Is Facebook Losing its Coveted Demographic?

comScore recently released a report that triggered nothing short of a “sky is falling” media panic. Led by Adweek asking if Facebook is getting uncool for the 18-24 year olds, the media is speculating as to whether or not a mass exodus is underway with much of the blame focusing on parents “ruining the party” for younger demographics.

Here’s what we do know…

comScore is reporting that time spent on Facebook by 18-24 year olds is waning. In July 2009, minutes spent on Facebook dropped by 3%. In August, it plummeted 13%. By September, minutes spent on Facebook crumbled by 16%.

What we don’t know…

Are other factors at play here?

For example, do the summer months affect the data?

How much of that time was documented on desktops versus mobile phones? After all, the Facebook iPhone app represents the almost “perfect” mobile interface for engaging within a 300 million strong social network. Remember, even Twitter reminds us that its greatest growth is currently within the mobile front.

Onward…

Right here, right now, Facebook is beyond relevant, regardless of age group. Not only are we changing how we form relationships in the social web, how and where we’re engaging is also evolving. Do not underestimate the extent of mobile and other vertical platforms. In just the last week, the Microsoft Xbox network opened up access to Facebook, and almost immediately, 2 million gamers jumped on board.

Adweek asks if Facebook is becoming uncool among 18-24 years olds.  I suppose it’s an interesting question when the basis for documenting cool and uncool is rooted in the amount of minutes you spend within a social network. Facebook proudly states that more than 8 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide). And, with the recent news regarding Xbox, how many of the two million gamers fall within the 18-24 age group?

The reality is that our attention is thinning, testing its elasticity with every pull of a shiny new network, service, or application.

A three month drop in time however, is nothing to ignore. It’s also not a reason to sound the alarms.

Certainly comparisons can be drawn between MySpace and Facebook. Although MySpace still boasts a network of over 260 million users, its status resides in the rear view mirror of Facebook.

While MySpace gave free reign to users over design elements on their pages, mostly with disastrous effects, Facebook’s architecture and design is clean. To some though, it might feel a bit ordinary or even lackluster.

But uncool? That’s a state of psychology that I can’t analyze. Nor do I think it’s possible to discern from the data contained within the comScore report.

Mark Potts, North American managing director for consumer insights at Mindshare, believes Facebook is losing its cool with this demographic, “There’s a ‘parents turn up at the party, the party’s over’ kind of thing going on.”

But there’s more to the story…

Social Media Expands Our Social Networks (and Horizons) in Real Life

The trend that isn’t discussed in these doomsday articles is the transformation in how we forge and maintain contacts in the social web. We’re no longer limiting ties to those we know. We’re expanding our connections based on those we know, those we want to know, and those who want to know us.

Mark Potts discussed this trend in his discussion with Adweek:

We began getting comments like they didn’t know how they acquired 300 friends when they didn’t know half the people on the list. They talked about using it more to coordinate events and gatherings but less so overall because of something lacking in the quality of the friendships.

There’s something to be said about quality over quantity. However, there is also value in learning how to adapt based on how the users within the network interact with one another. In many ways, we’re building and joining communities around our online persona. Or as Seth Godin states, many are building Tribes.

Just for the record, Facebook states that the average user has 130 friends on the site.

Mindshare surveyed 1,200 consumers in August 2009 about their social-networking habits.  51% of the 18- to 24-year-old respondents agreed that “social-networking sites like Facebook are diluting the quality of relationships.”  40% of that group said they now visit social networks that are based on particular interests, such as TV, music or movies.

As Mindshare observes, but stops short of formally acknowledging, is that in this current state of social networking, we are forming contextual networks that link us through common interests, aspirations, and events. This is a study I would love to conduct with Mindshare.

What’s important to realize is that we are in control of our social graph and our experience within ANY social network simply by selecting those we choose to follow and connect.

I’d argue that the value of Facebook has yet to be realized by those who simply interact in a recreational capacity. It’s the reason why I maintain more than one account (sorry Facebook, I know that goes against your policy). But, I needed to divide personal interaction from professional connections. In that action however, I concede to the potential of Facebook. It is vibrant, growing, and immersive, and it requires cultivation and direction. But this is true in every burgeoning network.

One profile will not serve all – not in Facebook, not in Twitter, not in any social network.

The true dilution is not in relationships, but in how we choose to invest in and also manage them. We will eventually need to embrace a “multiple personality order” approach as the lines blur between who we are personally and professionally.

And, as our personal brands are affected by how we use social media, constructed by each individual update we post within every social network, we need to take the reigns on how we share and steer our online persona. Indeed, we cast digital shadows, but what works against us, can work in our favor.

Casting digital shadows is more powerful and promising for the 18-24 demographic than they realize today.

The Untapped Value of Facebook is in the Social Graph

As comScore observes, Facebook has gained a broader audience, it has triggered a decline in usage among the older teens and twentysomethings that drove Facebook’s initial popularity. According to Facebook stats, the fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older.

But what Facebook misses in design aesthetics is overcompensated by the human algorithm – the resonance that transpires with every interaction as it traverses across the individual social graph as well as the friends of friends (FoF) network.

Perhaps family is partly to blame for instilling an uncool factor. It’s one of the reasons that now popular sites have sprung up to document the awkward moments in public family interaction. But as we’ve discussed, the potential for extending our personal brands as well as our experiences and knowledge lie in the quality of our social graph.

While the debate may seem futile, it has its effects on social marketing and advertising planning and budgeting for 2010.

As Adweek observes:

The numbers have fueled a debate among agencies about the implications for marketers. For some, it has raised a warning flag that if the trend continues, clients may have to revise their social-network marketing strategies. Others believe Facebook’s broader growth outweighs any declining usage by the college-age crowd.

Right now, MySpace is currently planning a renaissance and will emerge as a more focused, rewarding experience for those focused on media and entertainment.

Concurrently, Facebook has created an infrastructure for users to weave together relationships into a powerful and productive human network. It pulls activity from internal applications and also updates from other social networks (including Twitter) into one news feed to serve as the primary source for all Web activity. The news feed is what connects us to our friends, family, peers, and mentors. It’s how we learn, share, discover, and interact.  In that sense, Facebook is unrivaled.

As a conduit to coveted demographics, Facebook is powerful. As a looking glass and bridge to invaluable psychographics and the networks that connect them, Facebook is without an equal.

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  • hackmanj

    Are the statistics year over year or month to month?

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      They are month over month…

    • hackmanj

      Very interesting, I wonder what will happen after the Xbox influx settles down. Keep us posted, very interesting stuff.

  • Saratara

    Could it be that the percentage is going down because the other age groups have been rising? I think my generation, regardless of cool factor, are not jumping ship on the network we have become dependent on for events, making first contact for collaboration, and even daily conversation with friends.

    What people don't admit is that Facebook could make crazy changes and invade our privacy; and we are not going anywhere because the network had infiltrated our daily life and how we communicate and function.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewcp matthewcp

    facebook isn't cool anymore because of the parent/family factor. I would say that accounts for 90% of the decline. I have a friend who removed one of my comments because I made a marijuana joke… because her family uses facebook too…. and i'm not even in the 18-24 demo.

  • http://twitter.com/toddwhitley todd whitley

    my 22 yr old finally got back on FB after a bad experience with a girl. he's on it now and then…but loves sharing his wakeskate videos, posting little anecdotes now and then, and keeping up with our extended family. he has NO qualms about his mom and me being on there. The 18 yr old FINALLY got onto FB *just* this year (after dissing it forever) but still prefers MS. i know he doesn't so much like that i'm on it and a couple times i had to remind him that his “MOTHER is on FB too so watch your language!” the 16 year old–who seems to be thrilled i'm on his FB (altho he's not the one whose antics are so disapproved by dad)–loves it almost as much as i do and was one of the 2 million who joined the Xbox-FB revolution–along with the 15 year old son who rarely is on FB but will be moreso now bcz of Xbox.
    I don't sense an “uncoolness” about it from any of them. To me, it's just aNOTHER “thing they do.” Much like chatting was and texting IS. Everyone does it. It's *another* way they communicate, keep in touch, schedule, and share their lives. Along with texting, some emailing, some twitter, and oh yeah a LOT of texting. *ha*
    The “multiple personality order” comment is RIGHT ON…for all of us, regardless of demographic. Especially once you add twitter and any other social networking tools.
    None of them is on twitter yet but I think they will catch on once more of their friends do. (Actually, I'm the only one of our 6 who is….)

    Side note: I'm 41 and their 47 yr old mother is on it more than all of us combined. too bad SHE's not in the coveted demographic! ;)

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Todd thank you for sharing…good stuff. :)

    • http://www.olindaservices.com/osblog Lisa Olinda

      My 3 kids who are Facebook also like Mom and Dad on it. I often IM my daughter from my office and her room. She is 17 and we often joke with each other on our FB walls. Our friends think it is hilarious.

  • http://twitter.com/ThomasE Thomas Euler

    There is another point to be mentioned in the context of the decreasing time spent on Facebook: The early adopter users that used Facebook in the beginning were quite likely heavy users. In comparison, those mainstream users who started using FB in the last couple of months (especially in Europe FB is just taking of right now) are quite likely sporadic web users in general. Hence, it doesn't surprise that the average time spent decreases as a service becomes increasingly popular. The same is true for many other communities too.

    Therefore, making conclusions about a service's popularity based on the time users spend there doesn't make sense before the total number of users has leveled out at a certain stage.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Thomas, I couldn't agree more!

  • JessicaP

    I wholeheartedly agree with Facebook becoming “uncool” because of the parent/ “responsible adult” factor. As someone just slightly out of the 18-24 range, I can attest to the fact that I have greatly edited my profile and deleted more than one of my friends' comments (that was hilarious at the time) because my parents friended me. As a former Facebook addict, I now only check it every couple of days (down from several times daily) and am careful about the photos/ comments/ links I post now. Bummer.

    Good luck Facebook!

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Jessica, I believe that…have you considered a second account? If not, how are you interacting with friends online?

    • cstom

      And why you HAVE TO accept your parents' friend-req?
      All reasonable parents know that the offspring ;) needs some private life, where they can be in contact with friends. Just tell them, that's it.
      They can still reach you up to the minute on ICQ, Skype or whatever other IM you're having, right?

  • alejandrorecio

    The parents crashed the party! Looking at the bright side its an important chance for Facebook to enhance their applications. It seems that Facebook forgot that people have different faces. They might have work faces, family faces and friends faces, this is just an example of how social media must adapt to show the different versions of oneself and the complexity of people. People have masks in real life, so if the cyber world is going to represent us, maybe it should too.

    • Mark

      I'm dealing with that part of FB too. FB puts all of your contacts in one room so everything you say is always on display to everyone. Your grandma, high school friends, co-workers, etc are all different and FB should let you talk to each group. I self-censor a lot.

  • http://www.theComplexMedia.com theComplex

    Interesting…

    I guess it's safe to say that we 18-24's may be shying away from Facebook due to the older crowd which includes our parents, colleagues, older family, etc. The fun of Facebook revolved around photos, tagging, interacting freely… and now people are finding that they need to strip their profiles and essentially their personalities from their accounts.

    I cannot say that the newcomers are a personal issue as I've utilized the option of restricting access to certain groups since it was enabled. I choose only to log onto the actual Facebook site only to check notifications or remove someone's silly Application update from my feed. I use Tweetdeck to maintain my general Facebook feed.

    My issue is with Facebook's new homepage. There is far too much clicking needed to simply check my feed now. We're forced to check Status Updates, a News Feed that I don't understand, and a Live Feed full of crap all separately. I do not care who my friends are adding as friends nor do I care what they are now a fan of. I don't know what Facebook's testing process is, but I'm ready to closing my account or begin ignoring it completely due to this failure.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Fascinating. I can absolutely see your point. Is there an alternative for you if you do resign Facebook?

  • Pingback: Decline in Facebook Usage for the College-aged « Bmabry’s Blog

  • http://www.platformmagazine.com/ Enelda Butler

    As a member of the 18-24, I would definitely say that I use Facebook less often than I used to. I remember when Facebook became popular during my senior year of high school you had to be invited to join the site. Now anyone that can join, it makes the site less appealing.

    I agree that the family aspect plays a role in this decrease as well. Luckily, my parents aren't on Facebook, but I tend to avoid responding to friend requests from certain family members.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Thanks for sharing Enelda…

  • http://www.socom.com.au/ David Hawkins

    Brian, Read your book with interest, thank you. However, as long as practitioners remain in the realm of communication we will miss the mark. To explain, firstly I am not internet savvy and found the book interesting from that perspective. The focus seemed to be on the engagement and particpation of publics.

    As I see it the key is not how we communicate, although important. More important is the way an organisation behaves and interacts with its publics, online and offline. Once we get this right, we should reduce any negativity, online or offline. I think we need to put the 'relations' back into PR though telling clients that all the comms will be useless unless there is a clear value proposition and we treat people with respect. This equates to a change of culture.

    Have researched this quite a bit.

    When we do this, we will be ready for PR 3.0 but it will be a revolution in the on and offline PR world.

    Regards
    David

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Well said…hence the title of the book. :)

      Re: PR 3.0, let's just call it Public Relations (I created this a while back…http://www.pr30.com )

  • http://card.ly/CourtneyPong Courtney Pong

    When MySpace was at its height and Facebook (Or SpaceBook, as my father once referred to it) was on the fast rise, I had to fight the good fight. You know the one- where you defend to your core that it's not just for emo kids and “nerds” who spent more time interacting w/ “CyberChick29″ than real people, but that it was a great way to keep in contact with your scattered-about friends and be somewhat pacified that if your cell phone was to take a dunk in the toilet and/or lake, you could still contact “Somebody, ANYBODY!” (seeing as how no one can memorize a phone number now if our lives depended on it.)
    As I gladly watched Facebook become a part of my daily routine, I watched the masses (so…my friends parents and then my own) go kicking and screaming into it.
    Having to defend Social Networking can be exhausting.
    You're constantly batting off self-righteous comments of “I don't have time for that.” and “I pick up the phone and call people, THAT'S how you interact.” Which is fine…but…you only get out what you put in.
    So we watched people put in events and coordinate kickball games and update memorial information. Yahtzee. The value was perceived. Or, we're gettin' there. Slowly but surely.
    “The true dilution is not in the relationships, but how we choose to invest in and also manage them,” has never been more applicable than now.

    And with that, I simply have to get back to sending my friends jager bombs and Adopt This Puppy requests…prospective employers respect that, right?
    No?
    …I was just being expressive.

  • http://daretocomment.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Brian-

    Reasons why I don't spend nearly as much time on Facebook:

    -Early adopters like me were college students at the time (as required), and there was a certain look & feel that was very collegiate. I miss that aesthetic, but it's also less relevant now that I've graduated.

    -Apps have been abused and users have been used. I do not want to join your mafia gang. I do not want to take your quiz.

    -Despite my best efforts, keeping my profile free of inappropriate content has proven difficult. I can only be so selective about who I associate with, but beyond this I'm largely powerless.

    -It's interesting that you mentioned adoption by parents as being a spoiler. My Facebook experience was spoiled to a far greater extent by the youngins out there. No fault, no blame–it's just not my bag anymore socially.

    -All of these factors will need to be considered if we want Facebook to live up to its potential as the next big business tool.

  • Tanya

    Hi all !

    http://www.noodls.com should definitely be top on your list. If you want to keep in the loop and stay up-to-date, you should be using http://www.noodls.com. It is the No. 1 “Gateway To Facts” and your source to official information in real time! It is a veritable treasure and equally media-savvy giving you more coverage and less noise. Check it out now.

    Cheerio !

  • http://www.facebook.com/costawel Stephane Gauvin

    A second account defeats the purpose of Facebook and juggling identities is a pain. Lists and groups do a better job. (But these are new features that the early adopters may not feel like using.)

    It is true that parents and professional friends are penetrating “kids” territory. There could be a chilling effect. But it is also true that many in the 20+ crowd are becoming parents and workers themselves.

    Facebook is (was?) largely the land of trivia for friends. I would think that Facebook might replace the myriad of connectors we are using (a mixture of blogs, twitter, Linkedin, delicious and so on).

  • http://www.brandonsutton.com Brandon101

    Excellent post Brian! I wrote a white paper on this topic in October of last year. Check it out if you have a moment. http://www.brandonsutton.com/facebook-is-dead/

    A couple of thoughts to add to the great discussion here in the comments:

    I've been thinking about this whole 'multiple personality' topic a lot lately, and the idealist in me wants to believe that as time goes on, we will actually merge more of our personal and professional identity together online. I say this because we (the social media preacher types, hehe) talk about transparency and honest, open dialogue with consumers. Does it not stand to reason that as the leaders of big organizations become more comfortable with having this type of conversation with consumers, they would also be more accepting of their employees personal identities on networks like Facebook? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. But even if that's too 'blue sky,' Facebook already has decent privacy settings and the ability to filter who sees what. Here's a big 'what if': what if like in TweetDeck when you are updating your status and you decide which accounts you want to post to (Facebook profiles, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.) – what if Facebook changed the status updates to offer this flexibility. In other words, what if you still maintained the same Facebook profile, but you could decide whether your status updates (and the resulting comments) were visible to the groups you set up in your privacy settings. I'd be willing to bet this would go a LONG way toward making people more comfortable with posting more of their personal life without stressing about mom or the boss seeing it. After all, the News Feed is the gold mine and the primary reason for engagement, so preserving its usefulness should be priority #1 for Facebook. Thoughts?

    You also touched on an important point toward the end of the post regarding the implication for Marketers. In my white paper I proposed that it's indeed futile to try to think too far out with these networks. The reality is that opportunities in digital and social channels arise and change quickly (ask anyone that develops Facebook apps or manages a Facebook page). I believe that the best approach is to remain nimble and realize that the hot new shiny toy may not be as effective this time next year. This is NOT an excuse to sit on the sidelines and wait for the next big thing. To the contrary, it's all the more reason to engage NOW while the tools are hot. We should always keep an eye to the future, but not to the point that we become paralyzed by the 'what if' discussions. After all, with a well thought out strategy, the tools (or networks in this case) aren't the primary focus. I'm really glad you brought this point up, as I believe a lot of brands missed the boat on MySpace originally, perhaps because they wanted to make sure it had staying power or that it wasn't going to get replaced by another network. That same pattern could repeat itself if Marketers shy away from Facebook due to a perceived drop-off in popularity. As you mentioned, Facebook isn't going anywhere – at least anytime soon. Being able to adapt to the changing dynamics on Facebook and indeed all social channels is critical in my opinion.

    Thanks again for the excellent discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • Pingback: Is Mark Zuckerberg Drinking the Social Kool-Aid? | BrandonSutton.com – Embracing Community

  • CitizenWhy

    Funny you do not mention Twitter. The big attractions of Twitter are:

    1. You can keep yourself anonymous. Parents and employers cannot find you. You can even sign up under a fake name, then choose an entirely different name to go by. You tell people how to find you, but you do not tell THEM. You keep a few things going on Facebook so parents think that's how you stay in touch with friends. Hah!

    2. You click once to get in. Just keep it open, do not log out.

    3. You can block anyone you want. Poof, they're gone.

    4. You can close/wipe out an account. Poof, it's gone. Then open another one.

    5. Me? I am the demographic no one wants – retired. But I greatly enjoy “listening” to the voices of some younger people I follow, mainly in Britain in Ireland, where the language is much more energetic and the personalities individualistic or of an interesting type. Plus comedians, or witty social commentators. But mainly I use Twitter as a source of information – events (mainly cultural) coming up, newspaper articles, other articles, interest groups. But some people do respond to my Tweets, and I respond to many, getting genuine responses back. Note: Twitter has officially declared itself an information network, not a social network.

    6. I have told no one I know what my Twitter name is. Don't want them to follow, don't want to follow them. They can use the phone.

    7. I sometimes amuse myself by pretending to Tweet as well known figures (such as Santa) and saying weird things in that voice. I do not care if anyone follows (they keep adding, though). ) Other Tweets are somewhat serious. I see my Tweets as notes to myself.

    Mainly, Twitter is quick and fun. 140 characters are enough to get a point across.

  • http://www.DowellTaggart.com dowelltaggart

    Doesn't the under 35 still represent over 50% of the users on Facebbook? Sure Facebook is being affected. Maybe it is more adults on Facebook or it could be there are much more choices. 3 years ago there were few choices, now there are thousands.

  • http://twitter.com/pacepe Paulo Cepeda

    Hi Brian, as always, very good article!

  • http://www.buxmontdigital.com/ Craig Peters

    I think Facebook is in danger of losing their coveted demo in a big way by the very thing that makes that demo coveted: advertising. More here: http://www.buxmontdigital.com/blog/2009/11/17/a

  • http://twitter.com/toddwhitley todd whitley

    heck, i'm 41 and i'm VERY choosy about what family members join my facebook!
    but that's essentially no different from the ones i'd have dinner with or invite into my own home!

    ;)

  • http://www.MatureMarketingMatters.com/ Erin Read Ruddick

    I'd argue that 18-24 year olds are NOT the “coveted demographic.” Not for everyone.

    There are more than 115 million adults over the age of 40. They wield trillions of dollars in spending power. 50+ers in the US own more than 3/4 of the nation's wealth, and possess more than 50% of all discretionary spending.

    Just looking at one industry, travel, you'll find that Baby Boomers take 45% of all trips each year and spend the most online for travel. 65+ Americans take another 24% of all trips and spend more online than Gen X.

    These Baby Boomers and beyond may be getting more active on Facebook (http://bit.ly/3Js8iX). Most are also housing or paying for the education of their 18-24 year od kids.

    Todd Whitely has it right – his 47-year-old wife, who's highly engaged with Facebook each and every day and a driver of family spending, is a better bet for marketers than an 18-year-old who occasionally posts an update and worries about whether his purchases or actions make him look “cool.”

    As always Brian, interesting and thought-provoking post. Thank you.

  • http://www.olindaservices.com/osblog Lisa Olinda

    I found this interesting as I have 2 sons who fall into this demographic and they do not use Facebook as much because of college & time restrictions. Also as they have “matured” they feel like it is high schoolish.

    I was on LinkedIn yesterday and someone was complaining because there are so many college students on that platform and asking college related questions. They felt that LinkedIn was losing its professionalism. Maybe that is where all the Facebook users have gone.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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