Some Teens Ditch Social Nets When Parents Show Up (Yes, Facebook, We Are Talking About You)

There's no two ways about it: Parents are not cool. Nothing against your parents or against you if you are a parent yourself; but there is no question that in the big Venn diagram of life, "parents" and "cool" exist in two totally separate, mutually exclusive circles. No parents are cool, and nothing which is cool is parental. The same rule holds for locations both real and virtual: If your parents are somewhere, that place cannot be cool.

This eternal truth has been confirmed for the umpteenth time by a survey from ROI World, conducted April 26-29, which asked 300 teen boys and 300 teen girls about their use of online social networks via OTX's Online Sample Community. Overall, as one might expect the ROI World study found very high rates of participation in social networks in general: the respondents said they spent a whopping 80% of their online time (an average 1 hour and 50 minutes per day) on social networks. Also unsurprisingly, Facebook dominates teen social network usage, with 78% of respondents saying they created a profile at some time -- but ROI World found evidence of what it termed "Facebook fatigue."

Specifically, 19% of teens who created a Facebook profile said they are spending less time on the site than they did a year ago, or have stopped visiting it altogether, with the largest group -- 49% -- saying their use began falling off within the last three months (29% in the last month). And it appears that the arrival of parents and old people in general motivate some teens to ditch out (by the way, if you are offended by my use of the word "old" in this context, then that means you are really, really old and also have no sense of humor). 16% of respondents who left Facebook or use it less said they did so because their parents joined, while 14% said they did so because there are "too many adults/older people." The timing of these trends would seem to correspond to other data suggesting a rising proportion of older users on Facebook compared to other sites like MySpace.

Admittedly these aren't huge proportions of the total user base. Crunching the numbers, that comes to about 6% of all teen respondents leaving or using Facebook less because of their parents or Ye Old Folkes. But the real question, to my mind, is whether their rejection is symptomatic of a more widespread perception among teens that these sites are somehow less cool, edgy, or what-have-you, than they used to be. A second, subsidiary question is whether this perceptual shift has an effect on the "halo" effect enjoyed by advertisers from placing ads in a cool context. I don't have the answers to these questions, but they are food for thought.

But anyway let's not get all depressed about being old and chronically, nay terminally uncool. There are actually some very promising findings for the future of online marketing and e-commerce on social networks. The ROI World survey also discovered that 43% of the teen respondents surveyed had spent money on social networks. This includes 7% who have purchased a "virtual gift" for a friend, and 15% who have purchased currency in a game to buy virtual items. Significantly, over a third of teens who play games on Facebook say that these games account for 50% or more of the time they spend on the site -- data which highlights the issue of user engagement, at the center of the power struggle between Zynga and Facebook which I discussed earlier this year.

5 comments about "Some Teens Ditch Social Nets When Parents Show Up (Yes, Facebook, We Are Talking About You)".
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  1. Anita Johnson from NBC Universal, July 8, 2010 at 3:27 p.m.

    "(by the way, if you are offended by my use of the word "old" in this context, then that means you are really, really old and also have no sense of humor)." LOL!

    Very true study. I was really into Facebook in '04-'05 when it was college students only, but my interest faded quickly when high school kids and everyone else were allowed to join. Then my mom joined recently. Needless to say I am now a light user, but I definitely miss those days when it was a niche site.

  2. Tara Coomans from Akamai Marketing, July 8, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    As an older person, I too have noticed the drop off of participation from my nieces and nephews while myself and my friends continue to spend time connecting or reconnecting on Facebook (though not to the tune of several hours a day).

    I guess the larger question is whether another social media platform can fill the "cool" niche for this age group and be satisfied with teens as clients without striving for world domination ala Facebook. Oh, Myspace, you truly had your chance.

  3. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, July 8, 2010 at 5:23 p.m.

    I'm not buying it. Soon, if not already, Facebook will be a medium, not a brand. The cool factor just isn't (or won't be) relevant.

    Teens haven't stopped using email, SMS and web browsers because their parents do. I think Facebook will turn out the same way, and even the kool kidz who say they ditched Facebook like an after-lunch math class won't be able to stay away for long. What are they going to do, write letters?

    And if, somehow, Facebook ends up dominated by educated, affluent (but uncool!) consumers in their 30s through 50s ... a lot of businesses will be absolutely fine with that.

  4. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, July 9, 2010 at 2:08 a.m.

    This is actually good news. The real value lies in the more mature consumer/user who stays with what works longer, holds the purse strings, and is the biggest part of th econsuming public. What is cool is not what necessarily works and where marketers/brands should be. They need to be where the conversations are happening and the engagement will last. Let the kids find a new toy. As they mature, and come into the "real" world they will migrate to what works for the bulk of who they need to be interacting with... just like they come back to email as soon as they are in the working world.

  5. Emma Bolser from ikon communications, July 11, 2010 at 7:22 p.m.

    The real reason they are leaving is nothing to do with cool or un-cool- it is purely down to parents being able to see what they and their mates are doing, in graphic detail, that is making them leave.What young person wants their parents to see them totally drunk/inappropriately dressed/ not where they said they'd be in the photos their friends post which their parents can then see ? all parents snoop- FB is the utlimate spying device!

    and for the brands I look after , teens are critical. So we will be watching with interest to see what new social space will develop for them which won't have Mum and Dad looking over their shoulder.

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