Why Advertisers Shouldn't Panic About Teens Leaving Facebook

In the past several months, there has been no shortage of hand-wringing over the idea that teenagers are leaving Facebook in favour of other social media networks.

Facebook admitted as such in October, and just this past week, Business Insider reported that there are now 25% fewer teens using Facebook often enough to be targeted by advertisers than there were in 2011.

But a new report from Creative Arts Agency’s The Intelligence Group suggests that while young people might be using Facebook less than they used to, the social media giant might still be the best place for brands to target them.

That’s because The Intelligence Group found that a dominant 55% of the 900 millennials it polled said they would most prefer brands to communicate with them on Facebook rather than rivals YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Facebook’s next closest competitor in the poll was YouTube, which earned 20% of the vote.

Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer at The Intelligence Group, said these responses speak to the way teenagers are using Facebook differently than the users who came before them.

While respondents aged 14-18 were about 25% less likely to describe Facebook as “cool” or “very cool” than the 25-34 demographic, Gutfreund said the social network is still providing valuable services to its users.

“It’s become more of a utility, but it’s certainly not dead,” Gutfreund said. “It’s basically the Yellow Pages now. It’s not the go-to place for excitement, but it’s a good source of information.”

Gutfreund says Facebook’s fading cool factor with teens comes from the fact that the 14-18-year old demographic is the first group of people who’ve had their lives documented online from birth. Having had their parents post baby photos on their own Facebook pages, these teens are keenly aware of their so-called digital footprint and the unwanted attention that can come from sharing without caution.

As a result, these tweens crave anonymity, which provides them the opportunity to speak and share freely, without worrying that their posts will be seen by people (like parents and college admissions counselors) they’d prefer to keep in the dark.

According to The Intelligence Group’s research, portions of which were provided to Business Insider, 55% of respondents aged 14 to 35 preferred to be anonymous rather than vocal online, and 74% said they are interested in ephemeral messaging services like Snapchat.

Perhaps more telling is that when The Intelligence Group polled Millennials in December 2012, 24% said they share a lot of themselves online, while that number shrank to 18% in its most recent report.

“If you think about [tweens], they grew up having an enormous amount of their lives public even before they had a chance to control it,” Gutfreund said. “What we’re seeing in our data is that they really value the opportunity to be much more genuine online by being anonymous.”

Gutfreund said that brands can still find success on Facebook, but they need to be cognisant that the users they target are aware of the data being collected about them and no longer impressed by brands merely existing on a platform that is no longer the hot, new thing in social media.

“Younger audiences know Facebook and brands have enormous metadata on them. They want everyone looking at the data to practice digital empathy and to use it wisely,” Gutfreund said. “I think brands have to really focus on providing value, relevancy, great information, and something you can’t get elsewhere.”

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