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How the teen exodus could save Facebook

The ageing profile of the average Facebook user confirms the site is successfully opening up the world's most affluent consumers.

Has Facebook exodus uncovered its potential saviour?

Has Facebook exodus uncovered its potential saviour?

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A friend who runs one of London’s most influential media companies recently returned from a whirlwind VIP trip to Silicon Valley where he was fortunate to meet many of those who currently shape our digital lives.

He said that what Google was planning took his breath away, health-related companies focusing on genetics and personalisation tools were going to be the new power-players and that Facebook was "deeply unimpressive".

He's normally quite cagey about revealing his thoughts but not this time: "They’re slow, self-satisfied and are not responding fast enough to what their users want. And the kids are still running the sweet shop. It lacks maturity and cold-hearted business nous," was broadly his assessment.

My other crucial sounding board when it comes to online developments is the breakfast table.

When asked this morning what they think of Facebook, 16-year-old Amy suddenly awoke from her customary grump-trance and said: ‘It’s soooo sloooow. I just want to chat I don’t want all the other stuff that crowds in. And anyway we all want to get into the new stuff like Snapchat.’

Joel, 13, rather helpfully (but no less accurately) added: ‘Why would I want to be a part of something that you and mum use?’

I hadn't actually bothered to check if they've logged out of Facebook but, according to last week’s news, it seems they’re two of the 11 million teenagers who have abandoned Mark Zuckerberg in the past couple of years for faster, phone-based apps. The figures come from a survey conducted by iStrategy Labs which says it has used data from Facebook’s own Social Advertising platform.

Over-35s now account for almost 47 per cent of all usage (there are about 180 million users in America, 53 per cent of them are women) and those who are aged above 55 (about 28 million or so) make up a sixth of all Facebook users – and the numbers are rising all the time.

Teens apparently "told researchers there were too many adults on Facebook and too much sharing of teenage angst and inane details like what a friend ate for dinner. Their Facebook profiles still exist, but younger users spend less time on them, preferring Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr."

The irony, however, is that the Facebook exodus has accidentally uncovered its potential saviour. The biggest growth market for Facebook is the over-50s – 80 per cent growth since 2011. In America alone, according to the iStrategy figures, more than 30 million of this demographic use Facebook – that's out of 35 million who engage in social networks.

When analysing all web activity, only Google is more popular with them. Remember this is an age group that controls four-fifths of American wealth. If you add in those aged 45 and above, then that makes up just under a third of Facebook’s 180 million or so users. Whilst the kids are leaving the party, it seems the grown-ups are muscling in.

Why have the youth abandoned it? Boredom, the thrill of the new, preferring to use mobiles, length of time it takes to upload, increased grazing, perceptions that it’s become too corporate and of course that the older demographic has taken over the playground.

Equally, what explains the annual 15 to 20 per cent rise in older people joining? The reasons are so disparate that they can’t apply to this single, admittedly large, demographic. Forty-somethings use it in much the same way as younger people, whilst older people regard it as an essential link to family, old friends, communities and the outside world – and simple to use too.

Most still prefer email but, as a multi-faceted "tool", especially for older people, Facebook is far ahead of its competitors.

Perhaps, then, Zuckerberg and his new stock market mentors need to start asking a different question. Not, "How can we get back the kids we’ve lost?", but "Should we concentrate our efforts on appealing to the market that we once viewed with pity, suspicion and distaste?"

The new face of Facebook may be a little more saggy and lived-in – but it's richer too.

Grant Feller is a former national newspaper executive and now director of digital consultancy GF-Media.

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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