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The State of Facebook: Is Older Better?
By: Jeff Louis
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Facebook is a no-charge social networking site that began in February, 2004 at Harvard for Harvard students. However, as the word regarding Facebook spread, so did Facebook... to Stanford, The Ivy League, and other Boston-area colleges.

[Facebook] later expanded further to include any university student, then high school students, and, finally, to anyone aged 13 and over. The website currently has more than 200 million active users worldwide.

Controversy over privacy protection and advertisers ' concerns over brand image has surrounded the site. Yet, throughout the controversy and legal battles, Facebook continued. It's important to remember that Facebook wasn't created in a board room, but materialized in a dorm room. The similarity between the rise of Apple and Facebook are like mirror images separated by time. Although Facebook became mainstream very quickly in comparison to Apple, the stories seem eerily related. And, like early computers, the biggest battles fought by Facebook are those that dealt with legitimacy.

Overcoming Nay-Sayers

It's entertaining to read articles and reviews written over the past four years professing the demise of Facebook. Prominent voices from agencies, mainstream media, and competitors gave Facebook six months to three years. Yet Facebook grew, spreading to foreign countries, encompassing high schools, colleges, and corporations. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes estimated that there were over 10,000 corporate pages in 2006, barely two years following launch.

Today, there are an astounding 21,665 corporate Facebook pages, including the entire Fortune Top 10 for 2009: Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, GE, GM, Ford, AT&T, HP, and Valero. Additionally, other well-known brands, government agencies, and traditional media companies have an established presence on Facebook.

Companies - Berkshire Hathaway, IBM, Apple, Intel, Kraft Foods, Pepsi, Coke, AllState, GEICO, Bank of America
Government Agencies - The White House, CIA, DEA, FBI, Department of Education, Transportation, and Energy
Media Outlets - CBS-TV/Radio, NBC-TV, FOX-TV, ABC-TV/Radio, Clear Channel, Lamar, Conde Nast, Time Magazine

The involvement of companies certainly plays a part in the following point.

Demographically Speaking

41%t of all Facebook users are Adults 18-24; however, the age cells with the highest growth rate is shocking. Adults 55+ are growing 513% faster than any other age cell, followed by Adults 35-54, clipping along at 190% , nearly double the pace of the remaining age cells. The most senior Facebook user (and Twitterer), according to Facebook and the UK's Daily Mail, is 104-year-old Ivy Bean. Her closest runner up, and previous crown-holder, is a Frenchman, aged 97 (being second, no one recalls his name).

Unfortunately, all of the numbers are not as positive as the older demographics. Facebook is losing high school and college students, falling 16.5% and 22% respectively.

As an FYI - 70% (95,000,000) of the users reside outside the United States. The top-10 countries with highest number of Facebook users (2nd July 2009 - data from Facebook.com) is as follows:

Rank Country Number of Facebook Users 12 month growth % 6 month growth %
1 USA 69,378,980 149.5% 64.9%
2 UK 18,711,160 67.5% 25.3%
3 Turkey 12,382,320 257.4% 56.1%
4 Canada 11,961,020 24.3% 10.1%
5 France 10,781,480 338.1% 63.7%
6 Italy 10,218,400 1980.7% 82.9%
7 Indonesia 6,496,960 2997.3% 624.3%
8 Australia 6,053,560 88.2% 39.8%
9 Spain 5,773,200 729.6% 122.3%
10 Colombia 5,760,300 138.8% 58.6%

Multi-Generational Appeal

Undoubtedly, most are familiar with the monikers given to the various generations such as Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, etc. Facebook is a cultural phenomenon in many ways, but perhaps a visual of exactly who is on Facebook might be worthwhile to show the breadth covered by the site (the generations listed in the chart do not take into account generations that split, such as Echo Boomers).

 

Implications

Has Facebook become too appealing, evidenced by explosive growth seen among older demographics? For that matter, where did the younger demographic groups go? Is there another site that experienced growth of high school and college-aged users?

I believe we are witnessing the "Graying of America," or in this case, the world. What this means is that there are more "old" people than there are young (one of the reasons why health care has become such a vital topic). According to the latest estimates published by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), we are headed for uncharted seas. Never have we, globally, experienced a disparity in age like we are witnessing right now. To put a number on it, Adults 65+ are growing by 800,000 people/month globally. This varies by country, but the study reveals a possible explanation for the changes experienced by Facebook.

While Facebook is still relatively youthful in the United States, the once-core user group of A18-34 (36 million) has been eclipsed by Adults 25-54, now numbering 38 million.

What does this mean for Facebook? Older adults generally have higher household incomes and greater disposable incomes. It will be interesting to see how the changing demographics will impact advertising. Another positive for Facebook is that the site is reaching such a huge demographic base that targeted advertising by demographic/geographic area should be a relatively easy sell depending on conversion rates. Yet, on the down side, the applications that are geared towards younger audiences will begin to disappear.

It's my estimation that Facebook can run status quo for the next two years at most, depending on changes in the economy and competition. Since birth, Facebook has experienced growth both internally and in revenue. But with the rapid changes in the social media arena, it might be a good time to work on an alternative platform to once again scoop up the younger users.

 


   

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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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