In this Thursday, April 4, 2013, photo, Michael Goodwin, Senior Partner for HTC, displays an HTC First cell phone wit the new Facebook interface at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
Facebook losing its buzz as younger users defect
- Article by: Katie Humphrey
- Star Tribune
- July 2, 2013 - 9:47 AM
For a glimpse of the changing social media landscape, consider the Witt sisters of Champlin: Courtney, 20, and Claire, 16.
They have Facebook pages but only check them a few times a week. Still, their online social lives are bustling — on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.
Why? “Our parents are on Facebook,” Courtney said.
While adults are flocking to Facebook, teens are migrating to newer, cooler networks that Mom and Dad have yet to discover. That may be a frustration for parents, half of whom initially signed up for Facebook to keep tabs on their kids.
But it’s simply a digital version of the classic game of cat-and-mouse that parents and teenagers have played for decades.
“Teens want to congregate someplace that adults are not,” said Shayla Thiel-Stern, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who studies youth and social media. She likened it to parents and young teens attending a high school football game together.
“During the game, [teens] are going to find a place where they can meet their friends somewhere behind the concession stand,” she said. “This is the online version of that.”
Social scene changes
Bruce Lund of Ankeny, Iowa, signed up for Facebook when his son, now 20, was in high school. Lund said he wanted to build an online presence for the small business he works for, but he also admitted that he wanted to keep an eye on his son, also named Bruce.
But a funny thing happened. Lund, 52, enjoyed being connected to such a massive online community. He found old friends from his student days at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and reconnected with family in Minnesota.
“I got into it knee deep with friends and family and have now found that my son does little there,” Lund said.
His daughter Maddie, 14, also is barely present on Facebook.“We’re still trying to track down where she’s running around on social media,” Lund said.
There’s no doubt that Facebook is still the behemoth of the social media world, with more than 1 billion members. According to the Pew Research Center, 94 percent of teenage social media users have a Facebook profile.
Yet teens told Pew researchers that their enthusiasm for the dominant network is waning because they “dislike the increasing number of adults on the site, get annoyed when their Facebook friends share inane details and are drained by the ‘drama’ that they described as happening frequently on the site,” the report said.
“People started using Facebook as their personal diaries and sharing their problems,” said Claire Becker, 16, of Chanhassen, who said she’s rarely on the network anymore because it’s too cluttered.
Eli Lamm of Minneapolis had the same reaction. The 16-year-old shifted to Instagram and Twitter about a year ago to start fresh after succumbing to a common teen problem: too many friends on Facebook.
Back when the social network was the place to be, lots of friends meant higher status.
“It got spammy,” Lamm said. “I was seeing all this stuff on my timeline I didn’t want to see.”
The one person he didn’t see online? His mom, Katherine Lamm. Both he and his older brother “unfriended” her after a while.
“I was talking to them about what I was seeing on Facebook,” Katherine Lamm said. “They thought I was invading their privacy.”
These days, she checks her boys’ Twitter and Instagram posts occasionally, but admits tracking everything is tough.
“It’s just a whole different challenge now, monitoring kids,” she said. “It’s really hard.”
Teens try new networks
Facebook knows it needs to keep younger users’ attention to stay relevant.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this year, the company wrote, “We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook.”
Since then, Facebook has rolled out new features meant, at least in part, to appeal to teens.
Its Poke app is basically a Snapchat clone for sending photos that disappear after a few seconds. Facebook Home, a software package that puts the social network front-and-center on some smartphones, aims to capture users whose primary Internet access comes through mobile devices.
But the buzz is elsewhere.
When Piper Jaffray & Co. surveyed teens this spring about what social media sites were most important, just 33 percent said Facebook, down from 42 percent in fall 2012. Meanwhile, both Twitter (30 percent) and Instagram (17 percent) gained importance.
If Facebook is home base online — an address book, of sorts — the other emerging networks are where the real socializing happens for the younger set.
“People want to try out the new and they forget the old sites,” Courtney Witt said.
And what’s hot changes almost as fast as gossip in the high school halls.
There’s ask.fm for posing questions and getting anonymous answers from other users. Kik works like texting, except it’s all done in an app under user names, not phone numbers. Vine and Instagram let users post short video clips. Video sharing giant YouTube is also a place to hang out online.
“Most teenagers go toward what’s popular,” said Claire Witt. “They just move around.”
Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286
© 2013 Star Tribune