Last week, we reported that although Facebook’s active US audience continues to grow by over 4% a week and has now reached over 60 million active US users per month, one age group is actually coming back to Facebook less: users over 55, who were actually the fastest growing age group on Facebook earlier this year. Why the quick change?
As you can see, the number of active US Facebook users over 55 actually decreased by over 650,000 in the last 60 days. In other words, users over 55 who joined the site earlier this year didn’t come back as much in April and May, even though the number of active users in every other age bracket has gone up.
It’s an interesting question that may reflect the different ways older Americans are using new communication tools like Facebook to share and consume information about friends and family. Here are some of the possibilities:
1. Facebook currently provides less value to people over 55 because most of their friends are still using other communication tools, like email. As is often seen in the adoption of new social services, initial waves of users often create an account and check out the site once or twice, then leave for a while because they can’t find many people they know on the site, only to return later when more of their friends and contacts are using the service.
This is exactly the usage pattern Reid Hoffman has described being the case for many users of LinkedIn, who tend to skew older, so the same thing could be happening now on Facebook. Over-55’s are just checking out the site for the first time, but the site isn’t lively enough for them to want to come back regularly – yet. They’ll go back to email for now, but will be back to Facebook when more of their friends sign up in a few more months (or a year or two).
2. The real-time Facebook stream is too new and overwhelming for people less familiar with social networks to understand. Although the Twitterati can’t live without a second monitor open all day to filter and consume the real-time web, people who use the web primarily for CNN.com may be confused by the roaring stream of status updates, Super Pokes, and homemade diet tip videos from Shaquille O’Neal to make much sense of it all. Who can blame them? It’s a ton of information, and the signal to noise ratio is often pretty poor.
3. Seasonality of family communication. While I don’t have the research to back this up, many people just talk to their parents and family more frequently around the holidays, and we could be seeing that dynamic at play for the first time on Facebook this year. If Thanksgiving and Christmas are the busiest days of the year for telephone calls, I’d expect the same to be true on Facebook as more relatives connect with distant loved ones and start sending virtual stocking stuffers on Christmas Day instead of making the trip to Cousin Eddie’s.
4. It was just a one time thing. Most people over 55 are coming into contact with Facebook through their children. Kids have been telling their parents about Facebook for years, but now that the Facebook crowd has gotten older and Facebook has established good privacy controls, kids are feeling more comfortable “friending” their parents on the site. Parents (and grandparents), open to the idea, are creating accounts on Facebook and joining the site in order to accept the friend request from their kids, but don’t end up coming back past this initial reactive step of first engagement – between work, soccer practice, and the 10 o’clock news, there’s just not enough time in the day.
Everyone has a personal story about how their parents are (or aren’t) using Facebook. I walked my dad through the Facebook signup process last year to show him some photos from a recent trip, but I don’t know that he’s been back since. Are there other reasons people over 55 have been coming back to Facebook less in recent months?