This week, the Pew Center released an in-depth report about social media use by teenagers that included some surprising and encouraging trends. Anyone who works with (or markets to) the high school demographic should consider the report a must-read.
After reading the report, here are five of the most notable findings:
- Facebook=Myspace? In 2006, a similar study found 85 percent of teens on MySpace. Facebook now has that kind of dominance. Yet many teens expressed “waning interest” in Facebook because of the presence of more adults, “inane” posts and never-ending drama. But they continue to use it regularly because “the site is still where a large amount of socializing takes place, and teens feel they need to stay on Facebook in order to not miss out.” Could Facebook go the way of MySpace? Probably not … although I urge (or more accurately, urge once again) school marketers to expand their social media efforts to other sites.
- Fear Not The Stranger: More than 80 percent of parents interviewed worried about their teen’s online safety, yet less than 20 percent of teens report strangers contacting them. In focus groups, teens said they never shared personal information with strangers. “What is most important to teens about social media sites is socializing with peers and those with shared interests. When they have bad experiences, they adjust their practices accordingly.”
- Public vs. Private: The most encouraging thing (personally) was teens focusing more on posting appropriate content than managing privacy settings, especially on Facebook. They understand the long-term risks of posting content that reflects negatively on them — many in focus groups specifically mentioned college admissions as a concern. More than half of the respondents have deleted older posts they regretted, chosen not to post something they feared would hurt their reputation or asked others to remove posts they didn’t want public (53 percent).
- School Pride: Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of teenagers listed their school on social media profiles, up from 49 percent in 2006. This significant increase will help schools maintain relationships with former students who typically fell off a school’s radar until they returned (a decade or more later) as active alumni.
- Social Media=Offline Social: Another reason for Facebook’s weakening cachet among teens is for many it mirrors the popularity contest of life at school. They fret about less-than-flattering pictures, judge others based on network size, dread posts that don’t get enough Likes, and so forth. Teens using other networks — an admittedly small number, with Twitter garnering the second-highest usage at 24 percent — “expressed more enthusiasm” for Facebook alternatives because it provided them a different social outlet. Twitter, for example, reduced the drama because of the 140 character limit. Tumblr, meanwhile, provided an outlet for visual creative expression that Facebook tends to eschew.