Facebook, the leading social network with more than 2 billion users worldwide, is losing younger users in the U.S. at a faster pace than previously estimated, per researcher eMarketer. This year, less than half of U.S. internet users ages 12 to 17 will use Facebook on any device at least once a month, the forecast said.
This year marks the first time that eMarketer has predicted a decline in the number of U.S. Facebook users in younger groups: users ages 11 and younger are forecast to drop 9.3%, ages 12 to 17 will be down 5.6% and ages 18 to 24 will see a decline of 5.8%. Facebook’s U.S. audience will grow 1% this year to 169.5 million, but older age groups will be mostly responsible for that growth.
Snapchat and Facebook-owned Instagram are expected to add more younger U.S. users, eMarketer said. Snapchat will add 1.9 million users under age 24, while Instagram will add 1.6 million users in the age group.
The growth trends predicted by eMarketer indicate Facebook is reaching a saturation point in the U.S. and needs to boost its younger user base in order to sustain future growth. Facebook has been struggling with attracting younger users for several years, but its efforts don't appear to be making much of an impact as these consumers continue to seek out what's new and innovative in mobile.
The social media network last month acknowledged that changes to the site's design reduced time spent by 5%, or 50 million hours. The company’s Instagram platform shows faster growth, particularly after copying several popular features that Snapchat provided, like Stories that string together several images in a single post. The overall audience for Instagram is bigger than Snapchat in the U.S. The number of Instagram users will grow 13.1% to 104.7 million in 2018, while Snapchat’s user base will increase 9.3% to 86.5 million, eMarketer forecast.
Facebook has taken steps to appeal to younger users, including the December rollout of the Messenger Kids app aimed children under age 13. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood last month condemned the company for targeting children, saying younger users aren’t old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships or to understand what’s appropriate to share on social media. The advocacy group also cited research that found social media usage is associated with unhappiness and depression in adolescents.
Meanwhile, Snapchat is trying to expand its audience beyond younger demographic groups with a redesigned app that is intended to be easier to use. But the company now faces a backlash from thousands of users who are unhappy with the new design, per CNN. A Change.org petition asking the company to remove the new update has amassed almost 700,000 signatures by Tuesday morning. The app previously featured content from friends, publishers and celebrities on one page. The new design has a page for publishers and a page for friends. Facebook faced a similar backlash when it redesigned its site in 2008, but the company rode out the criticism and didn’t revert the design.