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New report finds bright spot for Facebook amid decline in usage

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Facebook use is dropping off, but Instagram is seeing growth. Image source: Getty

Facebook users are spending less and less time on the social network, while Instagram continues to grow at a steady clip, according to a new report.

A report published by eMarketer on Tuesday revealed the amount of time Facebook (FB) users in the U.S. spent on the social network declined from 41 minutes a day in 2017 to 38 minutes in 2018. As a result, eMarketer revised its forecasts for Facebook user engagement moving forward, with average time spent dipping further to 37 minutes per day by 2021.

Meanwhile, the digital marketing firm expects Instagram to see slow but steady daily active growth for U.S. userss. It has already increased from 25 minutes in 2017 to 26 minutes in 2018, eMarketer notes. EMarketer expects U.S. users to spend a total of 29 minutes a day on the platform by 2021, driven by the popularity of Instagram Stories and content from influencers.

“Facebook’s continued loss of younger adult users, along with its focus on downranking clickbait posts and videos in favor of those that create ‘time well spent,’ resulted in less daily time spent on the platform in 2018 than we had previously expected,” explains eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

Source: eMarketer

EMarketer’s findings for Facebook shouldn’t come as a total surprise, given changes to Facebook’s News Feed to demote “borderline content,” or content that comes close to violating the social network’s policies regarding misinformation, hate speech, and clickbait. The social network is also steadily losing younger users in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 34, according to Edison Research. And according to data published by the Pew Research Center in September 2018, 42% of 4,594 users surveyed took a break last year following the Cambridge Analytica scandal for several weeks or more, adjusted their privacy settings, or deleted the Facebook app from their phones.

Following a year of back-to-back data privacy scandals, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged in a company post published this March that the social network would move towards emphasizing areas like private interactions, encrypted messaging, and secure data storage.

Instagram, however, remains a bright spot for Facebook. KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Andy Hargreaves expects Instagram to account for nearly 30% of Facebook’s ad revenues by within the next two years — up from roughly 16% in 2018.

Williamson chalks up Instagram’s growing user engagement to features such as Instagram Stories, which crossed 500 million daily users this January, as well as the millions of influencers, celebrities, and brands steadily posting updates on the app.

That’s certainly some good news for Facebook as the company navigates its new path towards increased privacy.

For its report, eMarketer aggregated and analyzed data from multiple sources to build statistical models, including metrics Facebook and Snap (SNAP) publicly disclose in their quarterly reports and conference calls, as well as research from comScore, Cowen & Company, Pivotal Research, and Forrester. For its findings, eMarketer focused on social media users ages 18-plus who sign onto social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat at least once a month. Sample sizes ranged from several hundred to several thousand.

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