Instagram: Facebook’s Greatest Hedge

“In focus groups, many teens expressed waning enthusiasm for Facebook (NASDAQ:FB),” reports a new study of teenagers, social media, and privacy, conducted by Pew Internet. ”They dislike the increasing number of adults on the site, get annoyed when their Facebook friends share inane details, and are drained by the “drama” that they described as happening frequently on the site.”

Realistically, it has always been a matter of time before this trend emerged. Facebook was founded in 2004 and the college audience it once primarily served has now graduated into full-blown adulthood. To the younger generation, the social network is not so much a revolutionary social tool but an established platform of communication, more of an obligatory part of socialization than anything.

“The stress of needing to manage their reputation on Facebook also contributes to the lack of enthusiasm,” comments the report. “Nevertheless, the site is still where a large amount of socializing takes place, and teens feel they need to stay on Facebook in order to not miss out.”

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At a glance, this is both a blessing and a curse. High levels of enthusiasm has its obvious benefits, but companies and ideas naturally mature with time, and evolving into a socially-critical platform is not the worst place to be. Facebook’s challenge, in this scenario, becomes ensuring that its platform remains functional while probing the ether for the next wave.

On that front, Facebook seems to be doing a pretty good job. The report states that “teens who used sites like Twitter and Instagram reported feeling like they could better express themselves on these platforms, where they felt freed from the social expectations and constraints of Facebook.”

This is made only a little ironic by the fact that Facebook owns Instagram. Based on the Pew Internet report, it looks like Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is proving to be a fairly effective hedge against waning enthusiasm for the core social network. New generations, naturally resistant to the status quo, demand new ways to express themselves. Instead of trying to adapt Facebook to every new generation — and alienate established users who do not want change — the company would be right to acquire and foster the new platform.

On a separate but related note, the Pew Internet survey offered some data that looks like a net positive for social media as whole. Far from curbing sharing behavior in the face of byzantine privacy settings, sharing activity of every kind has increased over the past six years, across a variety of platforms.

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What teens post on social media profiles2

Source: Pew Internet Parent/Teen Privacy Survey, July 26 through September 30, 2012

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