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Facebook wants to bring back young adults on its platform but they say there’s nothing much it can do to win them

Facebook wants to bring back young adults on its platform but they say there’s nothing much it can do to win them
  • Once a hub to Millennials and GenZ, Facebook is now perceived as a ‘boomer network’ by young internet users.
  • Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg has reiterated time and again that he wants to ‘cater more towards young people.’
  • It has even replicated Instagram’s success model by launching video editing tools and Reels, but can it ever entice young people in India? We speak to social media experts, GenZ internet users and GenZ Content Creators to find out.
In its July-September 2021 quarterly earnings conference, Meta’s cofounder Mark Zuckerberg seemed a little worried. He was vocal about it, too. He wants to see a shift. A shift that would take years.

“We are retooling our teams to make serving young adults their North Star rather than optimising for the larger number of older people,” Zuckerberg said.

Meta’s social media firm Facebook is losing its popularity among teens and young adult users across its key markets, according to numerous studies.

They are jumping to other social media platforms. This slow departure of young users, increasing data privacy concerns and rising cost per impression threaten Facebook’s advertising business, as it could lose its grip on social media ad spend. Business Insider India spoke to content creators and young internet users born between 1997 and 2012, who are also known as Generation Z, and social media experts, who believe Facebook has lost its fame to the perception war and might not see a revival.

To pique the young audience’s interest again, Facebook has replicated various social media formats that have worked for other platforms. It is almost like Joey from popular sitcom Friends believing that he can pass for 19 by simply replicating what young people wear.

Facebook’s 360-degree photo format was allegedly derived from YouTube, Facebook Stories was apparently inspired by Social Media Platform Snapchat and its most recent feature Reels is from its sister platform Instagram, which is seemingly a Short-form Video Platform, TikTok’s clone.

Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion 10 years ago to stay ahead of the game, for the exact same reason. From adding Reels to introducing virtual reality, does the recent revamp speak to Zuckerberg's concerns about the company losing its popularity among young consumers?

Well, the fear of a major technology company losing its young users has already spread internally. A whistleblower’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaint had revealed last year that the time spent for U.S. teenagers on Facebook was down 16% year-on-year and that young adults in the U.S. were also spending 5% less time on the social network. Another report by Statista says that Facebook has been overrun by Baby Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.

Market research company eMarketer has also downgraded its estimates for Facebook's young user growth in France and Germany. It said that the percentage of teenagers on Facebook in Germany will drop to just more than one-third compared to 2019, with usage among ages 34 and younger declining through 2023. It goes on to say that teenagers using Facebook in France will drop to 27.9 million by 2023.

The story is similar in India, which is Facebook’s biggest market in terms of size with 340 million monthly active users (MAUs). It has lost 2.7% of GenZ users and 1.9% millennials in 2022 than 2018 and added more older users. As per Napoleon Cat, a research firm for social media analytics, Facebook had 36% GenZ users in 2018 and it has come down to 33.3% in February 2022. It has been on a steady decline. Just a month ago, Zuckerberg had announced that Facebook witnessed its first-ever decline in users across the world. The daily active users (DAUs) on Facebook were down to 1.92 billion between Oct-Dec, Q4 of 2021 from 1.93 billion in Q3 2021.

App store optimization tool and analytics firm AppTweak also reported that GenZ prefers Instagram over Facebook.

Karan Lakhwani, head of business development in India for AppTweak says, “Retention data on Facebook suggests that it retains over 70% of its new users for over 0 days. On the other hand, Instagram retains 82% of its users for over 30 days. These metrics suggest a high engagement and low churn on Instagram. While over 70% retention is amazing, Facebook loses to Instagram on retention of new users in India.”

Other social media platforms are winning the attention war

Teens, GenZ and the cohort after them, Millennials make up about 65% of the total internet user base and the platforms and brands that these people choose are considered ‘cool, aspirational and desirable’ by other age groups. As per Consulting firm Deloitte, GenZ and Millennials are also the largest demographic groups in India and they hold high levels of disposable income globally. So Zuckerberg's concern to stop this slow leak of young users is not really a surprise.

Despite the company’s efforts to stay relevant, GenZ internet users interviewed by Business Insider India gave a variety of reasons for rejecting Facebook, including its outdated user interface and the platform’s increasingly older demographic.

Shraddha Khaire, a 23-year-old from Mumbai, says she only uses Facebook to share work-related updates and says that Facebook “shouldn’t try to win back GenZ at all.”

“But if they [Facebook] really want to – they can leverage newer trends and work with young brands. Facebook has now become just another social media platform that we have an account on – much like LinkedIn. I only use Facebook if I have a work-related update to post or a life update for that matter. I believe the reason why Genz audience is spending less and less time on Facebook, is because they want more – more ways to socialise, share posts, photos, messages, etc, and just like you move on from one thing to the other, I gradually moved on from Facebook to Snapchat and Instagram and more.”

GenZ internet user, Pranav Krishnan, head of culture, communications and corporate social responsibility at advertising agency Schbang, has significantly decreased his time spent on Facebook. He prefers other networking platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram. “I believe Facebook doesn’t have much of a chance to bring GenZ back to the application unless they integrate the same with Instagram and drive all the content through one application. The other way around would be to pivot the application in the virtual world of the Metaverse which may bring back the GenZ users. Users directly join Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn rather than Facebook, which used to be the thing earlier. GenZ is quite energetic, they prefer anything that helps with convenience, adds value/a unique perspective to their lives and Instagram and Snapchat have been able to do just that,” says Krishnan.

Urvi Dalmia, account manager at digital marketing agency 22Feet Tribal Worldwide, says Facebook had its time and it is Instagram’s time now. She is on Facebook because her job requires her to be active there. “We don't ask people if they'll switch back to CDs/DVDs to watch movies instead of streaming them on Netflix. For me, it's about the relevance of the app. Facebook is not adding any value to my life, I'd rather not go back. I still have the Facebook app only because I'm in digital marketing and I require it for professional reasons. I would've left the app long ago otherwise. Also, Facebook doesn't have content that interests me anymore. It's just old videos/news/old listicle links, etc. I think one of the reasons we left Facebook was also our parent's involvement in our social media lives. We did not want their interference so we moved to apps that were new and young.”

Can Facebook woo young content creators?

Whether it is Facebook’s recent addition of Instagram’s short-form video format Reels onto its platform or investing over $1 billion in creator programs, it is clear that Facebook is trying to build its own influencer community and trying to leverage on the boom in the creator economy. However, is it late to the game?

“Facebook for a while, if I talk in the sense of fashion, became something like the 2000s’ low waist jeans. Something everyone knows about, but no one is actively trying it out,” says Tarini Shah, a GenZ digital content creator.

She believes that there’s still hope.

“I think Facebook can get Genz onboard because the early Genz was on Facebook for a while before Instagram became ‘the thing.’ Facebook is perceived as a platform where parents post updates about their grandchildren and random things, which we really aren’t interested in. GenZ chases quality content; something to keep their minds engaged or escape from reality,” adds Tarini.

She suggests that Facebook can attract GenZ creators and new audiences through exclusive content series like YouTube Originals. “It can get the audience to at least open the app and then further convince them it isn’t just some place where you go to get your ‘throwback Thursday’ photos.”

For Dev Raiyani, an Indian GenZ digital content creator based in the US, Facebook was the first social media app he ever used, but he grew out of it slowly as TikTok and Instagram came into the picture. He found it more easily accessible and usable. He said that more focus on artificial intelligence (AI) can get Facebook more attention from young users.

“I wouldn’t lie, Facebook is perceived as a ‘boomer network’ by young people. But the switch to Meta really changed my perspective on it. Our generation is super into cryptocurrency, NFTs [non-fungible tokens], games and seeking all those in the metaverse is amazing,” says Raiyani.

Urjita Wani, a 23-year-old comedian and script writer based in Mumbai, spends three to four hours a day on Instagram and uses Facebook once in a blue moon. She describes her relationship with Facebook as, “It has become like my house’s door now; doesn’t get too many visitors and I can only answer it when it rings.”

“As a comedian with a public profile on Instagram, I don't think I can really control who checks out my content. But I joined Instagram when it had launched because it was a new, interesting platform. And back then, I had the mental space and time to try out new social platforms unlike now (sorry, Clubhouse). Of course, one of the many reasons why I stopped using Facebook was because my relatives would inundate my feed with their likes, comments and tags. Also, I didn't want them to pry into my social life,” shares Wani.

The only way, Wani says, Facebook will entice her back into the platform is if it recognises Instagram's shortcomings and updates itself accordingly.

Digital advertising agency SoCheers’ founder and director of operations, Siddharth Devnani, also said he prefers Instagram because he can be “edgy there.” To woo young consumers, Devnani said, the platform will have to change its perception.

“I am a grown up and I still try to be much more parent-friendly on Facebook than on Instagram. That’s how the platform is positioned. Even if my parents follow me on Instagram, I would be okay to do a little edgier stuff on Instagram than on Facebook. But it is not like Instagram is the answer. Your content depends on your network; who is going to see it. Teenagers do much edgier stuff on Snapchat too. Facebook has also struggled with misinformation campaigns, it is pretty heavy on news and religious content is higher there -- and that perception is going to be very hard to break,” Devnani says.

“Facebook will not see a revival, regardless of what Meta throws at it, inspired by Instagram,” says Karthik Srinivasan, a social media expert and communications consultant. “I don't think teens or GenZ may be going to what Meta believes is the next-big-thing. To some extent, Meta has already lost the perception war to TikTok. To some extent, I feel Meta may have internalised this too given how much more Instagram is now like Facebook in terms of traction among the most important user base. I also think that Meta has been consistently making future-looking bets to manage the dwindling interest in the social products it launches – Instagram was a hedge against Facebook, and Metaverse is a hedge against Instagram, and so on.”

The reason why he thinks the older audience is still on Facebook is because of familiarity and ease of use. “I believe Gen-X and Boomers are using Facebook (as also WhatsApp) more out of habit than any conscious interest. This is because all the people they know and interact with frequently are on those platforms. If another platform brings people together and gains traction (the way TikTok did in the US), the GenX may still stay on their Facebooks [sic] because of their friend circle. But this won't be seen as growth by Meta that constantly wants the younger bunch to actively use their platforms and buy things through them.”

Following the publication of internal documents, Facebook has been weathering a series of scandals and has been working on fixing its brand image. By the time it fixes its loopholes, there will be another social media app in the market that GenZ will declare as its new ‘low waist jeans.’


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