Facebook is like indoor plumbing: You can live without it, but it’s uncomfortable.
It’s thus little surprise to learn a new study has found teens are not ditching Facebook en masse, contrary to previous polls. According to a survey of over 4,500 12- to 17-year-olds released by Forrester Research, young people are using the site in greater numbers and more frequently than any other social media service. Nearly half said they were on Facebook more now than a year ago.
But wait a minute, you might be thinking, didn’t I just read that Facebook was “dead and buried" to teens? You did. You probably also heard that millions of young people had fled the site, while others were fed up with the drama, and still others preferred Instagram to its older parent. Last fall, even Facebook admitted teens were leaving the social network.
But Forrester’s findings aren’t entirely at odds with previous surveys by Pew, Piper Jaffray and others that indicate teens see Facebook as a nuisance filled with mortifying mothers and gossipy friends. In making sense of this conflicting data, it’s helpful to get one thing straight: Teens can use things and hate them, too.
It's an obvious point, but one that seems to go overlooked in the conversation about young people and Facebook, where "not cool" gets conflated with "not using it." Adults consume things they dislike all the time. (My friend shops at Whole Foods, even though he loathes it and could go elsewhere.) Even among 16-year-olds, convenience can trump coolness.
Results from Niche.com's recent survey of over 7,000 high school seniors.
The social network has become too many different services to be replaced outright or even abandoned. It’s the key we use to unlock services, the address book we use to find people, the billboard we rely on to self-promote. Mark Zuckerberg has consistently pursued a strategy of cloning and acquiring apps in a push to make Facebook into the Walmart of social networks -- the friend superstore! That tactic seems to working, even as competing services with more specific functions steal attention away.
Facebook is annoying. So is leaving.
Teens tend to be the tea leaves by which people judge Facebook’s future prospects. They're a hyper-engaged bunch that’s hooked on social media, so there’s some merit to that. But placing that much stock in 14- and 15-year-olds tends to overlook the fact that teens are an evolving group of people in a phase of life defined by trying, ditching and re-embracing new things -- be it apps, body wash, music or a brand of jeans.
It might be time to judge Facebook by a related (and fast-growing) demographic: teens’ parents. They’re the ones Facebook’s advertisers are trying to reach, and the ones with real money to spend.