Without a doubt, Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO) is a significant driver, as these respondents told us:Still, despite that FOMO, 17 million fewer 12–34s now use Facebook than two years ago.
And, it turns out, while we certainly registered a significant percentage of Facebook “quitters” in our Infinite Dial research, even that may have understated the issue.
In the Social Habit, we asked all Facebook users if they were using the service more, less, or about the same amount of time as when they first began using the service.
The results were clear — the percentage of people who say they are using Facebook more was 15% — nearly equal to the percentage of “quitters” at 14%.
But nearly a third of Facebook users — still on the rolls as “active” — indicated that they are using the service less than they used to.
In other words, the percentage of Facebook users who are either using the service less or not at all is now a combined 46% — approaching half of all Facebook users.
Now, others have certainly reported declines in Facebook usage, and it is tempting to try to ascribe that decline to a given reason.
But the truth, as ever, is more complex than that.
We gave the people who indicated they are using Facebook less or not at all a list of reasons to explain their change in usage, and allowed people to both tell us if each reason applied, and also which was the most important reason.
What we learned was that there is no “one reason” why people are changing their relationship with Facebook — there are several.
As you can see from the graph below, rants/personal comments, negativity, politics, and concerns about privacy were all named by the majority of these users, and all to a nearly equal degree.
But the rest of the listed reasons are also significant, with nearly half indicating that they are using other sites more, or that their friends have left.
Over three in ten even said that they were using Facebook less because their parents or relatives were using the service — and I can tell you that this sentiment was not confined to 12–34 year-olds!Now, this is with the total sample — all ages.
When we dig deeper into these numbers we see that different reasons surface to the top for different demographic groups.
But make no mistake — many of these reasons are important to ALL age groups, and we saw no better examples of that than in the video qualitative interviews we conducted as a part of the Social Habit with young people who are using Facebook less.
This perception of a toxic environment was registered not just by young Americans, but by users of all ages.
We found an especially interesting split here between men and women, with nearly two-thirds of women agreeing that there was “too much negativity” on Facebook, and nearly half agreeing that they needed a break from Facebook for their mental health.
But this does not mean that a significant percentage of men are immune from these feelings — over half also agreed that there was too much negativity on Facebook.
While we saw slightly less agreement among 13–34 year-olds on this, the majority of this age group agreed that they, like older Americans, are tiring of rants and excessive personal comments on Facebook, all of which contribute to the “toxic environment” cited earlier:Another interesting angle on Facebook’s decline can also be seen in the graph above.
Privacy is clearly a major concern among Facebook users ages 35+.
Both 35–54s and those over 55 are equally concerned, and to a large degree, about Facebook’s privacy issues.
But young people are also concerned, and only to a slightly lesser degree.
While fewer may cite privacy as a reason to use Facebook less, this may stem as much from a kind of resignation to the fact that nothing we do online is private, and Facebook is just one more example of this:So privacy and toxicity are two significant reasons why people might be using Facebook less, and in some cases, not at all.
It is tempting to think about a decline in Facebook as a flight away from the service.
But even that is an oversimplification.
It might also be that a decline in Facebook among young people is less about Facebook as a product doing something wrong, and more about competitive products doing something right.
In fact, when we listen to these respondents talk about services like Instagram, for example, it is clear that some part of this dynamic is simply that another product is serving their needs better:Indeed, the data bear this out.
Note the high percentage of 13–34s who use Facebook less who simply indicate that they are enjoying other services more, perhaps (as the video above implies) because they allow alternate forms of expression.
It also helps that they perceive that they can exhibit those alternate forms of expression in a forum that has yet to be infiltrated by their parents:We have been looking so far at ALL the reasons people who are “unfriending” Facebook have given for their change in behavior, but there is one more thing to look at: what is the MOST important reason?.In other words, while all ages share concerns about toxicity, privacy, and who is and isn’t on Facebook, what is the main reason people are giving Facebook a thumbs-down?.The answer is clear and simple:…it’s all of these.
It’s too reductive to say that people are leaving due to a toxic environment, or because they are concerned about privacy.
In truth, every age group has its own last straw, and they are all different.
Again, it must be said that Facebook remains the number one social media brand in America, and it isn’t going away any time soon, regardless of these data.
Thus, it would be a complete exaggeration to say that these declines are something like a “death by a thousand paper cuts.
” But it is also true to say that Facebook usage is eroding, and that erosion is occurring on multiple fronts.
With all of that said, Facebook remains the most popular social network in the US, and is both enormously profitable and enormously important in the fabric of American life.
But our study implies that Facebook may be facing, in record time, the fate of other “legacy media” like newspapers and network television: becoming a medium for older people.
Download the complete Social Habit presentation and webinar here.
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