Teens and 20-Somethings May Leave Facebook


I was chatting with a high school senior a couple weeks ago and Facebook came up. He commented offhand that he may have to find a new place online to keep up with his friends and I asked, “why?” That’s when he tipped me off.

“It was kind of weird when my parents joined and friended me. Seriously, though, my grandma friended me the other day! This isn’t cool. A lot of my friends are talking about looking for something else.”

That got me thinking. Do college students want their parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents walking into their dorm rooms on a Saturday night to jot down something cheesy on the white board over their desk for all their friends to see? If it’s not cool in the offline world, what would make it cool online?

Yes, the largest demographic on Facebook remains the 18-24 year olds. But their reign over the market share has dropped nearly 14 percent in the past six months alone – which validates the “problem” that high school senior shared.

If you market products or services to teens and 20-somethings, I’d keep an eye peeled and an ear to the ground. If an exodus begins, find out where they’re going and figure out ways for your brand to interact meaningfully. Getting in early is a very good thing.

What’s your take on the matter? Will the trendsetting young ones start running for the hills or will they eventually get over the heebie jeebies that come from being friended by their grandmas?

*Image by Tom Rydquist.

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43 responses to “Teens and 20-Somethings May Leave Facebook

  1. Forget the high schooler. I’m 33 and joined Facebook four years ago, back when I was in grad school and had an .edu address which was required for membership.

    Over the past 12 months, I’ve seen many people over the age of 40, let alone 50, join Facebook and befriend me. Why should I say no? But it’s beginning to freak me out, as in I’m subconsciously not writing some things in status updates that I otherwise would.

    But back to the high schooler. Where would he go?

  2. Its really simple. When ever something gets too general, It gets bloated and looses its niche usefulness. EVERY industry and special interest group WILL have it’s own Online Social Network. You build it… they WILL come.

  3. As commenter Ari alludes to, having people friend you from all areas of life, past and present, is a real issue for people — myself included.

    The solution, to my way of thinking, is Facebook providing the ability to have different groups for different people. I would love it if I could choose to label people friends, family, work, professional, networking, etc. and pick and choose to let some people have permissions and see posts from one or more categories as I desire…

    I’ve got to think they’re working on this, as it seems so obvious, and frankly…aLOT of us are starting to freak out at least a little bit, even if we’re not vocalizing it yet. This “worlds colliding” stuff is getting weird!

  4. The CEO of LinkedIn recently said, “LinkedIn is the office, Facebook is the backyard BBQ and MySpace is the bar.” I think it’s a pretty good analogy, especially considering the way Facebook has changed lately. I’m constantly contacted by former classmates, colleagues, politicians and business people. It really is a BBQ, and I don’t mind that, but I can see where the younger people who helped catapult Facebook into the spotlight might.

    What’s the next big thing on the horizon? Oh, if only I knew and had some money to invest! 🙂

  5. It was never a matter of ‘if’, but rather of ‘when’.

    The ‘merchandization’ of trends goes back to the 60s. Back then some savvy marketers started to realize that rather than trying to ‘create trends’ as had been the norm it was more efficient (and profitable) to figure out what the emerging trends were – those that were being created by youth – and to adapt them for acceptance by the wider populace. One needs only to look at how ‘acceptable’ the morals and ethics of ‘hippies’ became and how that morphed into ‘cool but non-rebellious’; or how punk went from anti-establishment to the latest fashion trend. No longer did older generations see the actions of youth as ‘unacceptable’. Quite the contrary, the new ideas – with a bit of ‘cleansing – became desirable.

    And as this happened the tools of marketing and communication got caught up in the shift. The ‘generation gap’ still exists, but it’s just that the ‘older’ generations of today have lived through being the younger generations who were part of the earlier iterations of this shift.

    In other words, youth will come up with something cool. The cool thing will become commoditized very rapidly. On becoming a commodity it gains wide-spread acceptance by the greater populace. Acceptance leads to exploitation by marketers. At that point it’s no longer cool and youth (usually the ‘next’ generation) goes in search of, and creates, the next societal innovation.

    The age-old societal clash between older generations leaning towards the status quo and youth leaning towards change has been largely diminished. Despite this having gone on for decades I think we’re still trying to make sense of what this all means and how it impacts us on a bigger scale.

  6. I’m one of the oldie moldies on Facebook! 🙂 Of course, I don’t have children. But a good friend of mine recently became a grandmother. She’s on FB, and I assume her daughter is. Now I have to find out if they are FB friends.

    It makes sense to me that kids will leave unless they have a way to stay a little more private from parents. Even when you’re in your parents house, as a teenager, your bedroom is sacred. Why would they want it any different online?

  7. @ari – not sure. with dozens of new platforms and applications hitting the intertubes each day, i’m sure it’s right around the corner!

    @PR Jack – your next-to-last paragraph completely sums up the issue. For those reasons, I don’t think the young folk will ever find a “home” they can live in online. They’ll be transient for a while.

  8. Isn’t the question more “Why do they want to hide?”.

    If your student’s case is more typical of other people in this age group, does it say more about lack of communication in the first place between child and parent?

    If you’re concerned about photographs being seen, make them private. Don’t tag them. If you’re concerned about saying something that your parents, grandparents or similar wouldn’t approve of, isn’t it just the same as offline? And often the same thing is said when the older generation are present?

    Having a niche is fine, but leaving something because another group joins – kind of elitist, no?

  9. I’m with Gina…this “worlds colliding” stuff is getting weird!!

  10. I joined Facebook back in 2004 when it was a college haven. I remember the huge debate when high schoolers were introduced. Then companies. Then anyone could join. I remember modifying my page and my privacy settings each time a new sector was launched.

    The teenagers and 20-somethings don’t have to leave Facebook. They need to understand how to coexist in the internet community. Wherever they go, they will eventually run into this problem. Take advantage of the Facebook privacy settings – they are there for a reason.

    In fact, they need to learn NOW that the internet is not private. It’s not a place to broadcast to the world about everything you do. Everything you put online can come back and haunt you. They may try to find privacy somewhere else, but it’ll catch up to them. You can’t hide in the middle of an open field.


  11. A good strategy for the young-uns: Say no to older relatives! I’m sure most will understand!

  12. Scale just isn’t cool. Kids want what’s next, not what is, or what was. Just like Friendster was cool until MySpace came along, and the people bailed on MySpace for Facebook, the next gen will want their own next cool thing.

  13. The solution is simple.

    Facebook touts its security for content as being “granular.” It can prevent the mass-exodus of young paranoids by adding filters that can keep certain information locked in with people who are within a certain age-range.

  14. As a 20 something and a senior getting ready to graduate and head out into the “real world”, I am excited about the prospect of Facebook becoming a hot bed for companies and recruiters.

    I view it as one more touch point and/or promotional tool for myself in an environment that is becoming increasingly competitive.

    Many people are upset by older generations getting on the band wagon because they now have to monitor what they post, what pictures they put up ect. Yes there are privacy settings: they may keep out your parents, but make note they WILL NOT keep employers out.

    A family friend that works for a Fortune 500 company, which will remain unnamed, warned me that these companies are now buying software to get past these barriers and even paying Facebook to gain access. If you read the terms and conditions of Facebook, it states that once you agree, the information you post on Facebook technically belongs to them.

    So maybe some 20 somethings will move on to another network where they can return to posting incriminating photos and crude comments, but I think the majority of us will adapt and take it with a grain of salt.

    I personally think its for the better.

  15. This came up in conversation recently. An adjunct professor at Syracuse was speaking with his students and found out that they are nervous about Facebook, Twitter, etc. because of the access other people have to them when they have a presence on these networks. Because of this, they’re jumping ship and holding out for the “next best thing”.

    It might be a “wisdom with age” situation; I freaked out when Facebook opened up to companies and the general public too, but then I learned the wonders of privacy settings and the common sense to not put up every single picture from the weekend. Nowadays, I love that I can keep in touch with my ex-boss who lives 2,000 miles away and at the same time, keep up with what my 16-year-old cousin thinks is cool.

    @balemar hit the nail on the head. For those of us that are both 20-something and marketers, we should value these touchpoints and encourage our peers to start practicing discretion. At the same time, as David said, we are in the best position to keep an ear to the ground and, when appropriate, use this insight to help our clients and industry.

  16. I like Ari’s question … where are these high schoolers who complain about Facebook going to go? I doubt they’ll dump Facebook; instead, other platforms will enter in and co-exist (but not displace).

  17. I agree this isn’t an age issue as much as it is a worlds colliding issue. I have friends that do little with facebook or opted out of joining all together, because there are parts of their lives that they don’t want past friends, ex-husbands/wives, co-workers knowing about.

    I hope facebook is reading this thread and will pick up on the categories idea. Letting some people see more than the basics and others only the “fit for public” parts seems the answer to me.

  18. I bailed on Facebook as soon as I stepped out into the “real world” once undergrad school was finished. My opinion of it back then was it was only good for posting weekend party photos, staying in touch with long distanst HS friends who went to other schools and a popularity contest.

    However, I can now say I am sucked back in with the massive massive increase in the value of these social networking tools in building business relations.

    So, the teens and 20-somethings may leave but they will find their way back once they notice additional value in the network they had built.

  19. It is going to take a while for us (I am 23) to leave Facebook. It is starting to shift though. Before my friends would accept any friend requests, now they are more careful about it. You can’t have your Aunt commenting on your change in relationship status or posting info to your wall from the family BBQ.

    (And yes, it would make it easier if all of the old people left. Can we create an age limit? Get on this Mark. Thanks.)


  20. I laugh at the idea of using the granular privileges and the “what do they have to hide?” Every new, unannounced FB feature defaults to 100%-wide-open-public, so assuming you can normally keep your edgy friends from cross-pollenating with your straight-laced boss (ew), there will still be windows of time when you’re at risk.

    And what do I have to hide? Do you have identical conversations with your boss, parents, customers, co-workers, and friends? Really? There’s nothing that you would talk about openly with one of those groups that you wouldn’t be willing to talk about with all of the others? Nothing that is totally legal and that you feel is morally and ethically OK but that you still somewhat hide from others?

    If not, I dare say you might make for dull conversation.

  21. @balemar wrote what I was thinking. All ages need to remember that everything posted online is available for people to find no matter what network they use. Yes, it is creepy to have our different worlds collide but it is just something you have to deal with because you can’t truly hide everything. Social media networks aren’t going away anytime soon and there will always be things that you don’t want someone to have access to.

  22. The venture I am involved in is currently creating a site meant to solve this very issue. Of course we have different circles of relationships. Its how we manage all the people we know, by grouping them. As I have aged I have found that I surround myself by a few social orbits of close people. Facebook is not the tool that can help me manage my close relationship when it fosters an environment based on loose connections. The two don’t mix in my real life and I don’t understand why I would try and make them work in my virtual one.

    What my team is working on will compliment Facebook, which has already proved its worth. So just keep an eye out for our ‘new’ thing (who knows, maybe David will be kind enough to let you all know when we are up and running) and hopefully you will see it’s worth as well.

  23. @ Dave. It’s called transparency – no matter what you do online, it WILL be visible somewhere.

    Not talking about your customers in a derogatory manner isn’t about dull conversation – it’s about respect and knowing that things will come back to bite you.

    Even offline, something you think you might say in secrecy has a way of getting back to the person involved. No different from online in that respect – except online’s more instantaneous.

  24. David:
    I think you’re exactly right. I joined Facebook when it was colleges only, and there was definitely a buzz and an exclusivity feel to it. I was also one of the ones disappointed when they opened it to anyone, and weirded out the first time my dad wrote on my wall.

    Young people for the most part want to feel like they’re part of the ‘next big thing’. That may be Twitter; it may be something else. But something tells me that Facebook will become less important for that generation, and increasingly used by the ‘older folk’.

    No disrespect Ari 🙂

  25. This is timely because today I found that my good friend’s son is on FB. I know him but we live so far away so I sent him a note and wrote ” I am just saying hi. Don’t feel pressured to friend me, I don’t want you to think your parents friends are spying on you. ” Hehe

  26. I don’t mind that the facebook has expanded to a broader set of generations. I fall into the older set (though my daughter is only 5, so she’s not an issue), and love that many of my friends are also on facebook.
    On the one hand, I think that the younger set may want to start getting a little bit more mature in terms of what they post online. As Danny Brown said, everything you put out there is OUT THERE. Try to think beyond the weekend party to the rest of your life – both chronologically & in terms of work vs play.
    Second, I hope that the dev team at fb can find and deploy and integrated solution that will appease all of their audience. I love facebook so much and want it to be the dominant platform out there. 😉

  27. I’m right with @Caleb. For a time, the appeal of Facebook was its exclusivity; however, it has become a platform for much more than connecting with classmates or old friends.

    Being a 20-something myself, I find my friends to still be engaged with Facebook but not on the same level as before– a bit ironic for all the things you can do on it now.

    In my group of friends, Twitter has become huge and for a generation with short attention spans, I think that fits.

    Overall, definitely an issue to follow, especially for the marketers out there!

  28. I can see what youngsters are thinking when they see their parents or family friends on Facebook. They feel it’s their safe haven, ‘their’ network that they don’t want violated with ‘boring adults’.

    What they don’t realize, yet, is that the online communication world is evolving – as those of us immersed in this industry see every day. I don’t think they’ll all go scampering off anytime soon.

    There’s privacy options for everyone so they can limit what certain people can see. It’s there for a reason and if kids have that big a problem with seeing adults using FB and other networks, which isn’t going to stop, then they should adhere to those privacy options.

  29. Anything ceases to be cool once the adults hit it..Look for verticals to become even more vertical..

  30. So true! In fact, we just blogged about this (http://blog.zooloo.com/2009/01/you-have-1-new-friend-request-mom-has-added-you). It’s definitely an issue that Facebook should be looking at and seeing how they can integrate everyone. Personally, I’m still taken aback when I get a friend request from an older relative. Great post!

  31. I’m not much of a FaceBooker (Twitter’s my drug), so my input won’t count for much.

    I’ve noticed recently that a lot of “older” folk are joining Facebook and that may the trend for FaceBook.

    The high schoolers and 20-somethings may not be long-term FaceBook peeps. That doesn’t mean FB is history; just that FB will need to taylor to the appropriate demographic.

    If FaceBook ultimately turns out to be a dud, I’m not sure it’s because of demographics. It’ll be because other kinds of web-based socializing will overtake the FaceBook platform.

  32. I only got onto Facebook in the last year or two. I’m in my late 40’s and many of my friends have also joined me, even older ones, it seems to be an epidemic, and it’s been great for maintaining relationships, particularly distant ones.

    When I joined I “friended” the daughters of my best friend (they’re on the east coast and I’m on the west coast so it was a good way to keep up). They’re like nieces to me and seemed happy to be my “friend” (or at least they kindly accepted the friendship, more likely).

    After a while, I thought, geez, I don’t need to know this much about what’s going on with them and what happens when I see things that aren’t exactly parental-friendly. I decided I would deal with the girls directly if I did. But after a few months, I thought, leave them alone and get out of their space. So I “defriended” them. I was with them at the time and they said I didn’t have to but also expressed wishes that some other adults would defriend them too.

    So I think you need to respect the younger generation’s space and not try to be their Facebook friend — it’s not like you would hang out with them at the mall, don’t do it on Facebook either. At least that’s my approach. I’m sure I’ll be friends with them in a few years, we’ll all know when it’s time.

  33. I’m 22 and am nearly 2 years out of college now. When I first got a friend request from my now-mother-in-law (to be) I was hesitant to show her my entire profile, but I had already added my fiance’s sister, so if she ever saw more content on her page, the jig would be up.

    But I think it definitely came down to the fact that the things that I was saying and showing on facebook were sometimes a little unnecessarily crass, so I could probably clean it up a bit anyway. But I also realized that I’m an adult and she’s an adult and though we might not agree on me and my friends making faces while drinking or the occasional immature comment, it’s still fine for her to see it–it’s me. And if there’s stuff on there that I’d be ashamed for her to see, it probably shouldn’t be there anyway.

    The only reason why I’ve considered leaving facebook is because I’ve grown disenchanted…it’s a boring time waster! Why not actually CONNECT with people? Sure, it’s changed a bit but so have those of us who first joined facebook our freshman year in 2004.

    @patrick evans btw, I LOVE connecting with my fiance’s family on facebook. its a ton of fun and a lot easier than trying to make phone calls and send pics over email!

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  37. This is a very interesting argument. I’m a working professional but only fresh out of college with a majority of my friends heavily connected via facebook.

    I think that the privacy settings and ability to publicize inside jokes that are still “inside” maintains a level of coolness and exclusivity that our age group desires.

    My friends and I purposely don’t friend co-workers, adults, parents, etc… because we don’t want them to be let into our world. I know as a professional that a time will come when I’m going to have to “clean it up,” but the thought of that day makes me sad as thousands of tagged photos, wall posts and other communications give me a virtual scrapbook of my fun days in college.

    I don’t think facebook is going anywhere, nor will anything come along that can fill its place. I see people that desire this great exclusivity gravitating towards more niche types of networks (dog lover, fashion enthusiasts, etc…). But only time will tell!

  38. I’ve been on FB for a while now (I’m over 40 and use it mostly for work). My kids and I deliberately agreed to not “friend” each other on FB. How creepy is that? There are ways to avoid it. And if I want to see their pages or what they’re up to, I just ask.

    But you bring up a larger question about the social graph, and it’s my understanding that FB is working on exactly this. If they want their “walled garden” to work, they have to figure out a way to keep the walls up. I know that groups was a step in this direction; and I’m pretty sure they’re on to the next step as well.

  39. It’s pretty simple. My son is on Facebook and has his own network. I’m on Facebook with my own network. We talk about what we find and post on our networks, but we’re not Facebook friends. The kid is 18. He’s old enough to know better and if he doesn’t having Mom check up on his “wall” won’t help him now.

  40. I think this will help. Teaching you how to set up your profile so you know who’s seeing what. http://blog.oit.wvu.edu/2009/02/03/social-media-and-privacy-your-facebook-profile/

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  42. Pingback: Dario Salvelli’s Blog » Blog Archive » Papà la smetti di aggiungere i miei amici su Facebook?

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