Adding Fuel to the Fire: How Important is Facebook?

October 28, 2015

how important is facebook

A new survey adds more fuel to the swirling debate about how social media usage is changing, especially among teens.

In a Piper Jaffray survey of American teens, one-third described the photo-sharing app Instagram as their most important social network. Twitter finished second, named most important by 20 percent of respondents, followed closely by the popular chat app Snapchat with 19 percent.

However, you need to dig into the nature of the research before making conclusions about the implications for marketing strategy. The research does not necessarily say teens are moving away from Facebook. The research says they “prefer” Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Only 15 percent of teens in the survey said Facebook topped the list.

How important is Facebook? The rest of the story

Before declaring Facebook dead, consider that other reports offer a dramatically different view. In a survey released this spring, Pew Research Internet Project found that Facebook is the site used most frequently by U.S. teens. In fact, 41 percent of those polled described Facebook as the site they use most frequently, beating out Instagram and Snapchat.

Pew had previously reported that teens were growing frustrated by the presence of adults on the site — but few teens had actually dumped Facebook.

To make matters even more confusing, in 2014, nearly half of 4,517 teenagers surveyed by Forrester Research about social media use said they used Facebook more than a year earlier.

Making sense of the data

What can we conclude from these data points? How important is Facebook? How much should we consider this research in marketing plans?

  1. First, it’s not out of the question that what teens say and what they actually DO are different. They’re teens — that should not be a surprise, right? The most important thing to teens is relevance and if Instagram and Snapchat are relevant, that’s what they will talk about.
  2. It appears that teens are diversifying but not necessarily abandoning Facebook. Another interesting data point is that for the last year, 8 percent of the respondents in this survey think the most important social network is not even on this list! I think that is the most interesting data point. What is OTHER and how do we get there?
  3. This is another nail in the coffin of Google+. In 2012, I wrote about the need for Google to place all of their marketing dollars on teens. To go mainstream, they needed to be relevant to this generation, period. They should have listened to me.
  4. Along with Facebook, Twitter also took a hit on the “favorite scale.” But it is still substantially preferred by teens over Facebook — and even Snapchat. Why? Grandma ain’t there. Seems like an unrealized opportunity by Twitter, which seems to be devoting all its activities to bringing Grandma on to the channel by making it more Facebook-like.
  5. Facebook owns Instagram of course. People scoffed at paying $ 1 billion for an 11-employee company with no revenue. It was the right move. Instagram is now valued at about $ 50 billion.
  6. I think the most important thing to consider here is emotional bond. Think about the lasting emotional bonds to products you loved as a teen. What were they? Maybe a certain comic book hero, a television show, the Star Wars movies? Those connections remain strong your entire life. While it may no longer be cool to read a comic book as an adult or spend your time watching Full House all day, when these teens become adults, it will probably be important to use Instagram because of the bond and community they are building there.

While the data may be somewhat conflicted, I think the emergence of Instagram and Snapchat as preferred social media channels has interesting long-term implications.

Illustration courtesy Piper Jaffray

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