The Social Side of College Admissions

Demise of Facebook a Little Premature?

June 11, 2009

Everywhere I look, I seem to see reports of the demise of Facebook among teenagers. The standard logic goes something like this:

  • Parents have now found Facebook
    The fastest growing demographic is women over 55.
  • Teens don't want to be where parents are
    Inevitably, their parents are going to friend them, throwing open the doors to all the conversations between teens and their friends and all the pictures their children are tagged in.
  • Therefore, teens are going to go elsewhere to connect socially.
    Upset at the invasion of their social space, teens look for another social network where they can connect without the prying eyes of parents.

Hold on a minute before you write off Facebook

1. Facebook is still growing among teens

Don't let the oft-quoted fact that women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic overshadow the fact that teens are still signing up for Facebook.

On February 1, 2009, 5.45 million U.S. teens used Facebook. By March 25, this figure had reached 6.05 million. In a little under two months this year, Facebook added more than a half million teenage users (aged 13-17) in the U.S. That's 11% growth in under two months, folks. Not too shabby.

2. Facebook has very strong privacy settings

Of all the major social networks, Facebook probably has the best privacy settings. You can limit access to your profile on a user-by-user basis if you want to get to that level of detail. If I don't want my mom to see my photos, I can change my privacy settings so that she cannot view any photos I upload or am tagged in. Maybe there's just one album that I'm worried about her seeing. No worries... I can just turn off her access to that potentially incriminating album. She'll probably never realize that she doesn't have access to it.

That level of granularity gives users a lot of control over their Facebook presence. Sure, it may take a little work, but not nearly as much work as switching to a new social network.

3. The network effect is strong

The power of social networks is their ability to help you make new social connections and strengthen existing social connections. The more of my friends and acquaintances that are on a social network, the more likely I'm going to want to join and participate in that network. Moreover, as I invest in the network (uploading photos, adding friends, taking quizzes, joining groups, becoming a fan of pages, and more), the greater the cost of switching to a new network.

Think of it like a party. Being the 1st person to the party is usually not as fun as being the 20th person to the party. This desire to be where the action is happening is likely even stronger among teens. If half my friends are on Facebook and only a handful are on MySpace, it is likely much more valuable and enjoyable to participate in Facebook.

The Google of Social Networking

I often think of Facebook as the Google of social networking. It wasn't first, or even second for that matter. But it seems to have done a good enough job to rise above the rest and establish itself as the standard. Like Google, Facebook has focused less on monetizing up front and more on creating the right user experience.

Still Unsure... Facebook vs. MySpace

It's not as though Facebook has plateaued recently. According to Nielsen, total minutes spent on Facebook increased by 700% from Apil 2008 to April 2009. Users spent more than 13 billion, yes billion, minutes on Facebook in April 2009. Over that same period, total minutes spent on MySpace actually shrunk by 31%.

If these are the numbers of a site on the demise, they're not too bad.

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