This is how one Reddit user told it:
In New Zealand, the number of Facebook users has stayed the same over the last 3 months. 13-15 years olds are leaving at the same rate as their parents are joining.
It’s a perfect encapsulation of children’s eternal struggle to escape their parents. While the stat is not completely true, no one will remember the truth once it hits the front pages of Reddit.
Facebook is in an interesting situation. Over the past few months we’ve heard the latest news of Facebook numbers declining in Canada and the US. But what are the underlying social demands which are causing teens to leave their newsfeed?
A few social trends which have been on the boil have risen to the surface in the past few months:
1. Care factor: zero
Thanks to Facebook, we now know how much we don’t really care about a lot of incidental moments in our friends’ lives. Combined with Facebook’s increased advertising push (which I’ve written about in the past), it seems that people are really starting to glaze over when it comes to Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg has announced some changes to the newsfeed, which I think will have some interesting results when it is entirely rolled out. Zuckerberg is shifting pages we Like to a seperate newsfeed, so that we have one newfeed for our friends, and one for content.
He said, “What we’re trying to do is give everyone in the world the best personalised newspaper we can.”
However, I think this aim of this is to keep people in Facebook, once they’ve grown bored with their friends updates, they switch to the ‘newspaper’ aspect of Facebook to be entertained by content, engagements and news from this alternate feed.
For a lot of teens and adults suffering Facebook fatigue, it is too little too late. Most have already switched to other sources for these micro-entertainment purposes, like Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit.
On top of this, where this new system has rolled out on Facebook for mobile devices, they have done very little to promote framing it in the Zuckerberg describes. Most users would probably not notice brands and pages having slipped off their newsfeed, or if they did, they wouldn’t know how to find it. When I found my feed of pages, it was very much in need of heavy pruning – which was a huge turn off right from the outset.
2. Stop stalking me
The other trend which has been on the rise is micro social networks, or niche social networks. These are private social networks of a handful of people, who have discussions about whatever they want in that space.
For teens, this trend couples with the rise of mobiles, where mobile apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp are the environments where teens are shifting to for their conversations. These apps create the privacy that networks like Facebook don’t have, especially when conversations on Facebook can be viewed by hundreds of acquaintances (and the ‘rentals).
These niche networks are very simple, but meet a core need of online communication, while cutting out the content or entertainment aspect which many social networks thread into their design.
3. What’s in a name?
For Gen Y, one of the most exciting parts of being a teen was anonymity online. There was the opportunity to push boundaries, create, explore and grow. It was a place to trashtalk, ask questions you never dared to in person and you could wreak havoc without doing any real damage and it was all part of finding yourself. It was messy and chaotic – but something you learnt from which you could apply to the real world.
For the iGeneration, their first exposure to the internet is connected to their real name. With their real phone number. With their real friends. And very real parents.
I think that teenagers are curious to explore the side of the internet where they can stumble around, trash talk, push some buttons and learn about life. I think part of the appeal of when teens enter into the world of Tumblr, Reddit and Twitter is that they can be anonymous and play out other parts of themselves which they cannot in environments tied to their real-world connections.
As for whether Reddit wants to be this environment, that is a whole other kettle of fish….
So where does that leave us?
Some teens are leaving Facebook for a whole variety of factors, but for many teens, Facebook will still be a huge part of their life for many years.
For the older generation who are less willing to explore other social networks or other platforms to create content, we may see that Facebook becomes an environment which is predominately for users above the age of 40, rather than the youth-oriented network it was initially established as.
What do you think? What are the key reasons teens are leaving Facebook – and will Facebook fall because all the cool kids have left?