Is Facebook losing itself to the olds? A new study released from research firm eMarketer predicts Facebook lost 2.8 million users under the age of 25 last year as many of them move to the aggressively youthful Snapchat.
eMarketer is an outside research firm without privileged access to Facebook's numbers, so take these numbers more as estimates than exact figures. Still, the study is sure to come as good news to Snapchat. The platform struggled with user growth early last year as Facebook introduced the Instagram Stories feature, a blatant Snap clone that nonetheless boosted its user base.
Facebook lost users in all three "youth" groups: Users under 11 years old, 12- to 17-year-olds, and 18 to 24 years old. Facebook's steepest estimated drop last year, according to eMarketer, was in the middle category: 1.4 million teens were no longer regular users. Facebook's estimated drop in younger users last year dovetails neatly with Snap's growth in 2017, when it gained about 1.9 million users under 25. We reached out to Facebook to comment on eMarketer's numbers but had not heard back at time of writing.
Facebook still reigns supreme with its 1.4 billion daily users compared to Snapchat's 187 million, but the changes in user growth reflect a longstanding cultural truth: What old people like isn't cool. It's entirely possible that Facebook is less popular with young people precisely because it's so popular with older people. Can a platform be "cool" if your aunt, grandfather and Year 3 teacher all use it? By contrast, Snapchat, even after its loathed-by-teens redesign, is notoriously difficult to pick up and use. That's kept it from mainstream success, but part of its appeal may be that older people don't "get it".
Ultimately, youth is an immensely valuable currency in the online attention economy. It's morbid, with an older user base, every decade or so Facebook will lose a certain percentage of its user base to old age. In its first eight years, 30 million users died. With billions of users worldwide, that means millions of people will make up Facebook's digital graveyard. Snapchat is smaller, younger, and, in addition to advertisers' bottomless appetites for youthful spending, it almost certainly has highly valuable insights into what the next generation of online users want.