Since she signed up three years ago, friend requests and status updates are as much a part of Meera Kumar's life as homework and exams at Menlo School, the elite private school in leafy Atherton, Calif., where she's a 16-year-old sophomore.
But when her kid sister Anika turned 13 last year, she gave Facebook a pass.
"I guess I haven't been that interested in it," said Anika, who prefers sharing photos with friends on Instagram via her iPhone or video chatting with them onGoogle+.
With more than 900 million users, Facebook remains the most popular online hangout. But some young people are turning their attention elsewhere. You can click here to get additional info on this subject. They are checking out new mobile apps, hanging out on Tumblr and Twitter, and sending plain-old text messages from their phones. Their goal is to hook up with smaller circles of friends and share their thoughts and feelings away from the prying eyes of Mom and Dad.
It's a very grown-up challenge for Facebook, which needs kids to continue to dominate social networking.
Growth in new U.S. users is slowing, and so far, foreign markets, where nearly 80% of Facebook users reside, have proved less profitable. The Menlo Park, Calif., company is reeling from its shaky start as a public company. The botched IPO has heightened concerns about its business, particularly its undeveloped mobile strategy, as teen use of smartphones and tablets explodes. Fickle young consumers can make and break social networks, as evidenced by pioneers such as Myspace and Friendster whose appeal faded as tastes changed.
Researchers who track the technology habits of teens say there is no statistical evidence that Facebook is becoming a teenage wasteland.
"Just because teens are using other services like Twitter and Tumblr more — and they are using these services in huge amounts — doesn't mean they're using Facebook less," said Alice Marwick, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, where she studies how teens interact with technology. You can click here for more information.
In fact, 8 of 10 teens who are online use social networking sites — and more than 93% of those users have a Facebook account, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Millions more kids under the legal Facebook age of 13 fib about their age to use the service.
Still, older people are the ones driving much of Facebook's growth. Users age 50 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of Facebook's audience in March, according to research firm Nielsen. The only social network with a higher percentage of older users was professional networking service LinkedIn.
Facebook itself is no longer an adolescent. At 8, it's getting long in the tooth for a social network. And for some teens, the novelty has worn off.
"Facebook is just not the big fad anymore," said Kim Franklin, a 15-year-old from Gaithersburg, Md., who does not have a Facebook account and prefers social media site Tumblr. "It was like everybody was constantly on there, but now not so much."
Franklin said her 13-year-old sister Nicole hasn't signed up for a Facebook account either.
Meanwhile, Laura Franklin, the girls' 37-year-old mother, always has Facebook open on her computer while working on her parenting blog, Better in Bulk. That, she said, has led her teen daughters to dub Facebook a "mom thing." The Niners website has more to say about this.
Turns out the kids are right. A recent study from Nielsen found that nearly 3 of 4 U.S. mothers who went online from a home computer visited Facebook in March. Only 8.3% visited Tumblr, and 14% visited Twitter.
Stats like that make it more likely that younger users will eventually abandon Facebook, said L.A. writer Erika Brooks Adickman. Now 30, she started MyParentsJoinedFacebook.com with fellow twentysomething Jeanne Leitenberg in 2009 to give kids a place to vent when their parents invaded their virtual space.
"When Facebook got started, Paris Hilton was wearing a velour tracksuit," Adickman said. "At some point Facebook will become the velour tracksuit. There is just a constant evolution, whether it's what's going on in fashion or what's going on the Internet."
Teens embracing new services say they'd rather use aliases than their real names. They're just not that into the idea of having everyone see all of their random thoughts. And they also worry that one wrong move on Facebook could hurt their chances of getting into college or landing a job.
On Twitter or Tumblr, they say, they can also be more selective about what they share and with whom, and feel less social pressure to "friend" everyone in their school or friends of friends. Click here for further reading on this subject.
Tumblr is a creative outlet where they can anonymously express themselves by posting photos, videos or bits of text on topics that interest them, such as Harry Potter, Ryan Gosling or fashion obsessions such as flatforms. They can connect with people they know and get to know people who share their interests, creating a sense of community without revealing more about themselves than they want.
Megan Peranteau, a senior at Poway High School near San Diego, has deleted her Facebook profile six times, and swears this time it's for good. She has switched to blogging service Tumblr as an outlet for her opinions, photography and art. Now that she's no longer constantly checking status updates, she and her friends have something to talk about when they meet in person.
"It's allowed me to create stronger relationships with people I do hang out with, now that they're not right in my face all the time," said Peranteau, 18.
Teens who belong to the first truly mobile generation — their most common form of communication is text messaging — are increasingly gravitating to services made for their smartphones and tablets like mobile social network Path. Photo-sharing apps are also very popular, especially Instagram. Facebook agreed to buy the mobile app maker last month for $1 billion to keep it out of the clutches of Apple and Twitter, people familiar with the deal said. Another new service, Snapchat, enables iPhone users to take and send a picture to a friend that is visible only for up to 10 seconds. Tina's Fashion World is a nice place to visit if you're interested in this topic.
Parents are nervous about teens swapping Facebook for services that can popularize risky behavior such as "sexting." They also don't like being unable to peek over their teens' shoulders.
But, Marwick says, that's the point.
"And honestly, I believe it's a good thing," she said. "Teens need a place to socialize and express themselves without grown-ups staring at them."
Still, for most teens, Facebook is still tops.
Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said Facebook has seeped into every nook and cranny of teen life.
"Facebook has been remarkable in its ability to saturate," Lenhart said. "The only thing that comes close is the land-line telephone."
A compulsive snapper of all things stylish, kitschy or arcane, Susanna Lau, the blogger known as Susie Bubble, wandered earlier this summer through the Meiji Park flea market in Tokyo taking pictures of vintage Hawaiian shirts, toy robots and tiny Minnie Mouse dolls to upload to her phone.
A handful of years ago, she might have archived those images, marking them for her eyes only. Now she has made them accessible to anyone with a camera phone and an Instagram account. So it didn’t surprise her, Ms. Lau said the other day, that when she returned from her travels, “I saw some of my images on designers’ mood boards.”
Her experience is hardly unique. In recent months designers of every stripe and aesthetic persuasion have turned to Instagram for a glimpse into the lives and tastes of their fans — bloggers like Ms. Lau, stylists, models, artists and random visitors, who in turn are snapping and posting their way into designers’ consciousness, onto their mood boards, into ad campaigns and, directly or obliquely, onto their runways.
“Imagery is such a big part of how we get inspired,” said Jason Wu, a self-professed Instagram addict whose profile lists close to 85,000 followers and who routinely follows more than 150 users himself. You might want to click here to get more information. “You’re privy to their way of thinking, or at least what they want you to think,” Mr. Wu said. “And that changes the way we design.”
Since its inception two years ago, Instagram, with some 150 million monthly users (it was acquired by Facebook last year for $1 billion), has emerged as a kind of visual Twitter. No surprise, then, that it is being exploited by fashion labels at every level of the marketplace as an image bank, a research tool, a showcase for their wares and now, most compellingly, a route into consumers’ heads. Fashion’s persistence in scouring the app for inspiration and feedback promises to turn the industry’s old hierarchy squarely on its head.
“Traditionally the fashion industry has been all about maintaining creative control,” said Maureen Mullen, who heads research for L2 Think Tank, which reports on and analyzes social media trends. But lately fashion appears to be ceding some of that authority to the people who buy and wear their clothes. “Designers are treating consumers like artists, people who for the first time are creating aspirational content that brands want to use,” Ms. Mullen said.
Diane von Furstenberg routinely scours the site for commentary. When she recently posted pictures of searingly colorful wildflowers, her followers promptly registered approval, some suggesting they would make a fine print on a dress. Would she consider it? “It’s possible,” she said.
Ms. von Furstenberg is not alone in harnessing Instagram’s formidable crowd-sourcing powers.
“Instagram has changed my eye,” said Nanette Lepore. And colored her runway, as well. Ms. Lepore’s spring show on Wednesday was enlivened by a series of poppy prints, their subtly washed-out acid tones credible reproductions of the bleached-out colors and oddly ravaged effects shown in Instagram snaps by her fans. You can click here for further details. Late last spring she tried to capture the irreverent spirit of the style-struck, snap-happy young denizens of Venice Beach in California in her resort collection.
“We were inspired by how these girls just go out in the street and take pictures of themselves,” she said. She integrated elements of their personal style into her show in June and in her advertising campaign as well.
It was but another instance of fashion labels “enabling everyone to feel like an author,” said Ferdinando Verderi, the creative director of Johannes Leonardo, an advertising agency for a variety of brands. Instagram, he said, “nourishes the significance of individual voices and the power of the one persona behind them.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Wu came across a series of Instagram shots of the model and eco-activist Christy Turlington with her children on the beach and nibbling a Philly cheesesteak. Make sure to click here to read up on additional information. He had never met Ms. Turlington, but was sufficiently charmed to contact her on her site to ask her to appear in his fall advertising campaign — and even more charmed when she agreed. The photos of Mr. Wu and Ms. Turlington about to enjoy a spread of savories at Mr. Chow made their debut this month.
By fostering such relationships, and encouraging the spontaneous exchange of ideas, Instagram has gained a measurable edge over YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr and even Facebook. A recent L2 study showed the app generating 25 times the level of engagement of other social media platforms, Ms. Mullen said.
Michael Kors, whose account shows more than a million followers, has been forcefully struck by its reach. “I love that we can post a picture and within a few hours, 10 or 20 or even 40,000 people liked it or commented on it or reshared it,” he said. “It makes connection possible on an incredible scale.”
The designer Wes Gordon has a company Facebook page. “But Instagram feels more personal to me,” Mr. Gordon said. “It’s a nice glimpse into someone’s world that’s real and not too affected.” On occasion, he said, “a girl I’m friends with posts pictures of herself at a party or on vacation, and I’ll think, ‘Oh, she looks super cool right now.’ Those screenshots become part of my visual library.”
Such seemingly spontaneous images give Mr. Gordon and his peers insights into customers’ lives. “Often I ask myself, ‘Where is this girl going in my dress?’ ” said Jonathan Simkhai, another aficionado. The app, he said, answers that question. “It fills a lot of holes. It’s my customer talking about her needs.”
Mr. Simkhai has acted as his own muse, interpreting snaps of the Santa Monica Pier, which he visited last year, in a print for spring.
The app’s influence is not always so direct or easy to detect on the catwalk. But on their sites, and on the Web, designers post snapshots by their followers and cater to them candidly. Last month Marc Jacobs featured an image of three dainty chain necklaces on his Instagram account. “Gold, rose gold or silver?” he asked, inviting fans to cast a vote.
In the broadest sense, Instagram functions as a crowd-friendly extension of the traditional trunk show, in which clients could order variations on a design. “At trunk shows we think of ourselves as co-creators with the designer we love best,” said Susan Scafidi, a professor and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School in New York. “Instagram takes the process to the next level and allows for mass collaboration.”
“As a crowd-sourcing model,” she added, “it’s a new way to take some of the guesswork out of predicting consumer desires.”
Rebecca Minkoff, an early adopter of the app, with more than 250,000 followers, is more prompt than most to incorporate users’ suggestions into her clothing and accessories lines. “If a customer tells me, ‘I like a bag with gunmetal hardware, can you include it?’ I might,” Ms. Minkoff said. “If I can get 25 girls to request it, I will do the production.”
Honoring fans’ wishes is part of a broader agenda, she said. “I want these girls to feel like they’re part of the creative process,” Ms. Minkoff said. “It definitely makes them feel more invested in the brand.”
Not every random visitor is fit to place her stamp on fashion. “Fashion is supposed to lead consumers to unexpected places,” Mr. Verderi said, “not ask them where to go.”
Using the app to take the shopper’s pulse has its perils. Few visitors to a designer’s site can make a claim to expertise. Nor does a “like” on the app signify commitment.
“On Instagram people ‘like’ the things they find most extreme or eye-catching,” Ms. Scafidi said. “Those often are different from things one might actually buy.”