Is Facebook really dead for young people?

BBC Radio's Rod McKenzie has proclaimed young people don't visit Facebook any more. Kate Magee asks six specialists whether they agree and where they think social media budgets are best spent.

Is Facebook really dead for young people?
Is Facebook really dead for young people?

Have young people moved on from Facebook? BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat and 1Xtra News editor Rod McKenzie certainly seems to think so.

At PRWeek's recent PR & The Media conference, he proclaimed that 'Facebook is dead' for young people.

He argued that Facebook has lost its credibility with British youth because 'it is populated with mums and PR people'.

His comments provoked fevered online debate as PR professionals questioned whether they were spending their social media budgets correctly.

One issue for Facebook is that its popularity means young people could feel watched by their parents on the site.

Facebook's novelty factor has also faded, so it is no surprise that a trendsetting group would want to look for the next big thing.

Many PR people acknowledge that there is a wider social media shift in favour of more visual communication.

McKenzie highlighted sites such as Keek and Vine (which allow users to post short videos), Snapchat (which sends images that disappear after a set time period) and Tumblr (a more established blogger platform). Indeed, it perhaps explains Facebook's recent purchase of Instagram.

But they also argue that Facebook remains a powerful tool because of its scale and established position in the social media ecosystem.

It is not time to de-friend it just yet.

Overleaf, we present the opinions of some digital and brand specialists.


Anthony Donaldson

The 'Facebook is dead' piece made me think about Mark Twain, who said, after his obituary had been published in The New York Times: 'The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.'

Facebook is only dead if your brand wants to be seen as young, hip and innovative and to shun what is the social market leader.

Facebook is still the preferred medium for discovering new technology. For example, Keek uses Twitter or Facebook to connect, as does Vine via Twitter - neither can stand alone. Facebook is a traffic driver for new and emerging outlets.

Although I would not value Facebook above any other social media channel, Facebook's core audience is still young people and in terms of media metrics and scale, it still offers a lot of clout.

We can't forget, however, that brands are beginning to ask 'has Facebook delivered for us'? It's more a case of Facebook working harder in conjunction with other emerging social outlets to create a harmonious social ecosystem in which, at the moment, Facebook is the biggest fish in the sea.


Dirk Singer

We need to be careful when talking about Facebook's demise. The evidence is mixed and I'd point to various examples when there was talk of a coming Facebook exodus, which either never happened or proved to be temporary.

However, though it's convenient for brands to want to put all their eggs in the Facebook basket, I think fragmentation of social media use is good for them. It means campaigns can be tailored.

Imagery is incredibly important when targeting the under-25s. The common denominator between Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr is they are all image-based. There is a wealth of evidence that shows engagement rates for visual posts on social media are more than 100 per cent higher than text-based posts. I would imagine this is particularly so for young people.

But it's not simply a case of getting teens to share an image. The way they share is different.

For example the 'selfie' is an odd concept for most people over 30, yet there are more than 21 million posts tagged #selfie on Instagram.

I'd say don't write Facebook off just yet, but think in terms of pictures and sub-cultures.


Drew Benvie

I think there are three key trends in the younger generation's use of social media that do not play to Facebook's advantage.

The first is a renewed focus on privacy and on keeping information private while using social media sites.

The second is the continued dominance of mobile. This favours apps that are slick and easy to use on mobile devices like Path, Instagram and even Google Plus. They were founded when mobile was more advanced. Facebook doesn't work as nicely on mobile, and it shows that it was initially created with the desktop computer in mind.

The third is a shift to single-app usage. Consumers no longer want one app to do everything because this makes it too bloated and usually requires you to do things you don't want to do - setting up a profile, for example.

The life cycle of social media adoption is shortening. Brands are realising it doesn't take much effort to try these sites, but the rewards can be huge.

But Facebook is still the preferred site for the establishment.


Jenni Young

Social media have been key for us in getting young people to engage with our brand over the past couple of years.

We conducted research recently among 1,000 young people. We found that 71 per cent said they would use Facebook to support a campaign to make a change in the world.

As a charity that empowers young people to make a positive difference in the world through volunteering, this makes Facebook a really powerful tool to get our message across.

We can really see the benefits of social media because they help us create more engagement with young people.

Social media are always evolving. We are keeping a close eye on newer sites like Keek and Snapchat because we need to be with the opinion formers. But these sites can be quite niche.

There will always be factions and tribes of people who use different social media sites, but I don't think this is a problem for Facebook because it is so omnipresent.


Kate Robertson

Facebook is far from dead. It is a billion-user ecosystem and I think it will morph itself quickly because it is a living thing.

As users move into video-based messages, Facebook will be there and its users will pioneer new ways to 'Facebook'.

Young people develop and do their own new stuff every minute. Brands simply have to follow where this group leads, take advice from them and learn from them when attempting to thrive online.

We see this all the time with One Young World Ambassadors, who go out and create change in their own communities, after gathering at the charity's annual summit to debate and formulate possible solutions to the world's issues. So far we've had 3,500 young people attend the summits, and in 2012 they came from 183 different countries.

They develop their own campaigns on their smartphones. It's not just that the future's theirs - that's obvious. It's that they're creating the future.


Jimmy Leach

Facebook is not the flavour of the month any more with the under-25s, but that was inevitable once their parents signed up. Once your mother is commenting on the state of you in those pictures, it's time to move on.

So brands looking to promote themselves as edgy and in-the-know will look to the new, usually mobile-led, platforms such as Keek and Vine. Yet none has the sheer scale of Facebook, nor the wealth of data that is always going to be of interest to those wanting to measure their PR and marketing return on investment.

We're far from the demise of Facebook. It has the numbers to ensure that even a significant fall in the percentage of under-25s still leaves plenty left (if not the cool ones), and they can, economically at least, be replaced by more affluent, older generations.

I'm very fond of Tumblr, but it's a content network, however ephemeral some of that content is, rather than a social network. The social aspect is designed to share the content, rather than connect the participants.

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