Facebook Inc. is getting less and less cool, at least among teens.
A report yesterday by Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. found that the portion of 13- to 17-year-old social-media users in the U.S. on Facebook slipped to 88 percent this year from 94 percent in 2013 and 95 percent in 2012. In the same period, Twitter Inc. and messaging applications rose in popularity in that age group, the study showed.
The Menlo Park, California-based company first warned a year ago that teens weren’t using its website as often as before. Facebook stopped discussing teen usage on its earnings calls after last year’s disclosure alarmed investors. While the issue was all but forgotten as the company’s advertising revenue reached new highs, it’s a bigger concern now, according to Tero Kuittinen, a managing director at Magid in New York.
“You look at Facebook and you say, ‘Wow, something really changed in 2014,’” Kuittinen said. “If kids are starting to use so much of their daily time on messaging apps, surely it’s going to hurt somebody.”
Among 13- to 17 year-olds, Twitter usage climbed 2 percentage points to 48 percent, according to the report.
While more people use Facebook and its messaging app than any competitor, its user base tends to be older, with 55 percent of Facebook Messenger users being 37 or younger. By the same measure, 86 percent of Snapchat Inc.’s users and 83 percent of Kik Interactive Inc.’s users are under 37. Facebook sought to buy Snapchat last year for more than $3 billion, and was rebuffed.
Vanessa Chan, a spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment on Magid’s report.
One reason for the decline in teen Facebook usage is due to concerns that the service may not be trustworthy. Just 9 percent of those surveyed described the website as “safe” or “trustworthy,” while almost 30 percent of people said they would use those words to describe Pinterest. Pinterest also ranked higher in “fun,” with 40 percent saying so compared with 18 percent for Facebook, as did Instagram, which Facebook owns.
“Facebook has been so deeply embedded in the lives of the people that the fade is going to be slow,” Kuittinen said. “People just start being vaguely dissatisfied and then after a while they stop using it.”
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has been working to diversify the company’s offering beyond the main Facebook application. He acquired Instagram, the photo-sharing application, in 2012 for less than $1 billion. This year, Facebook also purchased messaging application WhatsApp Inc. for about $18 billion.
The Instagram purchase is showing gains, with Citigroup Inc. estimating the app is worth $35 billion, due to its faster-than-anticipated user growth. Instagram is especially popular among younger users, too.
Though Facebook has said it is in no rush to make money off of the app, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has been taking steps to make the service more appealing to advertisers. The company recently started eliminating spam accounts, wiping off large portions of fake followers for celebrities on the service such as Justin Bieber, which some have dubbed an “Instagram Rapture.”
“Not only is Instagram’s audience now larger than Twitter, but its users are about 1.8 times more engaged, and user growth has been greater,” Mark May, an analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a note. “Instagram is at the early stages of rolling out advertising, but we believe brands have and will find it an effective channel.”