Why millennials are spurning Facebook & LinkedIn

Facebook is getting a lot of bad press currently, but for one demographic there’s even more to be unhappy about than privacy breaches and fake news. For young people, Facebook is increasingly irrelevant because it simply doesn’t meet their needs.

The biggest reason millennials (and Generation Z as well) are abandoning Facebook is because it’s a platform dominated by – and hence catered to – their parents.

“Millennials started abandoning Facebook some time ago,” explained kiwi entrepreneur Danielle Mathiesen, who runs a social network for that demographic called BlackCap. “Their current perception of Facebook has been influenced by the influx of Gen X and baby boomer parents joining the site and paid-for content being promoted at the expense of authentic content.”

For those millennials who still use Facebook, Mathiesen says they’ve “learnt to be careful about what they choose to share about themselves, to avoid blurring the boundaries between professional and personal.”

That rings true to me. In my own experience as a Generation X father, I’ve seen how savvy teenagers are about how they use Facebook. As Mathiesen says, they pick and choose what they will share on the platform. I don’t blame them, because there’s nothing worse for a kid than a nosy parent snooping on them.

Ironically, Facebook itself has seemingly taken a leaf from the millennial book, because it too picks and chooses what content to share. Facebook’s news feed algorithm has gotten more and more opaque and selective over the years. These days it’s likely you’re missing out on updates from some of your friends, simply because Facebook chooses not to put them in your news feed.

It’s even worse for brands and other organisations that run Facebook Pages. Some media companies estimate that less than 10 percent of their followers now see any given article. The only way to increase those odds is to pay Facebook to “boost” the posts – which, as Mathiesen pointed out, is a big turn-off for millennials and Gen Z.

Young people are also disenchanted with the professional networking site LinkedIn, says Mathiesen. While LinkedIn works well for “an older crowd of experienced professionals with established networks,” it has little to offer youngsters who have yet to enter the workforce. She points out there is no “meaningful pre-employment platform for students” on LinkedIn.

BlackCap is targeting those under-served younger millennials. It’s a mobile app that encourages users to chat about their career paths and offer “peer recommendations” about courses. It also lets students build up – perhaps for the first time – a professional online profile, for example as a thought leader in their chosen course of study.

I admire what BlackCap is trying to do, especially as creating a new social network from scratch is very challenging. BlackCap will need to gain “network effects” to scale the product up; which means the site gets better as more people join. But it’s a chicken and egg situation: people won’t join a new social network unless there’s already a thriving community.

Fortunately, BlackCap appears to have learned how to successfully scale from Facebook itself, which famously began as a social network for Harvard students. BlackCap has already partnered with a number of tertiary institutions; including the University of Auckland, the University of Waikato, and Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

It’s easy to see the appeal for students. BlackCap is the kind of social network I would’ve loved as a young man. Although back in my day, a “peer recommendation” typically meant a mate suggesting I drop english literature because it wouldn’t get me a job.

Which raises the point: what are the job prospects of young millennials?

Mathiesen, who trained as a lawyer, told me the traditional career trajectory has changed. “Millennials will have up to 16 different jobs in their lifetime,” she said. “They are very comfortable with packaging themselves up and showcasing a set of skills to promote to future employers.”

That trend makes soft skills all the more important. ā€œBlackCap can help a student nurture and showcase soft skills such as empathy, leadership and community participation,” she said.

It may even lead to an evolution of the social media influencer model.

Being an online influencer usually means attaining a form of celebrity on Instagram or Twitter, with thousands of followers hanging on your every emoji and hashtag. But Mathiesen thinks we’ll see influencer behaviour turn into to something more meaningful and professional.

“A new generation of youth influencers as subject matter experts has arrived,” she declared. She points to the increasing number of “millennial and Gen Z leaders of youth movements, change makers in social enterprise, community role models, innovators and inventors.”

So Facebook and LinkedIn, watch out. Those tools, built by and predominantly used by baby boomers and Generation X , have begun to fail us. Millennials are unimpressed. So much so, they’ve started to build their own tools.

What better way to cater to the needs of a new generation.