Facebook, the kids are moving out

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Social media is a finicky business—just ask MySpace.

Just a few months after being acquired by News Corporation in 2006, MySpace somehow lost its ‘cool factor’, turning from a once thriving social network where teenagers shared music, videos, and photos in ways only teenagers could fathom, to the online version of a ghost town.

MySpace losing its reputation as the cool place to be on the Internet can be partly attributed to the rise of Facebook, which has grown to have a base of 1.2 billion active users as of September 2013. But even the social media giant may not be so safe, with a recent blog post casting doubts on the company’s perception among youths, potentially leading to a similar exodus of users.


Speculations like these are important because Facebook has for the most part, enjoyed the bullish patronage of investors. Since going public, the company’s share price has soared to more than double in 2013, ending the year above $54. It’s a clear indication of how the market just loves to gobble up social media stocks, and it shows their belief that Facebook’s users won’t tire of the site.

Enter Daniel Miller

Stirring up the pot is an article on the academic research site, The Conversation. Published by Daniel Miller, professor of material culture at University College London, the article describes how young users are reportedly turning away from Facebook in large numbers, going as far as to say the social network “is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried.” Miller notes that most teenagers now prefer to use photo-sharing and messaging mobile apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat—places where parents aren’t around.

Miller drew his conclusions on Facebook’s waning popularity with young Internet users after conducting a survey among 16- to 18-year olds in Britain, part of an EU-funded report on social networks.

Critics responded to the article, pointing out that Miller’s small sample of just 40 students was far too small to extrapolate such a sweeping conclusion from. In response, Miller published a follow-up article to defend his findings, revealing that he had based his conclusions on a wider set of discussions. He also pointed out that a journalist had written his original post, which explains its alarmist tone—something he vowed would be fixed in the future.

Facebook’s safe, or is it?

So as it turns out, Facebook isn’t quite facing a MySpace moment. Still, the social network can’t afford to rest easy, which might partly explain the acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion. As is common with big networks, Facebook has drawn huge numbers of older users, as shown by this chart below from Pew Research Centre.


It’s also worth mentioning that Facebook CFO David Ebersman  admitted that daily usage of Facebook by younger teens had decreased. It doesn’t help that the social network has a growing reputation of being inhabited by parents, the bane of most youngsters.

But saying there’s a mass defection happening would be irresponsible. It is true, however, that teens now use a wide range of social networks for different purposes, this according to Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Centre’s Internet and American Life project. They’ve observed that ‘safer’ content is posted on Facebook, while more intimate posts (read risqué) are uploaded to networks not penetrated by parents as of yet—it’s an observation echoed by Professor Miller.

The teens may not be leaving in droves, but Facebook knows all too well the dangers of being casted as ‘uncool,’ as evidenced by their recent attempt to acquire Snapchat.


Nielsen Norman Group Survey Finds Websites Not Well Designed for Teenagers

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Given how the lives of today’s generation of teens are so intertwined with technology, most notably the Internet, it’s become especially important for web designers to be mindful of the Internet habits of teenagers when designing websites. Short attention spans, information just a click away, and text message interruptions are the norm with teens, which call for a clear reassessment of web design.

The Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), a firm that specialises in computer user interface development and user experience, recently released the findings of multiple studies on how websites can be improved to match the preferences and web abilities of teenagers.

Web designers and online marketers may find NN/g’s findings surprising, what with the discrepancies it shows with current stereotypes, showing yet again that grown-ups have little or no idea of how teenagers think, in this case, when Internet usage is concerned.

NN/g’s research disproves the following assumptions:

  • Teenagers are tech savvy by default
  • Teenagers depend heavily on smartphones
  • Teenagers want a social aspect to their entire Internet experience
  • Teenagers are fans of online multimedia and graphics content

In other words, the NN/g’s study shows that not all teens are fearless techies, tethered to online media. We at Enform believe that such assumptions are oversimplifications at best, and can potentially lead your web design plans to fail.

Teens’ Purpose for Website Use

Just like adults, teenagers go online for a plethora of reasons, entertainment chief among them. Teens generally have specific goals for using websites, even if they mainly involve killing time for only 10 minutes. As with adults, teens want websites to be easy to use and navigate through, making it quick and simple to accomplish tasks. Teens don’t just surf the web aimlessly, which makes website design just as important with them as it is with adults.

Among the most basic purposes teens use the web for, include:

  • Homework
  • Hobbies
  • Entertainment (e.g. music and games)
  • News
  • Communicating with friends
  • Shopping
  • Product research (even if teens have little purchasing power, they still look for products for their wish lists and for purchases through their credit-card-holding guardians/adults)

By comparing previous studies with their latest findings, NN/g found that teens have grown to become more successful at navigating through websites. During the 8 years that passed between old and new studies, the firm’s research shows that teens show an annual 2-percent increase in the success of their online tasks. 

However, teens aren’t as web-proficient as you might think. Even with the improvements they’ve made over the past decade, they still make mistakes, and when they do, they often give up immediately. With their impulsive decision-making, teens still have a lower success rate for achieving their website goals compared to adults—71 percent for teens vs. 83 percent for adults.

NN/g found 3 reasons for this problem.

  • Lower literacy rates
  • Poor research strategies
  • Higher tendency to be impatient

Given these three issues, NN/g made the following recommendations on web design for teenagers.

NN/g Recommendations:

Improve Content Writing

Create content for impatient users. Younger audiences shy away from pages with walls of text. In other words, they’re not keen on spending too much time reading—they already do that in school.

Communicating with teens requires the use of effective web writing and formatting techniques. Highlight content in brief yet information-filled photographs, use bulleted lists, and be smarter with your keyword usage.

Use easy-to-understand words instead of terms more understood by college graduates. Use short sentences and write through a 6th-grade reading perspective.

Make your Content Entertaining, but Don’t Overdo It

NN/g’s surveyed teens complained about sites that were too boring. Dull content is the bane of websites, but don’t go overboard with interactive and fancy designs. Teenagers are usually drawn to eye-pleasing websites, but they hate cluttered and multimedia-loaded sites (we’re looking at you fans of Adobe Flash).

Some of the interactive features teens are actually drawn to, include:

  • Online games and quizzes
  • Online forms for feedback
  • Online polls
  • Site features for sharing content like pictures, videos or stories
  • Message boards/online forums

Snappy Websites are Gold

Nothing irritates a teenager more than a slow-loading website, so make sure you have a fast, bug-free website. Younger Internet users have a tendency to expect instant gratification, so place speed on top of your list of design priorities.

Avoid widgets that add to your site’s loading time, even if you think they’re cool and add value to your site.

Don Treat Teenagers as Dumb

For your site’s content, avoid using a tone that’s babyish or condescending. Teens feel ostracised by content made for “grownups,” but they don’t want to be talked down to. NN/g’s studies found that teebs gravitate towards content created by peers, so create content that includes images, real stories and examples from other teenagers.

NN/g’s studies surveyed websites included sites aimed at both teenagers and children, using the word “Kid,” which had an effect of driving away teens. They also showed an aversion to garish and colourful web designs.

Give Teenagers Control Over Social Features

Give teens an option to share content, but don’t force it on them. Teenagers like the social aspect of the Internet, but they’re not obsessed over it, despite what’s shown in movies and TV.

Today’s teens are also taught to be more careful with their privacy, so avoid using features like forced registration, automatic linking with Facebook/Twitter profiles and more.

Sharing options should also include email, since according to the studies, teenagers actually prefer using email to protect their social accounts and online activity.

What About the Adults?

Now you may be wondering, “If I adjust my website for teens, won’t that compromise my adult audience?” We at Enform believe that the changes needed to attract teens won’t drive away adults; in fact, it will only target an additional population of adults composed of:

  • Adults with insufficient reading skills
  • Adults new to the Internet
  • Adult users who want to achieve their website goals faster

As you can see, these changes may be tailored for teenagers, but they also target an important segment of adults.