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What Teenagers Are Really Doing On Facebook

Chatting. And little else, even among the obsessed. That isn't news advertisers want to hear.

Posted on June 4, 2013, at 5:44 p.m. ET

Of all the social media sites, Facebook is the one 15-year-old Miki spends the most time on. She has 657 friends, and frequently checks with them through the app on her phone; she's on Facebook at least an hour a day. Signing up for Facebook was one of her seventh-grade graduation presents.

She is Facebook's ideal customer: young, well connected, and as a student at one of Manhattan's elite private schools, a great demographic for advertisers.

But if you look at her page, it's surprisingly empty. Friends tag her in photos (she has 386) and write on her wall, but she has only posted twice on her page since February.

Miki, like a number of teenagers whom BuzzFeed has interviewed, is using Facebook almost exclusively as a instant-messaging platform. "Messaging is pretty much the main reason I go on," she says. "I don't go scrolling through the News Feed."

"I don't post statuses anymore," says another girl, a 14-year-old in the Bay Area, who nonetheless says she's "addicted" to Facebook. She spends a cumulative four hours a day on the site. It is the first page she goes to when she turns on her computer, and the last one she checks at night before bed.

"I don't want to be that person you see with hundreds of [posts on] News Feeds," she says.

Facebook's own numbers suggest that messaging on the service is increasing overall. The company doesn't break down numbers by age, but there are more than 10 billion messages sent each day on Facebook — many through its apps. There are four times as many mobile Facebook messages sent each day at the beginning of this year compared with 2012.

But Facebook's pitch to investors depends largely on the News Feed and its app ecosystem, where ad placement possibilities are obvious. By contrast, instant messaging is a revenue black hole. If teenagers are an indicator of where Facebook users are headed — or if this is indicative of a larger trend — Facebook might be facing a serious problem.

Facebook is doing what it can to embrace messaging; users are users, after all. With Home on Android, Facebook is attempting to put chat in the middle of everything, with "Chat Heads" that follow you everywhere (the initial response to Home, however, wasn't promising). On iOS, Chat Heads are at the center of Facebook's app but close when the app closes — a limitation of iOS.

In any case, this is a user behavior Facebook is going to need to adapt to, or risk losing its most valuable users. Users who say things like this: "I post on a friend's wall to say 'Happy birthday,' but that's pretty much it. I think it is really annoying when people post and have long talks."

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