Ninety-five percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent of teens are almost constantly online — but younger Internet users do not connect on Facebook as much as their older peers do, suggests a Pew Research Center study released Thursday. Although Facebook dominated social media across all age groups over the past decade, it has taken a backseat to YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat among today’s teens.
Facebook is still used by more than half of all teens aged 13 to 17, the survey results indicate. Fifty-one percent of those polled reported using the social networking service. Yet a whopping 85 percent reported actively using YouTube, 72 percent said they regularly used Instagram, and 69 percent were on Snapchat.
Facebook did outpace Twitter, used by just 32 percent of teens surveyed, and Tumblr, which drew only 9 percent. Reddit came in at 7 percent.
As for which of the social media services the teen survey participants used the most, Snapchat came in highest, with 35 percent identifying it as their most frequent choice, while YouTube followed at 32 percent and Instagram at 15 percent. Facebook was a distant fourth, with just 10 percent of respondents identifying it as the service they used most often.
By contrast, Twitter had just 3 percent of respondents in its corner. Reddit snagged 1 percent, and Tumblr less than 1 percent.
Changing Patterns Among Teens
Teens’ social media habits have changed since 2015 when Pew conducted its last survey on the topic. Just 24 percent of teens went online “almost constantly,” according to that poll — essentially half the number that do so today.
Facebook was the dominant social media service among teens just three years ago, when 71 percent said they used it, and 41 percent said they used it most often. Fifty-two percent of teens used Instagram, and 20 percent used it most often.
Google+ and Vine, which were used by 33 percent and 24 percent of teens, respectively in the 2014-15 survey, weren’t even included in the latest report. By contrast, the current top-ranking service, YouTube, wasn’t even named among the most popular online platform choices of teens in the past report.
The most striking disparity between the two surveys is in teens’ use of Facebook. A large proportion of them has moved away from Facebook to embrace other services.
On the other hand, “Facebook never had it,” remarked social media consultant Lon Safko. “Teens never embraced Facebook from the beginning. They felt it was too open, and gravitated towards Snapchat,” he told TechNewsWorld. “To them, it felt like a safer platform where anything they put in writing or photos would vanish after 20 seconds.”
Teens also gravitated toward Pinterest, but only briefly, as Instagram replaced most other options, Safko noted.
How relevant Facebook can be to a younger audience is the question.
“The news has to be concerning to Facebook, although some of the exodus is for Instagram, which is also owned by the company,” said Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights at the Local Search Association.
“However, I don’t think this is anything like a sky-is-falling moment for Facebook,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“It’s still by far the dominant social media platform,” Sterling noted, “and Snapchat, which is one of the sites pulling teen users from Facebook, has always been dominated by younger users. So what we’re seeing could be described as ‘incremental,’ or maybe a slight acceleration of teen defections.”
On to the Next Thing
The changing tastes of younger social media users are consistent with teen behavior in general. They seldom stick with what the previous generation liked in music, fashion or other pop culture trends.
With social media, though, there could be other factors that explain what is driving away today’s teens.
One possibility is that “they don’t want all of the features of Facebook,” said Safko.
“They just want to show their small group of invited friends what they are doing or wearing or listening to — and teens are sharing more than ever,” he added.
“It is how they connect with their tribe and stay relevant — and they don’t want fake news, political nonsense, motivational memes, or advertising or spam,” Safko added. “That’s why they don’t do email either. … Teens will always share and stay connected with their tribe, yet they will only do it in a private, protected environment.”
It’s possible that Facebook could reconnect with a teen audience — if not directly then through its other services, such as Instagram. In the future, Facebook could be the place for soon-to-be 20-somethings to reconnect.
“Depending on Facebook’s continued evolution, as these teens grow older and go through different life events, they may again embrace Facebook,” said LSA’s Sterling. “But I’m also sure that Facebook will continue to make changes and competitive adjustments to try and attract and retain teens. It may be ultimately that they rely on Instagram for that purpose.”