Facebook could potentially have a problem with this whole ‘teenagers leaving the site en masse’ thing

This won’t be a very long post, as I’ve already talked about the idea of leaving Facebook (which I’ve yet to do, although in the past couple of weeks, I’ve mostly just checked it once in the morning, said happy birthday to a few people, and been done with it for the day) and also already talked about Facebook finally making a move in Russia (can a move in China be far behind?). Here’s some data-like chart-stuff on the big idea around Facebook’s eventual demise: teenagers are exiting en masse, so will it be sustainable in a few years?

I’ll get to the chart in one second, but here’s the bigger picture: right now, Facebook is fine. The IPO was “bungled” (that’s the word you will hear most associated with it in the press), but right now the stock is doing alright and the user base is insane (a good deal of social business, as you’d expect, is predicated on the active user base; go watch earlier episodes of Betas for more on this concept). It’s fine, and it will be fine for any number of years. Whenever you read these “Facebook is doomed!” articles, it’s always about people going to Snapchat or Tumblr or “the next new great app.” That third category is a potential destination, but that’s not necessarily around yet; Tumblr I see a little bit less — it’s fun, but I don’t know if the interaction level is exactly the same as FB could give you. Snapchat is the interesting case, specifically because Facebook tried to buy it (did they sense a threat?). Mark Zuckerberg seems to believe Facebook begot Snapchat by creating a new need for micro-privacy, but the bigger issue is: could Snapchat someday have a 1 billion user base? It seems dubious, since I’d say most people who use the app regularly still associate it with sexting more than anything else. Maybe that’s part of the fun — your grandma isn’t on there, although oddly Rand Paul is — but I don’t know if it’s fun enough for one billion people.

Anyway, here’s the FB Doom Chart:


Growth is down 25 percent among 13-17 year-olds, via iStrategyLabs and Fast CompanyThis is a problem for 10 years down the road, when a 17 year-old enters the truly coveted ad demo and is perceived to maybe have some money in their pocket, but this could be a problem even sooner than that — look at the college growth, near the bottom. It’s down 59 percent. The total user base in that area, per Fast Company, went from 11.7 million users in 2011 to 4.8 million this January. Damn!

I’ll say this: the one majorly annoying thing they’ve been doing of late is not using any type of truly targeted algorithm for sponsored posts. I’ll get sponsored posts in between baby pics of some company in Lakeland, FL selling towels. (That actually happened.) I’ve been to Lakeland, FL once — years ago — and have no plan to return anytime soon, nor have I done or clicked anything to indicate I’m interested in towels. A couple of days ago while doing a super quick scan, I got a sponsored post for a lawyer in Detroit. I have no plans to run afoul of the law in Detroit anytime soon (although I suppose that’s how many awkward sentences have begun…), so I don’t see why I need this. If it becomes clutter like that and people bitching about their parents, I could see why adolescents would bolt.

MBA classes are littered with case studies of companies that changed everything for a bit — i.e. Kodak, even Blockbuster, and even Montgomery Ward — and then disappeared. Could this happen to Facebook? Sure. It’s not per se likely, but if they don’t adapt to their shifting demographics or find a way to resolve privacy and ad issues, well, it’s going to be an interesting road to observe over the next decade.

Ted Bauer