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Does Facebook Need Teens?

December 30, 2013

An extensive European study concluded that teens are abandoning Facebook in droves, in large part because their parents are now using the network.

"Facebook is not just on the slide — it is basically dead and buried," writes Daniel Miller, professor of Material Culture at University College, London and the study's lead author, in a blog entry of his own work with 16-18 year olds in the UK. "Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it."

At least in the U.K., teens are migrating to a bevy of social tools, including Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram for different purposes to reach a wider or tighter group of friends as well as strangers.

The shift comes despite teens agreeing the replacement networks are "no match for [Facebook] in terms of functionality." Facebook gets high marks for its ability to arrange photos, organize parties and observe people's relationships.

The migration also isn't seen as a statement against data gathering or corporate privacy intrusions, but more about parental intrusion.

"You just can't be young and free if you know your parents can access your every indiscretion," writes Prof. Miller. "The desire for the new, also drives each new generation to find their own media and this is playing out now in social media."

The study added to the debate around whether Facebook, built on teens and college students, needs teenagers. Facebook admitted in its October earnings call that the company was losing favor with teens, specifically daily active users.

Beyond losing advertisers looking to reach teens, the quick demise of MySpace concerns some about what could happen when a network loses its teen base. The counterargument points to the benefits for Facebook reaching mainstream.

Selena Larson writes on ReadWrite.com: "Facebook is attempting to become a platform for finding and sharing news and current events, not just for interacting with friends. Recent updates to the social network have aimed to create a news feed that isn't filled with memes and selfies — and that's thus more meaningful."


Discussion Questions:

Should retailers be concerned about Facebook apparently losing its teen base? Do you see wider benefits from mainstream acceptance and other ongoing changes in Facebook's platform?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

At this point in its development, how much does Facebook need its teen base?


This seems like a bit of a distorted take on the findings. In the piece I read, there was acknowledgment that the authors could not tell if the teens were really abandoning it, or if they were just saying they were.

Overall, it seems that Facebook has become the teenaged version of LinkedIn. You have to be there so people can find you, but you don't go there every day.

I think at this point in Facebook's growth it has to follow the money, and that's in the adult age zone.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

It seems to be the mantra of teens to "rebel" and reject most things liked by their parents. It's in their DNA to search out new things and ways to be different.

Teen Facebook rejection could be a trend that concerns retailers trying to reach teens as a primary segment. However, this holiday's gatherings indicate that Facebook has become "mainstream" for many families ... across generations including grandparents. This bodes well for retailers marketing to families.

The key success factor of any social media is generating dialog and relationships, not volume of "likes."

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

The only retailers that should be concerned are those attempting to market to teens using Facebook.

Facebook is a fad, albeit the most popular one of the past ten years. It is not going away, but the thing that made it so hip and trendy for youth has long gone away; it's mainstream — the kiss of death.

In 2004, my daughter, a college freshman, wanted me to see a post that her brother, a college senior, had left that she found troubling. I couldn't register, so she had to give me her login info. Back then, Facebook was a hip trendy way for teens and young adults to keep connected without worrying about adult authority figures eavesdropping.

Mainstream retailers wanting to appeal to mainstream buyers should continue to marking using mainstream media, and Facebook is one of many options for doing just that. Unfortunately, teens will continue to search for that which is anything but mainstream.

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Eric Chester, Keynote Speaker, Author, Reviving Work Ethic, LLC

As with any advertising tool, retailers need to target their key customers with laser focus. If Facebook allows a retailer to reach customers at a reasonable price, it should be in the marketing mix. With 1.3 billion users and the ability to micro-target, Facebook can deliver for most retailers.

The difficulty is that most retailers do not understand how to best use Facebook or other social media outlets to communicate with consumers.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

I don't think there will ever be a single network that is the most appealing destination for all segments retailers would like to reach. By definition, as a network gets more popular with some cohorts, others will gravitate to different mediums.

Further, even if teens don't "abandon" Facebook, what percentage of their internet time does it get? How credible/influential is the paid content on Facebook to teens?

If retailers are more concerned with "earned" impressions, then the network that shoppers use to spread and consume those earned experiences isn't all that important; the earned impressions move with the audience. But as long as retailers stay dependent on interrupt-driven paid advertising, they will always be chasing the next big audience.

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Jason Goldberg, VP Commerce Strategy, Razorfish

I doubt that the departure of teens will be the demise of Facebook. They will migrate to some other platform where their parents are not and older adults will provide a lucrative audience for Facebook, at least for now.

Facebook should be more concerned about the process and conventions toward privacy. Many adults have already left Facebook due to their concerns about how Facebook defaults towards having access to personal information, despite the level of viewership one selects. For everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn.

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

Reporting on the imminent demise of [fill in the medium] makes for great headlines, but we should avoid hyperventilating. After all, the century-old practice of grinding up trees, rolling them flat, dying them with ink, and having actual humans hand-deliver them to people's homes (so that they can be returned, unread, to the recycling plant to repeat the process) has stubbornly survived despite all reason and logic.

Sure, marketers should keep a finger on the pulse of media and technology. But instead of obsessing over which touchpoint is trending which way with which demographic, invest your time in making sure each message is relevant to the actual recipient, whatever medium you use. Getting in front of your target audience only to be ignored or blocked by them is even worse than missing them entirely.

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Ben Sprecher, Business Development, Google

Retailers shouldn't be concerned because the reports of Facebook's demise have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. It still has room for growth, as it becomes more mainstream.

I have, of course, been taught to be sparing in my "likes" and "comments" on my adult kids' Facebook posts. But they are a great way for families to keep in touch. As my first grandchild was being born, my son posted news of the event on Facebook as it was happening in the delivery room. Of course I didn't know he was doing that, and was trying to reach him on the phone, which he wasn't answering. (How about a story on how the younger generation only texts and the "demise" of speaking on the telephone). Almost in tears because my son wasn't reaching out to me about the blessed event, I called my daughter, and she said "It's all over Facebook, dad!" The "duh" was implied.

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Warren Thayer, Editor & Managing Partner, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Retailers need to monitor the usefulness of any "fashion-like" trend to determine its effectiveness and ROI. This is as true of a novel advertising medium as it is of a trendy new SKU. The only thing that has really changed in today's world vs. say retail of 50 years ago is the speed at which trends pass. With the number of media available to a retailer to communicate with their target audience today, some process of "assortment rationalization" needs to be in place as an SOP in marketing.

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Peter J. Charness, SVP America, Global CMO, TXT Group

For marketers in a shape-shifting digital environment, it's easy to take the "easy way out" and put your efforts where the talking heads say your audience is going to be found. Facebook and the pundits have said it is such a place. Maybe - maybe not.

The only thing that remains constant across the digital landscape is that everything is open to disruption and change. MySpace felt it and who knows, Facebook may yet feel it too. So, brands and retailers have to accept that they must keep moving and evolving with their customers, go where they are, and interact with them by whatever means they accept/demand at that point in time. And... I would NEVER accept that there is just one place to engage and build trust with consumers, even if that place has a billion user accounts.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Retailers shouldn't be concerned with Facebook losing its teen bass - even if the primary target customer are teens. They should be more concerned about migrating to the new communication/marketing platforms that teens are using.

And it really doesn't matter if it's teens, millennials, boomers, etc. Retailers should be where there customers are. It could be Facebook, Twitter - or any other channel. Be where your customers are. It's that simple.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

The challenge seems to be that Facebook has become almost unavoidable. Only if you have the training or a lot of time (like a teenager) can you afford to look for alternatives. Of course you can avoid the issue altogether by using one of the private social networks for your family and friends but then you have to get all of them to join a common alternative. Again, this may be possible in a highly concentrated social environment such as a high school.

But the strength of Facebook is not from its users but rather the support it provides to other service providers that makes it easier for them to recruit, sign up, and promote their individual services. Facebook allows service providers to search existing user preferences to locate new potential users for their own service. Users can automatically signup for a new service by using their Facebook credentials. Finally, users who are "on Facebook" can be targeted for real time advertising and services. So it is really this "platform" aspect of Facebook that protects its appeal.

But there is a lot of pushback now from consumers as the whole extent of the NSA monitoring has raised the awareness of the type of surveillance that is possible. After 9/11, I think consumers were kind of okay with "whatever it takes" to keep them safe. But as memories have begun to fade and the potential threat of mass surveillance has become a reality, the "creepiness" of being under constant observation has begun to sink in. Even if they are doing nothing wrong, consumers like to know they can still have some privacy (no cameras in the dressing rooms please).

Facebook has given users more privacy features, but I don't think it has done a good job of promoting them. This might be their mistake. While the concern has been giving access to their service providers, Facebook has underestimated the change of mood in their users. It is difficult to imagine Facebook going the way of MySpace, but I think they have to do a lot more to reassure users that they still have control of their privacy.

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Bill Bittner, Principal, BWH Consulting

I agree with Paula; Facebook must follow the money which is in the pockets of adults. That said, it will be interesting to see if teens who spurn Facebook migrate to it in adulthood.

Facebook is firmly entrenched with adults and will survive a very long time if it becomes the go to social media as the consumer matures. If not, it will have a good run with the subscribers it has but will die a slow death.

Retailers need to be where their customers are and that means having a high level of awareness about how their customers are communicating with each other and being there.

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

As has been stated before, social channels will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. As new channels arise, teens will strive to find their own hiding spot. In the mean time, I believe Facebook has the management staff to keep it relevant with older people and its growing portfolio of services should keep it in the mix, at least a lot more than MySpace did.

There are definitely lessons to be learn from failures so far, however, I believe that teens will continue to drive new channels to keep their attention spans captured.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

No. As Facebook's audience matured, so did its business model! It had to in order to be a viable platform. Teens don't take to business models and want things to be all about themselves so yes, Facebook's appeal is lost on them for now.

When said teens grow up and understand that life does include family, co-workers, past classmates, etc., then they too will join the mature generation. Who knows what vehicle will be in place at that time, but life and sharing will go on.

Facebook was smart to mature, grab the older generation and create a platform that both they and their users could value. All the way to the bank!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

The challenge that Facebook faces is people are abandoning "broadcasting" and are choosing "narrowcasting." You don't want your feed bogged down by the status updates of 300 people you hardly know. You are also realizing that broadcasting status updates has long-term security and privacy implications.

Facebook was designed around broad reach and is finding it difficult to be nimble, targeted and private. People are tired of the "noise" and concerned with the lack of privacy Facebook is known for. I personally think that, in its current incarnation, Facebook's slow and continued decline is irreversible in a targeted and privacy-aware world.

Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

Great discussion material. In this we see how quickly the Information Technology (IT) market derails what are misunderstood to be powerhouse companies. During the evolution of IT from tubes to solid state, from analog to digital, and from wired to wireless, we have seen thousands of companies rise from nothing and grow to elite status and just as quickly go away forever. Most notably companies like Digital Equipment, Compaq, Ashton Tate, and many more.

The one common denominator among these and others was the disconnect from the market. This was always identifiable by the existence of a small power base that freely pontificated about the future of IT.

Companies ruled by a single minded vision hitting the wall are not found exclusively in the IT industry, but it happens in IT often. Our friends at Facebook need to follow market needs and wants or someone else will do it for them.


There's another possible take on these "findings": FB has swapped a group of trend-hopping people whose interests are 1.6 kilometers wide but 2.5 cm deep, and - most importantly - have relatively little disposable income, for people who are stable, mature and have high-incomes. You know...adults. So they should be greatly concerned...as in grateful. The problem with that, of course, is that eventually the 18+ set will become similarly disinterested: tel fils, tel pere?


While I am not wholly convinced by this report, I do not think that retailers need to be terribly concerned by this change. Retailers will need to find the appropriate channels and communicate with the appropriate audiences. If Facebook users decide to truly move away from Facebook, retailers will need to adapt and send messages to the audiences who are participating within Facebook, and additionally find the new channels that younger audiences have moved to.

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Jesse Karp, Omnichannel Consulting Manager & Loyalty Practice Lead, Cognizant Business Consulting

The future success of Facebook will be with the younger adult market. Facebook will grow and prosper as its teen users become adult users.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

It would actually be easier for retailers if teens just left Facebook for another platform. I have teenagers, and they haven't stopped using Facebook altogether. They just also use Twitter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, Pintrest, Tumblir, and others coming online.

Retailers targeting teens will just have to continue to follow them as they add more social media platforms.

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Doug Fleener, President and Managing Partner, Dynamic Experiences Group

I think the question comes down to frequency. We know there is a (very) broad reach. But if facebook does begin to show signs of just being a "directory" where users have an account to be able to keep track of contacts without frequent engagement, then brands will need to look hard at where they are spending their money. YouTube maybe?

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Matt Schmitt, President & Chief Experience Officer, Reflect

It is unclear that Facebook is losing its teen base. There are other successful social networks springing up to be sure, but they round out an experience that is still centered on Facebook. Let me point out that teens seem to have embraced Twitter NOW, but adoption actually started with older internet users. Obviously one could have asked the same question about Twitter and in hindsight, we see the answer is "no," they did NOT have to be concerned about having a low index of use among teens.

Facebook is a monster social platform that offers reach, precise targeting that goes beyond what analog media can offer, and offers connections across screens. Facebook is a leader and will continue to innovate its ad models and products in a way that will attract EVEN MORE ad revenues.

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Joel Rubinson, President, Rubinson Partners, Inc.

Though the teen base is not using Facebook actively for sharing, but they all do login for promotions, so depending on the retailers target market, they should not be worried as much.

No easy way to manage privacy has always been a concern for Facebook users, not just teens but also across age groups as they started facing consequences of sharing too much.

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Shilpa Rao, Practice Head - Merchandising, Tata Consultancy Services

Retailers, and Facebook itself, should be very concerned about teens abandoning the platform. First, those teens control billions in discretionary spending right now, and second, if they leave FB now they are unlikely to return, which can kill the financial benefits of the platform in the long-term.

FB needs to acquire some of the teen apps and provide connections that teens will support to stay viable in the long-term.

Critical issue!

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, M Squared Group, Inc.

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