Keep your bet on Facebook and its dominance … for now

 bet on facebook

By Mark Schaefer

A common question I get asked in classes is if teens are abandoning Facebook. This is usually a function of the “sample of one problem” — “Well my kids are using Facebook much less, so it must be a dying platform.”

Or it might come from scanning headlines about Facebook’s slowing penentration among America’s youth. But sometimes people don’t stop to think … 94% of American teenagers already have a Facebook account. Where exactly is it going to grow?

And the truth is, Facebook teens are not just “registered,” they are active. 2012 Social Habit research showed that 97% of those with an account visit the site at least a couple times a week.

But without question, teen use of Facebook is evolving and while Facebook is a social media crack habit hard to break, teens are experimenting with other platforms. Focus groups at Pew Research indicated that teens are broadening their perspective for the following reasons:

  • The increasing adult presence
  • The high stakes of managing self-presentation on the site
  • The burden of negative social interactions (“drama”)
  • Feeling overwhelmed by friends who share too much.

The two new hot areas for teens: Instagram and Twitter. Teen Twitter accounts have more than doubled in a year to 26 percent according to Pew and 11 percent are on Instagram, making it the third-biggest teen network.

So the fact is that although time on social media might be changing and spreading out, no reputable research has indicated that there has been a mass exodus from Facebook. 81 percent of teen social media users still say Facebook is the platform they use most often, dwarfing any other site.

Why demise is not inevitable

A lot of people believe Facebook’s demise is imminent because, well … it just is. After all, we used to have AOL right? And then My Space lost its grip on the social networking title to the upstart Facebook. Change is inevitable, right?

I’m not foolish enough to suggest that Facebook will be the leading platform forever, but there is evidence that there is another dynamic here — in fact four economic and sociological dynamics — which suggest that Facebook is a good long-term bet:

1) In most areas of our life, we like brand choice — breakfast cereal, cars, radio stations. But we only have the intellectual bandwidth to commit to one social platform. We don’t need two Twitters of LinkedIns. And we don’t really need two social networks.

2) For an entire generation, Facebook IS the Internet. They have been conditioned to go to Facebook for their connection, entertainment, and psychological rewards. For many people, Facebook delivers an addictive emotional boost.

3) The emotional switching costs are enormous, Facebook is where you have your friends, your media, your games, your family, your history. What would it take to give up on all of that and switch to another network? I wrote last year that it is easier to switch houses that switch social networks. The psychological connection to Facebook is complex.

4) As Facebook grows in power and technological sophistication, it will be a nearly impossible challenge for a competing network to catch up. They have the financial, technological, and human resources to crush anything in their way. If you are racing Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt in a 100-yard dash, you are not going to win.

usain bolt… Unless of course Bolt is not focused on the race.

Or he doesn’t even know you’re there until it’s too late.

Or he is too busy posing for the crowd to know that a new race has begun.

Stay tuned.

Top image courtesy Flickr CC and Richard Ashurst.

Bottom image courtesy Flickr CC and SmokeGhost

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