Facebook, already dominant as a social media platform, continues to increase its remarkable market penetration: the Harvard Public Opinion Project’s most recent poll shows that 84 percent of the young Americans surveyed reported having a Facebook account, an increase from 79 percent in the fall of 2013.
But as the media begins to question if Facebook is “out of style,” HPOP’s poll reveals trends in young Americans’ opinions that set the stage for a shift in Facebook’s continued dominance of social media.
Millennials’ use of Facebook is declining. Thirty-seven percent of poll respondents reported using Facebook less in the last year, while only 16 percent reported using Facebook more. This decline might be partly fueled by the changes to the site over the past year. After Facebook implemented changes in its algorithms which track viral trends and better target site material to individuals, 35 percent of poll respondents stated that these changes made them less likely to use the site, whereas only 7 percent of respondents felt that the changes made them more likely to use the site. Although a majority (58 percent) of young Americans feel that recent changes in Facebook will not impact their site usage, the stark gap between those deterred by the changes and the minority pleased with them attests to a growing discomfort with Facebook among young millennials.
However, such changes seem counterintuitive given millennials’ satisfaction with social media in general. Although young millennials’ discomfort with Facebook may be growing, a majority of respondents to the HPOP poll reported feeling good after using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Seventy-three percent of poll respondents felt “less anxious” after using Facebook. Moreover, 80 percent reported feeling “happy” and “connected” after going on the site. The young Americans surveyed still derive happiness and good feelings from using Facebook in enormous percentages.
So why is Facebook use declining? Will growing discomfort with the site, or the rise of more popular social media outlets, overcome the good feelings that such a large proportion of poll respondents reported experiencing after using Facebook? The youngest respondents to the HPOP poll, millennials between the ages of 18 and 24, are diversifying their social media use to a greater extent than their older peers. These poll respondents were considerably more likely than the 25- to 29-year-olds surveyed to have social media accounts beyond Facebook. Forty percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have an Instagram account, while only 32 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds do. Likewise, 30 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have a Snapchat account and 17 percent are on Tumblr, significantly more than the 13 percent and 8 percent usage rates of 25- to 29-year-olds. The growing diversity of the social media presences reported by college-age Americans seems indicative of a less Facebook-focused social media future. Younger millennials still gain satisfaction from Facebook, but many now make use of the increased alternatives offered by a proliferation of new sites.
The young Americans surveyed in the poll displayed growing resistance to changes in Facebook but remained overwhelmingly convinced that using Facebook makes them feel “happy” and “connected.” Facebook seems to still be carrying out its essential function as a platform for people to communicate and socialize. The social media site remains in possession of a far more massive user base than those of rising social media sites, and that user base seems to be still growing: the percentage of poll respondents who report having a Facebook account increased 5 percentage points from just last year. But the growing discomfort with changes in Facebook displayed by the young Americans surveyed in this poll indicates a less Facebook-focused future. Other growing social media platforms, although still far behind Facebook in influence, are benefitting from the increasingly diverse social media usage of college-age Americans.