All the rumors, hunches, and anecdotal evidence got some confirmation this week: Facebook’s growth among teenagers and young adults is stalled and possibly on the decline, according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center, which show that Facebook’s growth in that age demo has flattened out, albeit at a high level.
Overall 84% of teens and young adults polled by Pew said they use Facebook in Pew’s August 2013 survey; that’s down 2% from the 86% who said they use Facebook in 2012. Meanwhile over the same period the proportion of adults ages 18-29 who use Twitter edged up from 27% to 31%, the proportion who use Pinterest increased from 19% to 27%, and the proportion who use Instagram jumped from 28% to 37%.
Facebook is still growing, however, thanks to increasing usage among older adults. Over the last year the proportion of adults ages 30-49 who use Facebook increased from 73% to 79%, while the proportion among adults ages 50-64 increased from 57% to 60%, and the proportion among adults ages 65+ increased from 35% to 45%. The proportion of all online adults using Facebook increased from 67% to 71%.
Increasing Facebook usage among older adults is in line with increasing adoption of social media in general: according to Pew the proportion of all online adults who use social networking sites increased from 67% in 2012 to 73% this year. Among all online adults, the proportion using Twitter rose from 16% to 18%, the proportion using Pinterest increased from 15% to 21%, and the proportion using Instagram increased from 13% to 17%.
While Facebook is still the most popular social network by far, the decline in the coveted young adult demo has to be troubling for the company, as it seems to indicate a loss of cachet to other, newer competitors. That certainly appears to be the case in Europe, where a recent “Global Social Media Impact Study” by the University College of London found that Facebook is “dead and buried” among European teens ages 16-18, who are migrating to Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
According to the study the main reason for the decline in Facebook’s “cool” factor is -- wait for it -- all those damn adults who showed up in the last few years, especially parents and other family members. Indeed, UCL anthropologist Daniel Miller described teens’ current perception of Facebook in the following painfully uncool terms: “Mostly they feel embarrassed to even be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives.” Miller mercilessly highlighted the uncoolness by noting, “What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person’s decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request. It is nothing new that young people care about style and status in relation to their peers, and Facebook is simply not cool anymore.”