Facebook Is Losing Its Luster

With a user base that has surpassed one billion, Facebook would be the third-largest country in the world, having a population greater than the United States and with only China and India in its sights. However, the once-burgeoning social network is starting to lose its fan base. Teenagers, the trendsetters of all things digital, appear to be leaving the social party in favor of other platforms, specifically ones that appeal to more niche categories and capitalize on specialization, exclusivity, and most importantly, privacy. 

What has changed at Facebook? 

The phrase “Facebook Friends” has become a loose term to umbrella everyone who has access to your page. For many, the spectrum ranges from friends and family to colleagues and business contacts. Unlike the Boomers, who appreciate the convenience of Facebook’s integration features, teenagers have increasingly lost interest in the content that is being published on the News Feed. The intimacy that Facebook once offered has been commoditized in a way in which people no longer really care about the majority of the updates from their “friends.” Now, these savvy teenagers are becoming more sensitive to the fact that the content they post is being shared with the rest of the world. This, coupled with the freedom and excitement people originally, but seemingly no longer, felt when sharing their personal stories on the Internet, has driven people away.



From public to private

While digitally documenting every aspect of one’s life was addicting at first, the novelty has since worn out. Gone are the days where teens felt compelled to share every detail of their lives. They are turning toward platforms they have more control over monitoring, like Instagram and Twitter. The privacy settings are much more manageable and don’t change as frequently as Facebook’s, which has become a nuisance to update with each new policy roll-out. The Facebook Graph Search, for example, has made photos that many Facebook users had previously hid from their profile, readily available to not only their Facebook friends, but also the general public.  

Teens today have more at stake than the teenagers of a decade ago. Profiles can easily be searched by a potential college recruiter or, years down the line, an employer. This newfound appreciation for privacy gives reason for the success of social apps like Snapchat, where images automatically destruct after a few seconds of viewing. 

The attraction of niche platforms

Much like their Millennial counterparts, teenagers make up an audience that craves options. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr are all popular forms of social media among the teenage demographic because each offers unique features that are different from the rest. Brands have an enormous opportunity to tailor content to not just the audience, but the platforms and channels that they occupy. Free People, for example, turns its customers into models by asking its them to post images of themselves in the company's clothing with specific hashtags relating to the item they are wearing. Some of those images are even posted on the Free People website. This way, potential buyers can see how a pair of jeans looks in real life while users have complete control of what is posted.

The explosion in popularity that Facebook has experienced over the past five years has seemingly detracted from the value proposition it once offered users. Teens, oftentimes the demographic most nimble in shifting their consuming behavior, might be a red flag for Facebook and may prompt a reevaluation of what the social media landscape will look like in the future.

11 comments about "Facebook Is Losing Its Luster".
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  1. Sue MacDonald from Self-Employed, April 11, 2013 at 9:52 a.m.

    What's the source of your information? Any stats to back up your claims?

  2. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 11, 2013 at 10:07 a.m.

    Facebook is the perfect illustration of the second of Marshall McLuhan's four laws of media: When pushed to the limits, the new media will reverse it’s original characteristics.

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 11, 2013 at 10:08 a.m.

    Oops, make that "its".

  4. Maruchi Santana from Parham Santana, April 11, 2013 at 10:23 a.m.


    Did you conducted research for your findings? I talk to teen groups in 5 cities monthly for my monthly Engage Teens write up and they are all very active on Facebook.

  5. Alex Realmuto from Conversation LLC, April 11, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.

    Hi Maruchi and the rest of the MediaPost Community,

    First, let me say that I am thrilled to have prompted such exciting discussion and debate.

    To substantiate some of your questions, let me bring to your attention Facebook's most recent 10k. In it, they state:

    “We believe 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. For example, we believe that some of our users have reduced their engagement with Facebook in favor of increased engagement with other products and services such as Instagram. 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.”

    This, coupled with the recent Pew Research Study published in February, have shed light into the decrease of use. From the study, "28% of Facebook users say the site has become less important to them than it was a year ago. And 34% of current users say the amount of time they are spending on Facebook has decreased over the past year."

    It's not that teens are necessarily deleting their Facebook accounts, it's that the way they are using the social tool is shifting. Messaging for example, a popular feature within Facebook has grown exponentially in popularity, prompting Facebook to roll out a separate mobile app just for Facebook Messages.

    The point of this article isn't that teens aren't using Facebook at all, or deleting their accounts. Instead, what it highlights is the shift in online behavior for teenagers who are growing tired of the content published on Facebook as well as understanding the long-term implications of posting all content in life on a social network that can't really be deleted.

    You can find the Pew Research study here:

  6. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, April 11, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.

    When I joined Facebook as a freshman in college (2006), I appreciated the exclusivity it had as a "college only" thing. I used Facebook more that year than probably all the years since. Graph search is interesting because it provides structured sorting now that the "doors" have been open to everyone for a few years. Still, I think Facebook has had its Golden Age--at least in The States--and unless it can create divisions to better target niche groups (teens, etc), I think Facebook could take a slow slide into the region Myspace now inhabits...

  7. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, April 11, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.

    In other words, Facebook's best play is not to keep refining its current product (it already has to do that) or to bet its future on their advertising execution (which is clearly important to them). Facebook's best play is to use their ingenuity and resources to develop smaller, new social networks, become an umbrella brand, and give each niche of potential users a new "space" that will give them what they want most (i.e. privacy and exclusivity to teens, privacy and exclusivity to college students, networking and information to Boomers). Google+'s circles concept wasn't enough. We don't need another "headquarters" online from which to manage all of our different friend groups. We need to re-silo to create a safe place for smaller groups (broken out demographically or something more nuanced) to "be themselves" without the risks of "the college recruiters" or "the parents" or "the current or future employer" seeing what's going on. Facebook: provide an offering that allows each user to have more control over who can find them, who can interact, etc. Facebook (the website) did a good job of making everyone a celebrity, and a website is a good place to go to put a public face or personal brand out there, but how about a home online? We expect our houses and apartments to be free from the government or others from looking through our windows. We have a locked-down space to be ourselves and not have anyone barging in. We keep our apartments locked and even our physical addresses exclusive to just family and some friends. Is it possible to have this kind of personal space, this kind of private space online? I posit that such a "home space" is the holy grail of online. You have the privacy of your own home but the accessibility of digital. i.e. a website that allows in only those with the front door keys--and is relatively immune to hacking and theft--in part because the address online can't even be found, isn't a part of some hackable algorithm, and yet can be shared with those trusted few you'd actually let into your real home.

  8. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, April 11, 2013 at 12:31 p.m.

    Control. Young people (Millennials and teens) want more control over "their space" online. Which I think was part of the original appeal of Myspace and then the early days of Facebook--they provided the illusion (or in some cases, temporarily, the reality) of control. This doesn't mean no ads, it means ads about stuff they actually care about (kind of like Amazon's suggestions or the monetization options with YouTube's advertising). It means control over the granular minutiae of "who wants to know what about me." I give you permission to track my location? Great, I watch those packets of information leave my mobile device and can block them. I want to send you an email from my email or from an email address that's not traceable back to me? I have those options. I want to be able to access people's contact information in one place -- like the iPhone app Brewster -- great, done. But I see each person to gets each bit of personal data on me, where they pull it from, and maybe even what they use it for. Maybe in a few years, people will decide en masse that uploading all of their personal data to some big company's cloud is too dangerous, and the cost/benefit of buying and hosting their personal cloud (so their data is accessible anywhere but only to them) is a good deal. In the future, people can not only control their own profiles, CONTINUE TO OWN WHAT THEY UPLOAD, but they have their stuff accessible to them and only them wherever they go (kind of like keeping your apartment stored digitally and in your pocket or on your eyes, with enough passcodes and protections to make hacking extraordinarily difficult that it's just not worth the time invested. But that it's still easy to share with a single person or group of people if they want to--either as a copy that they send out, or as something only accessible while the people are "in" the digital apartment. Might be a pipe dream but I think that's the ideal and the general principles that Facebook needs to keep in mind for their next offering--whether it's Facebook's next "version" or it's a new official (or unofficial) Division of Facebook branded something else.

  9. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, April 11, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.

    Maybe instead of breaking down the population of facebook by demographics, it's by interest (i.e. deviantART). Good article to that effect: Thanks Alex for getting me thinking.

  10. Alex Realmuto from Conversation LLC, April 11, 2013 at 4:34 p.m.

    Zachary -- excellent perspective. I think the idea of creating silos for different demographics/users could certainly have potential. On the other hand, does it force too much action for these users? Once I graduate college I can join one network, then enter the job market I enter another. I suppose if the sign-up is easy and validated, it could work. It does force people to reestablish their social network each time which may be a nuisance. What I do think is clear -- and you've done an excellent job highlighting -- is that the Facebook that we see today is ripe for evolution. I look forward to seeing the progression and appreciate all of your comments.

  11. Davida Tretout from Go2Chic, April 11, 2013 at 6:59 p.m.

    My own findings are in line with Alex's. And where might those insights be sourced? With my teenage son & his peers. Yes, though not statistically sound for publication, they're completely sound for assessment within a smaller circle. He & his peers find Facebook too open to the public, too non-protective & too cumbersome on their smartphones, tablets & other small screen interfaces. Indeed, apps like Snapchat are the go2 for this agile, forward thinking tech-savvy demo.

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