The first cracks in Facebook’s wall

Facebook has been the unassailable giant in the social networking space. But teenagers are ignoring it - is this the first step in its fall?

The wheel turns. If you’ve been working in the internet long enough, you’ll know that unassailable giants pass. Back when I started doing strategy consulting in 2005, lots of editors wanted to do projects in Second Life and MySpace – you don’t hear many request for those these days. For a long, long time Facebook has looked unassailable – but the first cracks are beginning to show. Anecdotally I hear again and again that teenagers just aren’t using Facebook. Mashable has just backed that up – a little – by publishing a piece from a teenager saying just that:

I’m a teen living in New York. All of my friends have social networks — Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, etc. Facebook used to be all I could talk about when I was younger. “Mom, I want a Facebook!” and other whining only a mother could put up with.

But now, at 13, I’ve been noticing something different. Facebook is losing teens lately, and I think I know why.

In essence, her reasons come down to the fact her parents are there, and that there are other alternative available now. The last one, if you think about it, doesn’t stack up, at least not the way she expresses it. There were always alternative. Up until recently, though, people have tended to gravitate towards a single network. This generation, though, the first to grow up with social networks around, are taking a different approach. They’re canny enough to bring their network of friends with them from service to service (even if they don’t appear to be canny enough to realise that Instagram is part of Facebook now).

This is a more profound and, one could argue, sophisticated way of using social networks than more aged generations are managing. Recent research from the University of Brimingham suggests that people are doing active damage to their reputations in a low-key way by having one network for everything:

“Our research found that those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships. This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves.”

If this trend continues – as it look set to do – it’s good news for the startup business. It’s no longer a case of trying to bring down a monolithic social networks, but instead of earning your piece of an increasingly flexible and fragmented social world. The people who might find it significantly more challenging are the digital marketing types, who have bet their digital future on marketing through a limited number of social media networks. The clock appears to be ticking on that decision…

Photo by Leonardo Aguiar and used under a Creative Commons licence