Snapchat snap­ping up young users flee­ing Face­book

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Jes­sica Guynn USA TO­DAY

Face­book will lose 2 mil­lion users un­der age 25 this year, eMar­keter es­ti­mates.

SAN FRAN­CISCO – Face­book is los­ing young users at an even faster clip to Snapchat than pre­vi­ously fore­cast, ac­cord­ing to new re­search from eMar­keter.

Less than half of U.S. In­ter­net users ages 12 to 17 will use Face­book this year for the first time, the re­search firm says.

And the gi­ant so­cial net­work can no longer count on In­sta­gram to help re­tain that younger au­di­ence, ac­cord­ing to eMar­keter.

Face­book will lose 2 mil­lion users un­der 25 this year, eMar­keter es­ti­mates. Not all of those users are mi­grat­ing to In­sta­gram, also owned by Face­book.

In­sta­gram will add 1.6 mil­lion users in that age group while Snapchat will add 1.9 mil­lion users, ac­cord­ing to eMar­keter. The re­search firm, which bases its anal­y­sis on sur­vey and traf­fic data from re­search firms and reg­u­la­tory agen­cies, Face­book press re­leases, his­tor­i­cal trends, In­ter­net and mo­bile trends and other fac­tors, says Snapchat will con­tinue to have more users ages 12 to 24 than In­sta­gram. Face­book de­clined to com­ment.

This is just the lat­est in a grow­ing body of re­search that sug­gests young peo­ple are log­ging in less fre­quently and spend­ing less time on Face­book. What’s more: There are now “Face­book nev­ers,” chil­dren be­com­ing tweens who are skip­ping Face­book al­to­gether. Face­book re­quires mem­bers to be 13 to sign up, though many kids un­der that age ac­cess so­cial me­dia by hav­ing their par­ents start their ac­count.

EMar­keter an­a­lyst De­bra Aho Wil­liamson says her teenage daugh­ter lost ac­cess to her Face­book ac­count when she got a new phone two months ago. “Some­times she says to me: ‘My Face­book doesn’t work.’ But she doesn’t ask me to get it go­ing for her again.”

With more than 2 bil­lion users, Face­book still is the world’s most pop­u­lar on­line hang­out. But for years now, the so­cial net­work’s growth in the U.S. has been driven by older users. The num­ber of to­tal users in the U.S. this year will grow by just less than 1% to 169.5 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to eMar­keter. And eMar­keter ex­pects Face­book’s pro­por­tion of so­cial net­work users in the U.S. to con­tinue to de­cline through 2021.

This is the sec­ond time in less than six months that eMar­keter has warned about the fad­ing ap­peal of Face­book for teens. It’s a grown-up prob­lem for Face­book, which needs young users to de­velop the habit of

check­ing Face­book so it can show them ad­ver­tis­ing into adult­hood. Late last year, Face­book launched a kids ver­sion of its Mes­sen­ger app tar­geted at 6- to 12year-olds, ig­nit­ing de­bate over whether chil­dren that young should be us­ing so­cial me­dia.

Julie Smith, a so­cial sci­en­tist in Den­ver who works with teens, says they call Face­book “the old peo­ple net­work. Teens want that in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. That’s why Snapchat and In­sta­gram work well for them. Their minds move quickly,” Smith says. “Face­book feels like an in­vest­ment of their time, and they don’t want to in­vest their time in it.”

Smith’s 17-year-old son Fin­negan, who spends the bulk of his so­cial me­dia time on Snapchat and oc­ca­sion­ally In­sta­gram, re­cently deleted the Face­book ac­count that he rarely used. Face­book, he says, “was too much to keep track of.”

The ephemeral na­ture of Snapchat is a big draw for teens. So, too, is the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate one on one or in smaller groups. Teens have had warn­ings drilled into them that one wrong move on Face­book could hurt their chances of get­ting into col­lege or land­ing a job so they like the abil­ity to be more se­lec­tive about what they share and with whom, Fin­negan Smith says.

“Snapchat is what a lot of peo­ple use just be­cause it’s re­ally easy to con­nect with peo­ple one on one and you can choose to share with a lot of peo­ple or you can choose to have it be more pri­vate,” he said. “I don’t think Face­book pan­ders to teenagers as well as it does to older gen­er­a­tions. I think that’s def­i­nitely some­thing they need to work on.”

Face­book use among those younger than 12 will de­cline 9.3% in 2018, eMar­keter pre­dicts. Growth among 12-to-17-year-olds and 18-to-24-year-olds will de­crease by more than 5%.

This is the first time eMar­keter has pre­dicted a de­cline in Face­book us­age among 18- to 24-year-olds and those younger than 12.

In­sta­gram still is big­ger over­all in the U.S. than Snapchat. The num­ber of In­sta­gram users will to­tal 104.7 mil­lion users, up 13.1% year over year. Snapchat is ex­pected to in­crease 9.3% to 86.5 mil­lion users.

Face­book bought In­sta­gram in 2012 for $1 bil­lion in search of the so­cial me­dia foun­tain of youth. It ac­knowl­edged in 2013 that young peo­ple were hang­ing out on Face­book less fre­quently.

“Face­book knew they needed some­thing else in their arse­nal to keep the in­ter­ests of teens and young peo­ple, and to a large ex­tent, In­sta­gram has done that,” Wil­liamson said.

When Face­book’s $3 bil­lion-plus takeover of­fer was re­buffed by Snap, the par­ent com­pany of Snapchat, the so­cial net­work be­gan cloning the buzzy chat app’s fea­tures on Face­book and In­sta­gram. That has not made a dif­fer­ence to Smith, who says he may open a Face­book ac­count again some­day. But not right now.

“I’m not sure any­thing could bring me back to the site at this mo­ment in time,” he said. “With the wide va­ri­ety of so­cial me­dia out there, it’s easy for ev­ery­one to find some­thing that fits them well. For a lot of peo­ple, that’s some­thing like Face­book. For a lot of peo­ple, that’s some­thing like Twit­ter. For a lot of peo­ple, that’s some­thing like Snapchat. Ev­ery­one has their so­cial me­dia match when it comes to these sites. For now, for me, that’s not Face­book.”

ADAM BEACH PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Julie Smith, a so­cial sci­en­tist who works with teens, says they call Face­book “the old peo­ple net­work.”

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