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By The Washington Post
Jan. 2, 2014

 

Facebook Sees Slower Growth Among Young Users

This is not your father’s Facebook. It’s your grandfather’s.

New data from the Pew Center for Internet and American Life released this week show that Facebook’s strongest growth over the past year has come from users over the age of 65, as more older users sign onto the site to keep in touch with their friends, children and grandchildren.

The survey found that 45 percent of American seniors who use the Internet are on Facebook, up from 35 percent the previous year.

Use among teens, however, has stagnated at 84 percent. That’s in keeping with growing concern that Facebook is seeing lower engagement with the younger users that drove its early popularity, something that the company has acknowledged itself in an earnings call this year.

Facebook may be a victim of its own success after nearly 10 years as the country’s leading social network, said Pew senior researcher Aaron Smith.

“It’s hard to get more than 85 percent of anyone doing anything,” he said. “A lot of the easy converts in the younger group, or even in the older and middle-aged group, are already on the site. The senior group is the only area that has any substantial area for growth.”

Facebook is seeing an uptick in teen use on Instagram, which it bought for $1 billion in 2012, indicating that it’s far from being down for the count.

Still, a stagnating teen audience — the percentage of those in the 18-29 age group that use the site fell two percentage points compared with last year — fits in with a recent study from researchers at University College London, which found some British teens are leaving Facebook because of the influx of older users.

In many cases, the study said, teens stay on Facebook at the behest of their parents, who have made it a tool for keeping track of their children.

“You just can’t be young and free if you know your parents can access your every indiscretion,” wrote Daniel Miller, a professor of Material Culture at UCL, who ran the study.

In other words, teens are using Facebook, but not for the same reasons that they once did. And that, Smith said, fits in with a larger trend in the social media space: Americans are diversifying the social networks that they use.

More than 40 percent of Americans, Pew found, maintain multiple social network accounts for different purposes.

Facebook, which has more than 1 billion users and is used by 71 percent of Americans, seems to be the “default” social network, he said.