After Facebook: Examining Today's Hottest Social Media
Have you checked your Facebook feed today? Then you're definitely out of it, because Facebook is so yesterday. There are newer social media around, and the hip young kids are abandoning Facebook for these hotter alternatives.
Let's face it, when you parents and grandparents start using something, it's not cool anymore. And that pretty much describes Facebook, with its demographics dramatically shifting older. (The fastest growing age group on Facebook are users aged 55 and up; users 35 and up now represent almost half of Facebook's user base.)
The result is that teens and millennials are abandoning Facebook in droves. From 2011 to 2014, Facebook lost more than 3 million users aged 13-17, and another 3 million in the 18-24 age group. Like it or not, Facebook is definitely becoming a hangout for older users.
So if all the hip young kids are leaving Facebook (or using it a lot less on a regular basis), where are they going? There's no one destination for these Facebook deserters; the younger generation is splintering their time between a number of social media startups. Let's see what's out there.
Traditional Social Networks
It's not surprising that many ex-Facebook users are migrating to similar post-once/read-many social media. If Facebook itself has become too broad-based, there are more targeted social media that have appeal.
Let's start with Twitter, which has always attracted a younger audience than the multi-generational Facebook. (Okay, not always; Facebook did start out as a social network for college students, after all.) Older users are scared off by Twitter's less-than-intuitive interface and weird techie features, like hashtags. So a lot of the youngsters abandoning Facebook are moving right next door into the Twitterverse.
In case you've been living in a cave for the past few years, Twitter is a cross between an instant messaging service and a full-blown social network. Users post short (140-character max) text messages, called tweets, that are then broadcast publically to that person's followers on the service. Teens like Twitter because it's short and fast and immediate, like text messaging. It's good for expressing what's on one's mind, or discovering what one's friends are up to. (It's also a great forum for keeping up with breaking news, celebrity gossip, and the like.)
In addition to having obvious appeal to teens, Twitter is also popular among slightly older (but still young) users. According to the Pew Center's Internet Project, more than a third of online users aged 18-29 use Twitter – and that age group makes up the biggest component of the Twitter user base.
In short, if you're leaving Facebook, Twitter is probably the first alternative to check out.
Many ex-Facebook users are also migrating to Tumblr, which is kind of a cross between a traditional blog and Twitter. Tumblr users create short posts that consist of text, photos, videos, you name it, just like blog posts. Other users follow these users' tumblelogs, as they're called, and all posts are public.
Teens and twenty-somethings use Tumblr to post personal photos, favorite videos, and random text musings. (They also post a lot of porn, so there's that, too.) Popular posts get reblogged and often go viral. It's kind of like Twitter, but with richer content and a little less immediacy.
Then there's Yik Yak, which is a location-aware social networking app. Users post short, anonymous text comments, which then get distributed to the 500 Yik Yak users in closest physical proximity – typically within a mile or two of the poster.
You can see how Yik Yak appeals to school kids – whatever they post gets seen immediately by other users on campus, or even the same classroom. This popularity has a downside, however, with the Yik Yak app being used for gossip and bullying and you name it. Still, kids like this sort of thing, and that's why they're installing the Yik Yak app on their smartphones. (And why some schools are banning it.)
Have a question you need answered? Then turn to Ask.fm, a social media service that lets kids (and other users) ask questions and have them answered by other users. Many of the posts – and answers – are anonymous, so it's kind of a safe place to learn about various aspects of life.
That means there are a lot of questions about sex and other topics of particular interest to teens, but that's to be expected. Slightly older users use Ask.fm to find out about restaurants, retailers, and other local attractions.
Ask.fm has more than 100 million registered users who post more than 30 million questions and answers each day. Unfortunately, some of these youngsters use the site for cyberbullying; the site has received a lot of bad press for its role in several teen suicides.
Questionable use aside, Ask.fm has a lot of appeal to the younger audience. The question-and-answer format easily leads to ongoing discussions, and that's the social networking part of things.
Whisper is a social networking app that enables users to share secrets and private thoughts publicly and anonymously. That is, users post whatever is on their minds, paired with a corresponding image. The posts are anonymous but shared publicly across the Whisper network, like the questions and answers on Ask.fm.
Users can like or re-Whisper favorite posts, as well as reply to posts with posts of their own. It's a great outlet for teens with stuff on their minds, even if much of that stuff is sexual in nature. (Beginning to see a trend here?) It's kind of confessional but in the public square, so to speak – kind of like writing graffiti on a wall.
Photo- and Video-Based Social Media
Many of the Facebook alternatives are visual in nature. We're talking websites and apps that let people connect by sharing pictures and videos – kind of like Facebook without all those pesky words.
Instagram is the largest visual social network, period. It started as a photo app for iPhones and Android phones, complete with a series of creative "filters" that users could apply to their digital photos. The social aspect of the app comes from users sharing the photos they take, which has create kind of an inadvertent social network that competes directly with Facebook. (Instagram recently added the ability to shoot and share short 15-second videos, in addition to the normal picture sharing.)
Teens and twenty-somethings share what they're doing by taking photos and videos and sharing them either privately with friends and followers or publicly across the entire Instagram network. Posts can be liked and shared, and Instagram uses hashtags for searching, just like Twitter. Photos and videos can also be cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter, which adds to the exposure.
Instagram's audience isn't limited to the younger generation, but the demographics definitely break youthful. Fully 90% of Instagram's 200 million or so users are under the age of 35, which is far different from Facebook's aging demographics.
Vine is kind of like Instagram for videos. (Well, Instagram lets you shoot videos now, but that was in response to Vine.) The Vine app lets you shoot looping six-second video clips and share them publicly and with friends. It's great for sharing videos of what's happening now, but also leads to much creativity – a six-second Vine can consist of multiple shots, so there's a lot of stop-motion videos and similar fun stuff passed around.
Teens share a lot of silly stuff on Vine; it's easy enough to pop off six seconds of this, that, or the other. There's also a lot of inappropriate selfies, but that's the case with all of these visual social media apps. In any case, Vine has a particular appeal to younger users, and even among youth-oriented celebrities. It's kind of like a hipper Instagram.
Younger users value their privacy, which is something that is lacking with Facebook and similar social media. (Even Instagram photos stick around to haunt you forever, just like tweets and Facebook posts.) Enter Snapchat, an image-based messaging app that erases all posts after they've been viewed.
Users take photos and short videos with their smartphones and then post them to specific people on Snapchat. (The posts are not visible to the general public.) Each image or video is visible for a maximum of 10 seconds (the user can choose between 1 and 10 second visibility), then it disappears. Nothing is stored on the recipients' devices, nothing is stored on Snapchat's servers. It's a social network without a long-term memory.
This makes Snapchat ideal for sharing users' immediate thoughts, without having to worry about those posts coming back to cause trouble in the future. As you can imagine, that's hugely appealing to teens with short attention spans. There are a lot of goofy and potentially embarrassing "snaps" posted on Snapchat, but who cares? They all disappear soon enough.
Any discussion of visual social media wouldn't be complete without a mention of Pinterest, the social network with particular appeal to women. Pinterest users – 27% of whom are between the ages of 18-29, by the way – post pictures they find on the web onto visual "pinboards," organized by topic. That results in a lot of sharing of clothing and fashion photos, crafts and do-it-yourself projects, and recipes. You know, girl stuff.
That's not being sexist. For whatever reason, women outnumber men on Pinterest 4 to 1. It's a great site for sharing pictures (and links to corresponding web pages) of things you like, hobbies and projects and wish lists and whatever else that's visual. Pinterest doesn't get a lot of press like Twitter and Snapchat and some of the other Facebook alternatives, but it gets a lot of users – 70 million of them, at last count.
Mobile Messaging Media
When it comes to today's youngest users, Facebook probably never entered into the picture. These kids started out texting on their phones and are graduating into social messaging apps that have more in common with texts than they do with Facebook posts.
These mobile messaging media are apps that enable one-to-one text messaging, but outside the traditional phone network. Sometimes the messages are text-only, sometimes they're accompanied by emoji, but we're talking a more personal social network than the public networks typified by Facebook and Twitter.
Kik Messenger is a smartphone app that lets users send text and photo messages to their friends and possibly families. It's free, has no message or character limits, and is very, very popular among the teen set.
Messages can be one-to-one or sent to groups of friends. Messaging is limited to others on the Kik service, so there's a lot of pushing to sign up friends for the service. But basically, Kik is an alternative to traditional text messaging, designed for younger users.
WhatsApp is a lot like Kik, but with text, audio, video, and photo messaging. Users can use their smartphones to send messages to single recipients or groups of friends, with free unlimited messaging. In other words, it's a great alternative for kids who push up against the limits of the phone company's standard text messaging plans.
Oovoo is a video messaging app with serious group messaging options. The app is free and offers your choice of text, voice, and video messaging.
Oovoo's big attraction is its group chatting feature. Users can participate in group chats – kind of like Google Hangouts – with up to a dozen friends. It's not unusual for teens to start a Oovoo chat with a handful of classmates and keep it open while they do their homework for the evening. (Or just watch TV. Or whatever.)
Finally, we come to the barest-bones social media app of all. Yo is an app that sends the text message "Yo" to friends and followers. That's all it does. Really.
As ridiculous as that sounds, Yo has more than a million users. (And the company behind the app has somehow attracted more than $1 million in investment funding. Incredible.) So if you need to send a shout out to your homies, you might as well use Yo to do it.