Our friends at eMarketer published an interesting report this week about the growth of GenZ traffic on Snapchat and Instagram, coinciding with a declining number of daily Facebook users among that same age group. It was solid research we can confirm in our own data.
But the business and tech media’s “hot take” on the study was ridiculous. Hyperbolic, hyperventilating, flat-out wrong headlines like “Teens are leaving Facebook and not even Instagram can save them” or “This is one war Snapchat is winning over Facebook” took the eMarketer data and spun it into statistically-indefensible conclusions. Even Reuters’ header that “For advertisers, Snapchat’s got the kids,” is, on one level accurate (Snapchat does have kids), but goes too far in implying that Facebook or Instagram no longer do.
Chalk all of this up to gratuitous “if it bleeds, it leads” click-bait. It’s far more eye-catching (and lazier) to exaggerate a scratch on Facebook as a gaping flesh wound than to dig deeper into the nuanced and less-salacious numbers. But you, our faithful reader, know better. Here’s the real take, cool as it may be.
WHAT THE PRESS GOT RIGHT
Yes, Snapchat is growing among GenZ (especially in the last 5 months).
Yes, Facebook has lost daily GenZ users during that time.
But all of that only tells a partial story.
BASIC MATH: FACEBOOK + INSTAGRAM = FACEBOOK
Not to be Captain Obvious here, but everyone needs to remember that Facebook and Instagram are family. Most of the eMarketer coverage acknowledges that connection but also seems to discount its relevance. When I get pitched to advertise on Facebook, I’m being sold Facebook and/or Instagram simultaneously. Do you think Coca-Cola cares that Donald Trump isn’t drinking regular Coke, so long as he keeps drinking a dozen cans of Diet Coke every day? Nope. Just like Coke + Diet Coke, it’s the total numbers of Facebook + Instagram that matter.
And when you add the daily GenZ user numbers of Facebook and Instagram, the comparison to Snapchat isn’t all that close. Our data indicated that about 47% of Americans between the age of 13 and 24 use Snapchat daily. Over 60% are users of one or both of Facebook and Instagram. As eMarketer reported, Snapchat added 1.9M GenZ users last year. Instagram added 1.6M. That’s a net loss of a mere 300,000 people for the Facebook family – or one-tenth of one percent of the U.S population.
FOCUS ON THE UNDUPLICATED USERS
Arguably more important than the aggregate number of GenZ users is the unique audience available to advertisers through each platform. Here, again, Facebook and Instagram have a more positive story than Snapchat. Social media usage is not a zero-sum game.
In our most recent numbers, 62% of daily Under-25 Snapchat users are also daily users of Instagram. 66% of daily U25 Instagram users are also daily users of Snapchat. Pretty comparable numbers, if tilted slightly in Snapchat’s favor. Similarly, 64% of GenZ Snapchat users are also daily users of Facebook.
But when you flip those Facebook/Snapchat numbers, the picture is much different. As you can see in the chart below, only 31% of daily GenZ Facebook users are also daily users of Snapchat and only 11% of non-FB-using GenZers are daily users of Snapchat.
In other words, while roughly 1/3rd of Snapchat’s daily GenZ users can’t be reached on Facebook (or Instagram), over 2 out of 3 GenZ daily Facebook users can’t be reached on Snapchat. Advertisers may want to fish in both waters to reach everyone, but they’ll find more unique fish in the oceans of Facebook.
LONG-TERM, WORRY ABOUT LIFE STAGE, NOT GENERATION
Our numbers don’t suggest that Mark Zuckerberg should be doing cartwheels over declining GenZ user frequency. The trend line isn’t awesome. But let’s stop with the gloom-and-doom argument that Facebook is losing the entire generation forever. If we stop thinking about amorphous “generations” like GenZ or Millennials, and instead think about the world, more prudently by life stage, there’s no reason to fear for the future of Facebook – yet.
It’s easy to understand why Snapchat and Instagram are appealing to teenagers, with their daily “Streaks,” interminable “Stories,” and ephemeral content. Those things are practical and fun until you have a job, kids, busy days, friends all over the world, and the knowledge that life is already ephemeral – and that maybe our contributions and memories shouldn’t be.
So, everybody just calm down. Snapchat had a good year and they may very well have another. But Facebook is not dying because of it. And there’s no real reason to believe they will.