Despite chatter, Facebook not down and out with teens yet

Social network battles to stay relevant as youth spread their love to rivals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 4:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 5:53am

Owen Fairchild doesn't hang out at Facebook as much as he did when he was younger.

It is not that he and his friends are abandoning the social network. They are spreading their love to rival networks like Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, Instagram and blogging platform Tumblr.

"I've moved on," the 16-year-old said. "I go to Tumblr a lot more; there is a lot of funny stuff. SnapChat is super-fun because you can send really unattractive pictures of yourself and they will delete after a few seconds."

Facebook, born on a college campus a decade ago, has grown to 1.23 billion active users worldwide. But as it prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary, it faces challenges in keeping its original base of young users as new social networks vie to be the coolest on the internet.

Facebook's demographics appear to be shifting as adults, even seniors, use the network to catch up with long-lost friends and stay connected to family and colleagues.

Princeton University student Susannah Sharpless said she and friends had stopped letting Facebook consume their lives.

"I realised how to live without the mindless Facebook stalking that I used to do," Sharpless said.

"I check my Twitter feed all the time; there is nothing that I definitely need to know on Facebook."

She also finds more interesting fare on Instagram, which Facebook bought two years ago in a billion-dollar deal.

"Facebook isn't done," Sharpless said. "I think it is just changing in the way people use it."

Social media network analytics company Socialbakers has posted findings indicating that "the sky is not falling" when it comes to Facebook's appeal to the younger set. Interactions at Facebook by people ages 13 to 24 grew 29 per cent last year, according to Socialbakers.

"Teens are definitely not leaving en masse as some reports would have you believe," Socialbakers data specialist Ben Harper said in a blog post.

During an earnings call last week, top Facebook executives sidestepped a question about whether the social network was losing teens.

"We are working on great products that all our users, including teens, will take seriously," said Facebook chief financial officer David Ebersman.

Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott dismissed Facebook gloom-and-doom talk as "silly". He argued that, unlike the defunct MySpace, Facebook innovated relentlessly and copied winning features from competitors.

Forrester is preparing to release results of a youth survey that the analyst said contradict the "breathless proclamations of doom" about Facebook.

"When you strip away the hyperbole and just look at the numbers, Facebook is absolutely crushing all the other social networks in terms of young users who go there," Elliott said.


Where are Facebook’s founders now?

Mark Zuckerberg
At 29, Facebook’s founder and chief executive has firm control of the social network, with some 29 per cent of capital and 56 per cent of voting rights, plus proxy rights for some other investors.  With the recent jump in Facebook value, his net worth has shot up to an estimated US$29.7 billion. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have been active philanthropists, donating more than US$1 billion to various causes.

Chris Hughes
The 30-year-old Hughes, who graduated from Harvard in 2006, gained notoriety for heading the social media efforts of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, a key factor in the race. In 2012, Hughes purchased the magazine The New Republic, where he is publisher and editor-in-chief. 

Eduardo Saverin
The 31-year-old Brazilian-American gave up his US citizenship and moved to Singapore before Facebook’s public offering, a move that likely saved him hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.  Forbes lists his net worth at US$2.65 billion as of August, making him the seventh-richest person in Singapore. Saverin’s role was famously portrayed in the 2010 film The Social Network, in which he started out as a close friend of Zuckerberg and provided initial funds for the start-up before they had an acrimonious split.

Dustin Moskovitz
Like Zuckerberg, Moskovitz is 29 and dropped out before finishing Harvard. In 2008, he left Facebook to form his own company, a Web and mobile application called Asana aimed at fostering teamwork without e-mail. Moskovitz’s net worth has been estimated by Forbes   to be US$5.2 billion, based on his Facebook stake.

Sean Parker
He was not a Harvard classmate of Zuckerberg, but Parker, a founder of the original music-sharing site Napster, befriended Facebook’s creator and became a mentor and adviser to the fledgling company. Parker was the founding president of Facebook in 2004 and brought in one of the company’s first big investors, Peter Thiel. According to some accounts, Parker recognised the potential for Facebook to have a major impact on the way that people communicate. Now 34, Parker later joined Thiel as a managing partner at The Founders Fund, a venture capital investment firm.

Agence France-Presse