24 Feb 2014

Is Facebook dead to millennials?

One of the top headlines you see on social media news sites on a regular basis is about how Facebook is dying, Facebook is dead, millennials don’t use Facebook, teens don’t use Facebook, etc. We’re often skeptical of such claims, especially when there is no methodology provided to back up the sensationalist headlines. After the umpteenth article claiming Facebook was on the decline, we decided, in the words of market research expert Tom Webster, to do our own work and find out for ourselves: is Facebook dead to millennials?

To do this, we ran a survey across Google’s Consumer Surveys product asking US adults ages 18-24 about their social network usage. Unlike regular polls which provide a pre-selected list of options, we opted to do an unaided recall survey asking participants to type in the names of their favorite networks. 1,004 people provided 879 valid responses to the poll, providing an interesting look at the universe that is social media for the 18-24 demographic. Let’s look at what people had to say.

The exact question we asked was: “What top THREE social networks have you used most in the last 30 days?” A text box was provided for people to type in their answers.

facebook millennials.001

Facebook came in first, with 80% mind share. Much to our surprise, Twitter came in second with 49% mind share. Instagram (another Facebook property) was third with 30% mind share. What was equally interesting was the diversity in the remainder of the responses. Every other major social network was represented in some fashion, from Tumblr to Google+ (apparently more people use it than we think) to niche networks like DeviantArt and mobile-only apps like Kik. Interestingly, WhatsApp (being largely an APAC/EMEA app) didn’t chart at all. Despite its buzz, Snapchat was on par with MySpace, and both were slightly ahead of Twitter’s Vine property.

What’s important to emphasize here is that people were given free reign to respond as they liked. We had to clean up the data to remove responses like “your mom” (about 50 of those) and asdf (about 10 of those) plus a few others, but unaided recall is a different way of measuring mind share rather than active user counts. It has an implicit level of sentiment and importance built into it – if you don’t remember it, or if it didn’t make your top three, chances are it’s not as important to you as your top three.

What does all of this data tell us? Facebook’s 80% mind share among millennials indicates that not only is it not dead, it’s far from it. It’s the dominant social network by far among millennials. The surprise was also Twitter, with just under half of millennials responding that they used it within the last 30 days.

We’ll re-run this exact survey in 3 months’ time to see if the numbers significantly change, but for now, our conclusion based on this data is that if you’re focused on the millennial audience, you should be using a diverse multi-platform strategy. Facebook is nearly mandatory, even if its reach leaves something to be desired. Twitter should be a mandatory part of your millennial audience building. Instagram should be in the mix as well. Depending on whether it’s a fit for your products, services, and brand, networks like Tumblr and Pinterest may be sound choices. Even niche networks like DeviantArt may make sense for some brands.

Be in more than one place online if the millennial audience is important to you, but be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for certain.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Methodology Statement

SHIFT commissioned Google Consumer Surveys to collect responses from a representative sample of 1,000 respondents of the general US adult Internet population, restricted to respondents who are 18-24 years of age (filtering provided by Google). This survey collected 5,014 impressions and 1,004 responses for a 20.0% response rate with an RMSE score of 1.3%. The question asked of respondents was “What top THREE social networks have you used most in the last 30 days?” with example text given displaying “Example: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn”. An open-ended text box was provided for responses. SHIFT Communications was the sole investor in the study. The survey population was the adult Internet user population of the United States. The date of the survey period was 2/6/14-2/11/14. For establishing counts of mind share, any response with a given network, regardless of order, was counted. For example, a response of “twitter facebook tumblr” would count as a vote for each of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr out of the pool of respondents. Total percentages will exceed 100%. A copy of the results spreadsheet is available upon request.

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12 comments
imavip
imavip

@cspenn wondering if the question phrasing causes people to only consider a "top 3" network vs. picking ones they use.

mlaffs
mlaffs

@cspenn I'm interested that you defined your data set as 18-24.

McQuaas
McQuaas

Be aware: Awareness ≠ appealingness. 

cspenn
cspenn

@imavip Worth an A/B test on the next run - thanks!

cspenn
cspenn

@mlaffs It's a constraint of our surveying software more than anything.

mlaffs
mlaffs

@cspenn what would you have done differently if you didn't have those constraints?

mlaffs
mlaffs

@cspenn I've heard the term "millennials" applied so broadly

cspenn
cspenn

@mlaffs Part of that is because of US Census Bureau CPS data as well. Need to match it to calculate weight and bias.

mlaffs
mlaffs

@cspenn I guess i was more surprised about the upper and lower boundaries of this data set

cspenn
cspenn

@mlaffs Specific ages. That question is actually forbidden because you can infer PII from it with a small data set.