Facebook Flight? No, Graduation Season

Posted by: Douglas MacMillan on July 07, 2009

As more baby boomers take to the world’s most popular social network, the average age of Facebook users has risen steadily. But the site’s bread and butter, kids in college and high school, haven’t gone anywhere. Have they?

On Monday, iStrategyLabs posted numbers Facebook supplies to advertisers which show a decline in members identified as high school and college students from January to July. The 16.5% drop in high schoolers and 21.7% drop in college students appear particularly surprising, because they coincide with a 513.7% rise in users age 55 and older.

But before everyone goes searching for the new cool site where all these young people are flocking, I suggest looking at what these numbers really represent. They are not survey-based — no one asked Facebook users whether they’re in school. Rather, the data is based on which Facebook users choose to identify the school they attend on their profile pages.

And what happened between January and July? Millions of young people graduated from school, giving them reason to drop online affiliations with their alma maters accordingly.

Graduation alone might not explain the drop. Perhaps because of increased concern over privacy issues in the past year, many users may simply be choosing not to identify themselves with specific schools. These “networks” which were so instrumental to the site in its early days (when you had to belong to a particular to school to even join) are losing relevance as more of the general public enters Facebook and people cross-pollinate with many different groups. The company itself decided to place less emphasis on networks in June, when it announced it would be eliminating geographic networks from the site altogether.

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Reader Comments

Dare Obasanjo

July 7, 2009 04:33 PM

Your theory doesn't match the data at http://www.istrategylabs.com/2009-facebook-demographics-and-statistics-report-513-growth-in-55-year-old-users-college-high-school-drop-20/

Ric

July 7, 2009 04:59 PM

I think at some point in the future this analysis and point in time will be where people say Facebook became the latest My space and took its meteoric plunge into irrelevancy and oblivion. Ahhhh the future good old days!

Peter Corbett

July 7, 2009 05:17 PM

Thank you for highlighting our research, Douglas. It think your inferences are valid ones - I'm going to put them to the test in September by running another report and if those numbers pop back up again, it would show that the change will have been due to the seasonality associated with graduation.

If they don't pop up, perhaps the lack of desire to flesh out one's profile fully, or Facebook's new de-emphasis of networks would be the source of the change...which is a harder case to prove.

-Peter Corbett, iStrategyLabs
http://www.twitter.com/corbett3000

Phoebe

July 7, 2009 07:30 PM

Regardless of affiliation, the number of members in all age groups increased. This analysis seems to imply that is not so.

nobuski_com

July 8, 2009 11:38 AM

@peter

"It think..."? Should proof read before you hit submit button.

If you're sloppy here, well, you know where I'm going with this.

nobuski.com

College Kid

July 8, 2009 11:54 AM

As an initial adopter of Facebook (3 years ago) and someone who immediately left the service once it went "public" I can understand the statistics. A website where you are sharing the details of your life (and your significant other) with everyone suddenly becomes "uncool" when your parents can view those same details.

Eric Filson

July 8, 2009 11:59 AM

OR, it could be that the invasion of crappy Facebook apps that litter everyone's interface is killing the user experience and driving people away.

Similar to what happened with MySpace... it just becomes junk.

obama

July 8, 2009 12:06 PM

my entire reason for joining facebook and avoiding myspace was to interact with my class mates in a closed school network. i liked how you could join a network only if you could go to school there. i think turning facebook into a myspace is turning a lot of people off. plus, once i start work I'll probably close my account.

Vic

July 8, 2009 01:11 PM

I think it's a good thing that all these "cool kids" are leaving facebook due to the influx of general public. I use facebook as a forum to keep in touch, debate, and discuss issues with friends (and their friends) across the world, not as an exclusive membership to the "cool club." You get access to a diverse ideals, without anonymity destroying the discussions integrity. Who cares if your parents or baby boomers are on it. If you're no longer in high school and you're still caring about "coolness," you're worrying about the wrong things.

Stacey Kellner

July 8, 2009 03:42 PM

Hehe, that's interesting.

www.Facebook.View-Private-Profile.com

Dan Greenfield

July 8, 2009 03:46 PM

If I were 20 again, I sure wouldn't want to be using the same site as my grandmother. In the age of niche markets, can Facebook be the AOL or Ed Sullivan Show and be everything to everybody?

jordan

July 8, 2009 04:45 PM

Facebook is meant to connect with people, but i think you need to be able to keep separate groups apart. I for one don't like the idea of my college age friend mixing with my parents or my job. If i go to a party i don't want alcohol laced pictures to show up on my profile for my parents and job to see.

Bryan

July 8, 2009 07:58 PM

I Think I'm in that demographic. I'm 50 and I got on after I found somebody I had been looking for. Then I found out ot my surprise that a lot of my extendend family was on line. It's great to 'keep in touch' with family you haven't seen in awhile. I was not looking for cool, or chic. Just connection. Kid's can go somewhere else if they want act up (they always do). But they will be back when they want to connect to family. Kids like to get on a limb, but come back to their roots later.

Adi

July 9, 2009 02:48 PM

Although I do belong to a network, I have my profile closed, which probably means what's the point to the whole network thing. The main reason why love facebook is that it gives one the opportunity of keeping in touch with friends and family around the world and sharing of photo's with said friends as well as local friends in way that email has never afforded one to do or photo sharing sights

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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