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Is Facebook Losing Its Teen Appeal?

By Paul O’Reilly

Facebook continues to amaze. The number of users in the United States has doubled in the last year to 123 million, representing nearly two-thirds of all Internet users. Now translated into more than 80 languages, the 6-year-old social networking giant is closing in on a worldwide membership of 500 million and it continues to add members at a rate of 5% per month.

With revenues now estimated at over $1 billion per year, 26-year-old chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, is confidently predicting that Facebook will reach 1 billion users in the not-too-distant future.

But some recent trends may be giving Facebook’s management pause for thought. While membership continues to surge in new markets and among the over-35s, its core constituency of teens may be starting to pull back. One of the reasons? Too many parents and “older people”.

Online gaming site Roiworld conducted a recent survey of 600 teens and their social networking habits. Respondents reported spending just under 2 hours a day online, with a whopping 80% of that time devoted to social networking. Not surprisingly, Facebook dominates the social networking scene, with 78% saying they have created a profile at some point in the past.

However, 19% of the teens who had Facebook accounts said they were spending less time on the site than they did a year ago or had stopped using it altogether. By far the largest group – 49% – said their use began falling off in the last three months.

It appears that the stampede by adults to join the social networking craze is a significant factor in the drop-off. 16% directly attributed their declining use to the fact that “my parents joined”, and a further 14% said that there just too many “older people”. Both reasons were given ahead of concerns over privacy issues, which were cited by a mere 13%.

Online comments on the study appear to bear out the notion of ‘Facebook fatigue’: “I was really into Facebook in ’04-’05 when it was college students only,” writes a Facebook user now in her mid-20s. “But my interest faded quickly when high school kids and everyone else were allowed to join. Then my mom joined. Needless to say I am now a light user, but I definitely miss those days when it was a niche site.”

Others point out that teens and young people haven’t stopped texting or IM-ing just because those forms of communication became mainstream. But then again, texting has largely taken over from the three-hour teen phone call and it never enjoyed the ‘cool’ factor that was such a driving force behind Facebook’s original growth.

Of course, the numbers of disaffected teens are tiny when viewed in the context of Facebook’s overall membership, and a continued move to an older demographic with higher disposable income isn’t going to hurt Facebook’s top line when it comes to advertising.

But even so, there is something unique and exciting about the idea of parents sharing an online platform that has become such an important part of their kids’ adolescent years. It would be a shame if kids demonstrated yet again that parents are just not cool!

Have you joined Facebook? Are your kids pulling back as a result? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom?       

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