Teens are abandoning Facebook in droves for Twitter.
For many, that was the takeaway from an Oct. 10 Piper Jaffray study of 8,650 teens. That conclusion was false. The study had a much narrower focus than has been reported and only referred to purchasing activity on the platforms.
This key paragraph in the press release explaining the study caused the confusion (emphasis ours):
Teens have cited “friends” as the strongest influence over their purchase decisions for the duration of our survey history, but “Internet” is quickly rising in profile. More than half of teens indicate that social media impacts their purchases with Twitter being the most important, eclipsing Facebook, followed closely by Instagram. But the popularity of Facebook is waning among teens with 23% citing it as the most important, down from 33% six months ago and 42% a year ago.
There’s no doubt the report shows bad news for Facebook. However, the data refers to importance for purchases. The ambiguous wording of the presser — including remarks about the “popularity” of the social networks — didn’t help. After all, it was possible to read the last sentence as its own entity in which “most important” referred to most important overall.
That may be the case, but that’s not what Piper Jaffray was asking about. A rep for the financial advisor says the study was looking specifically at buying behavior and wasn’t trying to determine whether teens prefer Twitter to Facebook overall.
This sounds like great news for Twitter. Yet it’s unclear how much of teens’ purchasing activity is actually spurred by the social network. A study last year by IBM found that it had exactly zero effect on Black Friday sales. Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube didn’t fare much better, generating only 0.34% of online sales on Black Friday.
It’s also true that Twitter is gaining popularity with teens: A Pew Research study in May showed that the number of teens on Twitter doubled from 2011 to 26%. Yet 94% of teens reported being on Facebook. The “teens are tired of Facebook” narrative also picked up over the summer when Mashable ran an op-ed by 13 year-old Ruby Karp explaining that neither she nor her friends were on Facebook.
Nevertheless, researcher The Futures Company, which looks closely at teens’ behavior, has found that while Facebook use has plateaued (which tends to happen when you hit 94%), teens still aren’t leaving the social network en masse.
All of which is to say that there may be something to the persistent narrative that teens are getting sick of Facebook. The Piper Jaffray report doesn’t make that case.