Don't Believe The 'Teens Don't Use Facebook' Hype

Contrary to what you may have heard, teens have not abandoned Facebook en masse.

At least three times in as many weeks, I’ve found myself involved in this very conversation: “Teens don’t use Facebook anymore,” my verbal sparring partner will say. “Once parents joined, they moved on to [insert latest buzzy platform here].” Statements like this have been in the headlines for years now. That does not make them true.

Just this past November, a survey by UBS Evidence Lab showed Facebook use had actually increased among teens, with 65% saying they use the platform every day, up from 59% two years prior. A similar November 2016 study by RBC Capital Markets showed that beyond just visiting Facebook, teens are also spending time on Facebook, with about one in three 13- to 18-year-olds reporting that they’d increased time on the platform over the past year.

Even more recently, Fullscreen Media released results of a national survey that showed Facebook is still the go-to for teens when it comes to entertainment, socializing and utility (e.g., finding out where and when the party is). 



It may not be the favorite, it may not be the coolest, but Facebook is still a “must” for brands, publishers and other content creators looking reach Gen Z online. That said, there are a few teen behaviors and preferences on Facebook which marketers should take notice of in order to increase their chances of success. 

Paid Content is A-OK!

Gen Z has grown up with media everywhere. They’re incredibly savvy when it comes to marketing, and, probably as a side-effect, their relationship with branded content is different.

Especially in the social sphere, teens treat their favorite brands much like they do friends, even though they fully understand that their attention is being paid for. 

For brands, then, the key is to treat this audience more like friends than consumers. The content you publish should lean toward the entertaining or informative, never the salesy. The more useful, fun and/or compelling you make it, even if it’s obviously sponsored, the more likely the chance you’ll get shared. According to Fullscreen, 42% of teens said they’d shared branded content within the past month.

Less Text, More Video

In general, Facebook posts with video have the highest reach and generate more engagement per post than other types, and the more people engage, the more impact you have. This effect is amplified when dealing with teens, who more than any other generation, prefer “show” over tell.

When creating video for Facebook, especially when targeting the Gen Z audience, keep in mind that social moves fast. The more immediate you can make gratification, the better chance you have to capture the attention of a teen scrolling through his or her feed. We refer to the time you have to grab a viewer as the “three-second rule.” Other things to remember when dealing with teens are to keep your videos short, and assume not just that the video will play without sound. You can also assume that the video will be played on a mobile device. Which leads to the next point…

Make it Mobile 

We used to call mobile devices the second screen, but increasingly, and especially among teens, they’re becoming the first – sometimes only – screen. The challenge with mobile is really circumventing the countless distractions your target audience is most likely subject to. Again, short is key, but another factor is making small as big as possible. For Facebook, that means square formats, which take up 78% more screen space in a mobile feed than horizontal content does. The previews for these newer formats are similarly more attention grabbing, and that’s particularly important when dealing with cluttered social feeds and short attention spans.

Our own internal data for the last quarter of 2016 shows that square is wildly effective on social channels, with videos receiving an average of 3 times more views, 3.2 times more comments and nearly 6 times more shares than horizontal video posts. In Q1 2017, while making up only 25% of all videos, 53% of all our videos receiving over 1 million views were square. 

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social option when looking to connect with teens online, but, regardless of what you’ve heard, it is still an option. But one-size-fits-all isn’t. When looking to engage with Gen Z, you’ll greatly increase your results if you act like a friend, use video instead of text and make your content mobile-friendly first.

3 comments about "Don't Believe The 'Teens Don't Use Facebook' Hype".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, June 1, 2017 at 10:27 a.m.

    I agree with all of the points here. And I wouldn't discount Facebook to teens and to many other markets. 

    However, Facebook is the official channel. It's the one that teens know is being watched. Apropos to the latest in politics; there are also the backchannels. Smart marketers should at least know what they are, and use them judiciously (and tell me when you find out what they are). 

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, June 1, 2017 at 1:50 p.m.

    Reach is not the same as time spent. Teenagers use Facebook, of course, but how much? What utility does it hold for their online lives with Mom looking on? Yes, they log-on daily, but touching base once a day is not the way they use Instagram and Snapchat. Unless my own teenagers are completely anomalous and their self-reports are bogus (to borrow their lingo).

  3. J S from Ideal Living Media replied, June 1, 2017 at 2:05 p.m.

    I have a large family, with a range of children's ages from 12 to 25. The older ones are more familiar with Facebook, visit it regularly, and, for example, have used it to start public and private groups. 

    Our 16-year-old goes on Facebook from time-to-time and has an abandoned profile.  However, to post things publicly, she and her friends exclusively use Instagram. To converse with friends privately, they use Snapchat.

    Our 12- and 14-year-olds, however, seem to have no awareness of Facebook. When asked, they seem to find it about as interesting as the Yellow Pages. No accounts, no intention to ever join Facebook. That said, they are extremely Internet savvy; for example, they create YouTube videos, and compete in online games, in ad-hoc and official competitions, using platforms like Twitch and YouTube, from which they converse using live audio and comment sections. While they love YouTube, and I don't recall them watching television since they were toddlers. 

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