Despite recent suggestions that teens and young adults are losing interest in social networks, data released last week by online measurement firm comScore suggests that, in the U.K. at least, they're simply gravitating towards one in particular -- Facebook.
Although 15- to 24-year-olds are spending 9 percent less time overall on social networking sites, comScore found the number of users in that age bracket reached 6.8 million in June, up 14 percent from the previous year. The decline in overall engagement is attributable to younger users spending less time on secondary sites behind Facebook, the company suggests.
Last week, U.K. media regulator OfCom released research suggesting the percentage of 15- to 24-year-olds with a profile on a social networking site has dropped for the first time -- from 55 percent at the start of last year to 50 percent this year. In contrast, 46 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are now making use of social networking sites compared with 40 percent last year, leading the body to suggest that older users were driving younger users out of the space.
Mike Read, SVP and managing director, comScore Europe disagreed. "Recent reports have suggested that 15- to 24-year-olds in the U.K. are moving away from social networking sites because they're no longer cool as older users have encroached on their virtual space," he said in a company statement. "ComScore research indicates that is simply not the case. In fact, more 15-24-year-olds are using social networking sites than a year ago, so there isn't any particular aversion to the activity."
He added, "What does appear to be happening is that younger users are beginning to consolidate around Facebook, and are spending less time on competing sites."
This trend is highlighted by substantial user losses for the U.K.'s other major social networks -- MySpace and Bebo. Last month, comScore released figures suggesting the two experienced a 22 percent and 28 percent reduction in unique visitors, respectively, during the 12-month period ending May 2009.
By contrast, Facebook experienced 57 percent growth in unique users during that period, and darling of the moment Twitter achieved a staggering 3,226 percent increase.
Despite that growth, it appears Twitter is still struggling to attract younger users. Although taken from a sample of U.S. users, Nielsen research found that only 16 percent of Twitter.com Web site users were under the age of 25 during the month of June even though persons under 25 make up around a quarter of active users in the U.S.
Those numbers do not, however, include access from mobile devices or third-party clients such as Tweetdeck. Although it's possible that younger users prefer to post content via mobile platforms, it seems unlikely that this would skew the numbers so drastically. Forrester Analyst Neil Strother was reluctant to draw conclusions, but said, "My suspicion is if [teens” aren't doing much online, they might not be doing much on mobiles either."
Ultimately, it's likely the difference comes down to simple matters of functionality and application. Twitter's real-time nature and culture of link-posting lends itself to current affairs and news-related content -- a phenomenon demonstrated during the Iran election earlier this year. Older users are perhaps more likely to find value in that type of experience, whereas interaction surrounding photos, games and other third-party applications via Facebook may appeal more to a younger demographic.
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