Young Millennials, those born between 1991 and 2001, are moving away from Facebook, en masse.
Their primary motivation, according to survey data?
It’s filled with too much text and trite baby and cat photos posted by their parents, grandparents, and their friends.
Ugh! It’s an old, oh so retro brand, like something out of the early Internet. So 1990s.
It’s decidedly uncool from their point of view. They’d rather share snaps of themselves and emojis with their friends on Instagram and Snapchat – totally at one with their tribe of teenagers and early twenty-somethings. And unsupervised by mom and dad.
This is not just an anecdotal byte of demographic data about Generation Z. There is empirical evidence showing the trend lines.
A report last week by the firm e-Marketer indicated that users in the 12-17-year-old demographic dropped by 9.9 percent in 2017, or nearly 1.4 million users. What’s worse, e-Marketer said, is that the drop-off in millennial support for the site will slip further this year, with another decline.
This one a loss of 2.2 million millennials for the dreamy, Elysian fields of Snapchat and Instagram.
Deep Roots in the Psyche
Marketers and media experts have many insights on this tendency, and say it has deep psychographic roots with that age cohort.
There are also a number of proposed solutions for brands seeking to reach this elusive group – including ads and other social media content from brands featuring only memes, or emojis, and pictures, with no words whatsoever.
“The answer to why millennials are dropping Facebook for Snapchat and Instagram can be summed up in three words: narcissism and instant gratification,” observes Carole Lieberman M.D., a physician known as America’s media psychiatrist, and an author of many medical works providing insight into America’s psyche. “Although you can post photos and video on FB, Snapchat and Instagram are more suited for pictorial expressions without the need for words.”
This peculiar communication style has its roots in the childhood experiences of these emerging adults.
“The severity of narcissism in millennials varies – some have garden-variety narcissism, and some would benefit from psychotherapy,” says Doctor Lieberman. “Posting pictures of themselves on Snapchat and Instagram is like the Greek god Narcissus staring at his image in the water. And like Narcissus, becoming too mesmerized by their image can land them in the water, too.”
This makes it harder in some ways to reach these potential consumers as a marketer.
“Narcissism is a psychological defence against insecurity and poor self-esteem,” says Doctor Lieberman. “The problem with millennials is that their parents don’t give them a true reflection of themselves. Their parents are either too self-preoccupied, or neglectful of them, or spoil them, giving them a sense of entitlement that they are always seeking to fulfil.”
More Privacy, Please
A social media expert from a Baltimore, Md.-based ad agency says that Facebook is too diverse for millennials, in terms of opinions and points of view available, and that this group of youngsters wants to maintain their privacy and shut out others.
“My following on Snapchat and Instagram may be more closed. While Facebook means interaction with a much larger group of friends and family, one’s Snapchat account may be limited to ‘friends-only,’ creating a stronger sense of privacy,” says Ryan Goff, who directs the social media practice at MGH – a full-service advertising and marketing agency, and is known as one of the leading social media experts in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.
“There’s also the pervasive desire among these teenagers and early twenty-somethings – and we have encountered this for many generations – to be considered cool.
“With all of those old folks on Facebook, and them always asking questions – “Where are you going to college? How are your parents? Why haven’t you called? – it’s much cooler to be with the tribe of fellow teens.”
The “brand perception” of young millennials is that the Facebook brand is ancient. A geezer. Past its prime. Should be put out to pasture like an old mare with a gammy hoof.
“Facebook is old!” says Goff. “It’s hard to believe, but the social network turned 14 this year. As young millennials think about where to invest their digital time, it’s hard to make the case for the oldest kid on the block.”
Less critically, there may be yet another factor at play here, one that has been present in past generations – embracing of new technology.
Previous generations have embraced radio, then TV, then cable, and satellite, and then the internet. Though Snapchat and Instagram are not really divergent technologies, separate from the internet, they’re different enough for the young millennials to feel unique when using these communications tools.
“Younger generations always move to newer media – it’s the way of media evolution. In the past decades, people in their 20s led the way from network TV to cable, and are now doing the same from cable to streaming,” says Paul Levinson, a professor of media studies and pop culture expert at Fordham University, in New York City. It’s therefore no surprise that the same is happening in social media, with [young] millennials going from FB to Snapchat and Instagram.”
Young millennials themselves agree with the eMarketer premise that they want to move away from an “uncool” service that is where “old people hang out online,” as one source said.
“When you go quiet on Facebook, it begs you to return by sending endless emails and push notifications about what others are posting in your absence. Go quiet on Snapchat or Instagram, and you’re going to miss out on entire conversations from your inner circle – or the people you wish were in your inner circle — that will disappear in 24 hours,” says Meaghan Downs, a social media strategist with the firm, Phelps, in an interview.
Or as Doctor Lieberman says, these young millennials like Snapchat and Instagram images that flash by quickly as they crave “instant gratification.”
The long shelf-life of Facebook photos makes the content seem fresh to young millennials, in other words, while the now you see it, now you don’t, aspect of Snapchat and Instagram images, appeals to these youngsters. Another source, 18-year-old entrepreneur, Vandita Pendse, 18-year-old software developer and co-founder of Genies Inc., says that Snapchat and Instagram have captured the vibe of her generation in a way that Facebook simply cannot.
“Snapchat and Instagram are key in shaping the preferences of GenZ,” says Pendse, in an interview.
“Amongst the most appealing features of Instagram and Snapchat is their ‘efficiency.’ What I mean by this is that both platforms deliver a massive amount of information in milliseconds – whether it’s an Instagram of your friends on a night out or a Snapchat of your friend after a midterm, you see who they were with, where they were, and what happened by looking at a single photo.”
“And, as mentioned above, the fact these images appear, and then disappear, are appealing, while Facebook’s content lingers on, and on, and on, in the mind of young Millennials,” Pendse said.
She also indicated that companies that focus on images to be “extremely successful” with her generation because they can communicate a significant amount of information at once.
Pendse is working on technology for young Millennials that takes that to the next level – a technology called “Genies,” which instantly produce emojis and memes that summarize news of the day with one graphic image. Clothing brands and musicians who use “stickers” to market themselves inspired the idea for the technology, Pendse adds.
Adapt, Or Else
Are we entering an age of image marketing akin to the middle ages, where merchants posted signs with an image of a horseshoe to relate that they were a blacksmith, or with a candlestick to show that they were a silversmith?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, Generation X and Baby Boomers technology and content preferences are going to start being less important to marketers in the coming years, as the millennials gain marketplace power through purchasing power, the data suggests.
Ultimately, that may make social media less reliant on words or conversations with consumers to move products and markets.
Snapchat’s expected growth is astounding — eMarketer reckons it will grow its U.S. audience by 9 percent in 2018. That would give the firm about 86.5 million users by the end of the year. Growth for Instagram is expected to keep pace with that rate, while Facebook’s appeal continues to wane with the young Millennials.
The social media business is going to have to adapt to the new demographic reality of Generation Z before it’s too late.
“As time goes on and industries adapt to new generations, GenX and Baby Boomer preferences will become less and less significant to marketers,” Pendse suggests.