their "Likes" Seriously

The value of a "like" has only increased with the latest changes. With the walls of "like"-gating crumbling down, a "like" can now stand alone for what it truly is: an endorsement by a consumer, signaling that something meets his or her approval and is therefore ok for his or her friends. Teens take the action of liking something very seriously, with 57% of teens viewing a "like" as a reflection of their personal brand. 37% view a "like" as a direct endorsement to their friends, and 39% view this action as a way of signaling to a brand that they would like to receive updates. This is the one occasion in which the new ticker has proven to be useful (at least for brands), since 56% of teens have seen a friend "like" a brand while glancing at the ticker stream.

Brands Must Educate Before Activating

Many of the latest features are not well known among teens. When we asked teens which features they were aware of, only 48% had heard about "Top Story," 51% knew about "Subscribe" and only 36% knew they could post on a brand's Facebook page without having to "like" it (25% of teens said this was their favorite change). Brands could benefit from educating teens on how these features work, and clarify exactly how taking action would result in their endorsement, sharing or communication of the brand.

Wrap Up

While teens are currently in an uproar about the changes on Facebook, the vast majority will likely stay onboard, getting used to the new experience. Brands must be mindful of the unchartered opportunities and risks associated with these features, and take a leadership role in helping teens navigate this new arena.

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