The Meta empire (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger) no longer has a foothold among young people. While 71% of American teenagers aged 13 to 17 used Facebook in 2015, the new generation is turning away from it: barely a third (32%) of teenagers still use it in 2022, even occasionally. 13-17 year olds now prefer two other social media: 95% go to YouTube – owned by Google – to listen to music, watch short videos or follow influencers, and 67% have been seduced by the Chinese TikTok . This is the main lesson of the new study “Adolescents, social media and technology” conducted last April by the Pew Research Center, which has just published its results.
Proof of the rapid evolution of uses, the two star services in 2022, YouTube and TikTok, were not tested in 2015. YouTube was not considered relevant and TikTok did not even exist, since it was created the following year. The 2015 study actually confirmed the dominance of Mark Zuckerberg’s empire: after Facebook at 71%, the second most popular social media among teens was Instagram at 52%. Young Snapchat was third (41%), followed by Twitter (33%) and Tumblr (14%).
Eight years later, the landscape is drastically different: Facebook plummets from first to fifth place with a colossal loss of 39 points. Instagram is progressing from 52% to 62%, but it is now closely followed by Snapchat, which is increasing from 41% to 59%, and seems to be doubling it soon. Twitter is still there, but it has lost 10 points (from 33% to 23%), just like Tumblr, which has become completely outdated (from 14% to 5%). Among popular new services, the 2022 study includes Twitch, owned by Amazon and used by 20% of American teens, but omits Discord. WhatsApp and Reddit, absent from the 2015 study, are included this time, but they do not weigh much: only 17% and 14% respectively of teens surveyed use them.
Meta in decline, Instagram in danger of outdatedness too
So is this the beginning of the end for Mark Zuckerberg’s empire? The disaffection of teenagers vis-à-vis Facebook is not new – experts have been concerned about it since the mid-2010s – but this time it has reached worrying proportions. In the 2010s, the Californian group was able to rely on the extraordinary growth of Instagram (2 billion active users per month at the end of 2021), but the success of Snapchat and especially TikTok, with their viral video formats which are also cheerfully copied, also tends to make Instagram old-fashioned, which is historically the social network for photography. As for WhatsApp and Messenger, they have also exceeded the milestone of 2 billion active users per month, but their audience is older and these two services are mainly used as private messaging services.
With between 2 and 3 billion active users per month for each of them – Facebook claims 2.93 billion users per month – the power of Mark Zuckerberg’s “big 4” is such that the flight of teenagers from Facebook and the growing disinterest in Instagram will take time to undermine the entire empire.
But it is now a reality: Meta is in decline. The financial results for the second quarter also illustrate this: pfor the first time since the IPO of thn 2012, its turnover declined compared to the previous year. Specifically, it fell 1% in the second quarter of 2022, to $28.8 billion, after having climbed 55% between 2020 and 2021. Above all, the company’s net profits plunged 36% compared to the previous year, at $6.7 billion. They had not collapsed like this since 2012. To make matters worse, the number of Facebook users fell, with a loss of 2 million monthly users compared to the first quarter. According to Apple and Data.ai, Facebook is also increasingly regularly coming out of the Top 10 downloads on the App Store. April 2022 was even the worst month in its history: the app tumbled around the Top 40 twice.
The Zuckerberg method no longer works
Mark Zuckerberg seems caught up in a ruthless reality: social media is also generational. MSN and Myspace, stars of the 1990s, were outdated by Facebook in the 2000s in favor of the new codes imposed by the company. Then came Instagram – which left a new place for photography – and WhatsApp with its modernized group chats.
To avoid decline, Mark Zuckerberg then opted for the strategy of stifling competition and transforming Facebook into a real structuring platform for the social web, essential for anyone wishing to advertise online. For this, he first swallowed Instagram in 2012, for barely 1 billion dollars, as soon as he realized that its use would quickly become more popular among young people than that of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg then targeted WhatsApp, bought in 2014 for 22 billion dollars, while developing an internal messaging service for Facebook, Messenger. Aided by the network effect, all three have been massively adopted, in turn strengthening Facebook. Under the nose and beard of regulators, Mark Zuckerberg was the first to succeed in the feat of perpetuating his domination in social networks by relying on a four-armed octopus capable of seducing all age groups. Almost twenty years later, the Facebook group has become Meta and is still one of the most powerful companies on the planet.
But Mark Zuckerberg failed to lock in the market as he had begun to do by buying Instagram and WhatsApp. The first hitch in its strategy was the refusal of Even Spiegel in 2013, CEO and founder of Snapchat, to be swallowed by Facebook. He was right: the company went public anyway, and despite Instagram copying all its innovative features, Snapchat now has a better image among young people and has grown more in 8 years ( +18 points) than Instagram (+10 points).
TikTok, the digital equivalent of a drug for young people
But the final blow could come from China’s TikTok, which in many ways represents the best possible iteration of a social network in the early 2020s. to be at 1.8 billion at the end of 2022- spiraling out of control and winning over young people like wildfire. His short, rhythmic and highly entertaining videos are extremely addictive. The navigation is very smooth, the interface engaging and the tool is very simple to use.
Some researchers even compare TikTok to a digital drug: the service is calibrated to constantly stimulate the brain and release dopamine. “You are carried by dopamine into a state of pleasure. It’s almost hypnotic, you can’t help but stare“, describes Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist specializing in digital culture, to the American magazine Forbes.
Obviously, the time spent on TikTok and the strong commitment of users translate into personal data and therefore into income for Bytedance, its parent company. Some analysts consider TikTok to be primarily responsible for Meta’s relative decline, first by stealing users from it and then monetizing them in a fearsome way. In 2021, its revenue was $4.6 billion, but it is expected to climb to $12 billion in 2022, almost triple. Who knows what heights he may still reach next… At least until a new service dethrones him in turn.