I spent most of last weekend hanging around hundreds of teenage girls who, like me, were trailing around an up-and-coming teen heartthrob who got his big break on social media. I was there for a story, they for selfies, but while we sat cross-legged on the cement floor of a sports arena, they patiently humored my questions about which social networks they use.
Twitter, Vine, Instagram, YouTube, the 13- to 16-year-olds answered. And you guys are all on Facebook, right? I asked my adopted clique, figuring it was such a given, they'd taken their membership there as assumed.
No. Nope. Nuh-uh. Only one girl, in a group of six, had deigned to create an account.
"It’s like the mom and dad version of Instagram and Twitter," a younger girl informed me later.
For the first time, teens now consider Instagram the most important social network on the Internet, according to a semi-annual survey conducted by Piper Jaffray. Instagram replaces Twitter, which just last fall surpassed Facebook's place in the top spot. A year and a half ago, nearly half of teens named Facebook their favorite social site.
The results of Piper Jaffray's latest teen survey, which polled 7,500 people, offer some hard numbers through which to trace the fickle allegiances of young people online.
As the chart below shows, teens may be updating their statuses today, tweeting tomorrow and 'gramming the day after that. The only given? If you've got them now, you'll probably lose them soon.
In less than two years, the share of teens who picked Facebook as the top social media service in their lives has nearly halved from 42 to 23 percent, while Twitter flirted briefly with being their go-to social site before being overtaken by Instagram. Since the fall of 2012, the number of teens who see Instagram as the epicenter of their social lives has more than doubled, from 12 to 30 percent.
This nomadic impulse has had social media sites chasing after teens. And they've actually had some success: What teens have really done over the past two years is leave Facebook for Facebook.
For most of its life, Facebook merely cloned the competition. Yet starting with its acquisition of Instagram in 2012, Facebook has embarked on a unite-and-conquer strategy, seeking to expand its empire and hold on to our time by buying any service on which we socialize. Likewise, Twitter and Yahoo, with services like Vine and Tumblr, respectively, have tried to ensure that when teens ditch them, they'll jump to one of their other offerings. It's the fashion world's model, adapted for tech: Social networks are seasonal, so you'd better have the next trendy offering ready to woo the especially-jumpy -- and especially-engaged -- teen audience.