Are Teens Getting Bored with Facebook – and Whatever Will Marketers Do?

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A research report from Roiworld (which, oddly, has nothing to do with ‘return on investment’) making the rounds today talks up the statistic that “one in five teens (19 percent) with a Facebook profile has either abandoned the site or visits it less than they did a year ago. The exodus looks to be a recent trend, with 68 per cent of teens who have shifted away saying that’s happened in the last six months.” (Montreal Gazette).

Why? The reasons many would suspect actually all polled under 20% each - privacy issues, the multitude of Facebook UI changes, or even too many adults (or event parents) on the site. These were all trumped by something that should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever raised, met, or been a teenager: boredom (45%).

The fact teens are perhaps getting bored with Facebook isn’t all that shocking – teen trends come and go, and what holds true for fashion and entertainment may reasonably hold true for online social networking sites.

Also, it’s important to recall that Facebook wasn’t originally designed for (most) teens, but rather was set up as a tool for offline communities of college students to take those conversations and connections online. Over time the site evolved to include the 13-18 year old set, and then large companies, before inviting the rest of us old farts in. It started as a niche network for the college crowd, and evolved into a generic social platform designed to appeal to the masses.

As Facebook got more generic, perhaps it simply started to lose its uniqueness and appeal to the teen crowd.

Assuming this trend continues, and Facebook’s demographics continue to skew older while teens find other places to hang out online, this has downstream ramifications for both Facebook and the agencies and brands who currently pour hundreds of millions of ad and marketing dollars into it. If tweens and teens develop real affinity (and deep investment) in other social networks, they may be less inclined to make the switch to Facebook when they hit college. They may carry over their affinity for other networks to college and beyond, eventually eating into Facebook’s growth and relevance, rendering the current social media megalith nothing more than a 10-year wonder.

Whatever that “next Facebook” is – or, more likely in my view, whatever collection of less-dominate networks arise – that’s where the ad and engagement dollars currently targeted youth on Facebook will start to flow, and where marketers and agencies will need to develop new expertise in order to reach them.

Or…Facebook will adapt, tweak its features and find new appeal among the teen and tween set to retain its claim as the de facto social platform for 75%+ of us, sucking up the social media marketing dollars at an even greater rate than today.

The uncertainty all this highlights is pretty daunting for marketers: Will Facebook adapt and stay the hot online community to be for all ages, or will a new generation flock to other as-yet-unknown social networks and turn Facebook into a giant echo box for big brands and their 30+ year old followers?

This simply reinforces a critical point for anyone involved in social media marketing: don’t bet it all on a single platform or site. Watch the trends and don’t get sucked into the false belief that because “everyone” is hanging out at Facebook now, they always will be. Facebook has only been around since 2004, and open to all for just the past three and a half years, which in Internet terms places it firmly in middle age. It’s replacement could arise in less time than that.

(Inspired by a tweet from @TobyDiva)