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Where the Teens Are on Social Media — and Where They Aren’t

Do you remember the day you got a Facebook friend request from your grandmother?

Facebook has come a long way over the years — from a startup network for Ivy-League university students, to the number one social network on the globe. But with that popularity has come, well, a certain element of maturity.

New research from Piper Jaffray [full report located behind paywall] suggests that as more and more older people have joined Facebook, more and more younger people are looking to be social elsewhere.

Why? It’s probably not just the “coolness” factor at play, here. Facebook is still very strong with the under-18 set. But with their feeds now brimming over with posts from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, teens are craving a virtual place they can go to be with their friends, out of sight of the prying eyes of adults.

Overall, teens still perceive Facebook as their “most important” social network. But that value has declined steadily over the past six months. Between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013, the number of teen survey respondents who placed Facebook first dropped from 42% to 33%.

Meanwhile, other social networks rose to meet the challenge. Twitter moved up three points to rank a close second, with 30% of teens claiming it as their favorite social tool. Instagram grabbed 17% of the vote and Tumblr came in at 4%. Google+ was the only other social network besides Facebook that saw a decrease in popularity, albeit a slight one; dropping from 6% to 5%.

Lurking in the background, though, are a handful of lesser-known social networks that are quickly gaining traction with teens. When survey participants were invited to write-in the names of other social networks they frequented, Vine, Snapchat, Wanelo, Kik, and 4Chan topped the lists.

We’ve had our eye on these up-and-comers for a while. Most are deserving of their own posts — stay tuned! — but for now, here’s a quick rundown:

Vine

A video-sharing app that lets users upload up to six seconds of video, which is then looped continuously. Vine has only been around since January but hit #1 in the App store in the U.S. in the spring. Vine recently encountered some stiff competition in the form of Instagram’s new video functionality, so it will be interesting to see if it has staying power.

Snapchat

A temporary photo- and video- messaging application. Users can add text and drawings before sending to another person or to a list of people. Users can set a viewing time limit of up to ten seconds before the photo or video is deleted forever from both the recipient’s device and Snapchat’s servers.

Wanelo

Standing for “Want, Need, Love,” this e-commerce app helps usher youngsters into the consumerism fold by marrying social sharing with shopping, all in a Pinterest-esque interface. Users can share items linked directly to the site from which they can be purchased.

Kik

A messaging app that lets users chat and quickly send photos and videos to friends.

4Chan

An “imageboard” site where users post photos and comment on them.

So what does Facebook make of all this? Well, they know it’s happening, at least. The company’s annual report with the Securities and Exchanges Committee back in February stated:

“We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook. For example, we believe that some of our users have reduced their engagement with Facebook in favor of increased engagement with other products and services such as Instagram. In the event that our users increasingly engage with other products and services, we may experience a decline in user engagement and our business could be harmed.”

Some observers wonder if it’s time for Facebook to go into “panic mode,” but that sentiment is sensationalist at best. One thing Facebook is good at figuring out what people want and giving it to them. There’s no doubt in my mind that they will continue to adapt the platform to keep up with any competition.

Then again, nothing is forever in the world of social networks. It is entirely conceivable that Facebook could go the way of MySpace on day — though they’re working hard to make sure Facebook is so entrenched in people’s lives that that won’t happen.

If there’s any certainty here, it’s that nothing will stay the same. It will be interesting to see if teens begin to break from Facebook en masse in favor of some new network that comes along — or if we’re simply seeing the dawn of a new era of multi-app management, where youngsters favor no single social network and instead use several at once.

There’s one thing for sure, though: grandma probably won’t be opening accounts on them — at least for a little while.

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