Can Facebook Fix Its Teen Problem?

Teenaged girl lying on grass

By Tricia McKinnon

Teens continue to leave Facebook in favour of other social media networks. Just two years ago 71% of teens surveyed said they use Facebook, now only half (51%) of teens say they use the platform. Instead, the social media platform with the greatest usage among teens is YouTube with 85% of teens who say they use the platform. Coming in second is Instagram with 72% and third place goes to Snapchat at 69%.  

Can Facebook stop the exodus of teen users?  Maybe not.  Sometimes what makes an organization successful is the exact thing that causes it trouble.  With over two billion users on Facebook its reach and penetration around the world is undeniable.  With that reach comes people from all demographics who are now on the platform. When it comes to socializing most teens do not want to socialize with their friends and their parents at the same time.  Many teens prefer to use other platforms where they can interact with their friends more privately.  Teens also feel that Facebook is more of a place to go to observe someone’s social identity.  It is like a more personal version of LinkedIn to them.  

In terms of communicating with others most teens use iMessage or SMS (57%) and then Snapchat text comes in third (more than a third of teens use it). Only 1% of teens surveyed said that Facebook Messenger is their number one communication tool. As reported by a teen, Viktoria Valchanova, to the Guardian: “I don’t use Facebook anymore because none of my friends use it, so there’s no point”.  Another teen, Emily McClymont: said: “I find it [Facebook] a bit boring now. It deals too much with people’s lives. I don’t think I’d delete it because it’s a way of speaking to my family. That’s the only reason I keep it.”

Despite Facebook’s efforts to silence Snapchat, Snapchat remains popular with teens. The most important feature to Snapchat users is messaging (68%), followed by Stories (28%), then Discover (4%).  Teens like the ephemeral quality of the app. with messages disappearing after they are opened. Teens also like the fact that with Snapchat they can be more of themselves.  Since their messages are not logged in a public record they are free to share moments of their lives on Snapchat that more closely represent their actual lives. 

Facebook’s ace in the hole is still Instagram which is popular with teens due to its visual nature.  Teens also love YouTube because many creators are their age and they can learn how to do cool and interesting things.  A 14-year-old reported to Business Insider: "YouTube is full of content that people create to keep their fans entertained with gameplay and animation about their lives, which is something that real TV doesn't really have." 

Part of the challenge in front of Facebook is that the apps that are popular with teens really stand for something unique.  Whether it is the ephemeral quality of SnapChat or the fun and creative nature of YouTube those features are hard to mimic in an app like Facebook which means many things to many people.  The benefit of apps or even services like Facebook is that you can do so many things on it.  The challenge is that you can do so many things on it. Having a lot of features can be important when you are trying to scale.  But with so many competitors in the market not having a more targeted value proposition might end up being Facebook’s downfall with this lucrative segment.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest retail insights & trends delivered to your inbox

Tricia McKinnon