Teen Social Media Use Shifts With Age [Pew Research Report]

Facebook may be king with teens 13 to 17 years old, but the latest Pew Research Center data indicates that their platforms of choice change as they get older. This is one of the many takeaways in the report released this week that will influence your strategy for reaching this highly connected age group.

About The Survey

First, it is worth noting that this is the first survey of this type Pew has administered online. Earlier reports have always been based on telephone surveys. Pew says they do not expect any significant difference in results. Also, the survey respondents are from 13 t0 17 years old, which means the results should not be applied directly across to college age students (more on that later). This is the first of several reports Pew says they will publish on teen online behavior aimed at smartphone use.

Primary Takeaways

  • Nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone.

There is nothing earth shattering about this result other than the fact that if you are appealing to this age group and do not have a responsive website, you are missing the boat. If this is your primary audience, you may even want to consider a mobile app or mobile-driven website design.

  • These phones and other mobile devices have become a primary driver of teen internet use: Fully 91% of teens go online from mobile devices at least occasionally. Among these “mobile teens,” 94% go online daily or more often with 24% saying they are “online constantly.

Frequency is the biggest standout here. Everyday and constantly means that teens are more likely to see your content if you are successful in gaining their allegiance. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a big driver for teen online behavior. However, they are not afraid of missing your content, just that of their friend groups. So, be sure when you ask for their time, you are offering value.

  • Of the seven platforms in the research, Facebook remains the most used social media site among American teens ages 13 to 17 with 71% of all teens using the site, even as half of teens use Instagram and four-in-ten use Snapchat.

teen social media use

I don’t think these stats are a shock to anyone. What is missing here, and would be extremely helpful, is to know the types of content teens are consuming on each channel and how they consume content. The word “use” in the research is not defined. That is the missing link in the marketing mix. Just throwing content at Facebook would definitely be a fail. It would be worth doing your own audience research if you have a particular message for this age group. You basically need to know two things: what type of content they are consuming and their online behavior profile.

Forrester Research defines that online behavior into groups: creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, inactives. Each group has a specific set of behaviors defined in their graphic below. In the 18 to 24 age group, the youngest age in their research, the largest group is spectators and the smallest is inactives (only three percent). That gives you a starting point for your own research. You can use the specific behaviors on each “rung” and find out how often your audience engages in each on a particular platform.



Deeper Dive

The basic research report is just the beginning for marketers trying to reach this age group. If you intend to use the data to inform your marketing strategy (and you should), you’ll be more successful if you dig a little deeper. Here are a few suggestions pulled from the data:

  • 71% of teens use more than one social network site.

Your chances of success with this group are going to grow if you have a multi-channel approach. But beware: every channel has a different culture. Don’t just slap the same blah-blah-blah on every channel. These are savvy users—remember some of them are online constantly. Their attention span is short. You have to make it worth their while or you will lose them.

How do you do that? You need to start with some audience research of your own. Who are you trying to reach? If you’re in charge of marketing for a private school for instance, you’ll want to find out what kind of information you have that would interest them. You can use an online survey or, better yet, set up a focus group. Try putting together a marketing advisory group made up of teens. That is the first step in forming an online influencer group. They will have buy-in to what you’re doing.

  • Older teens ages 15 to 17 are more likely than younger teens to cite Facebook (44% vs. 35% of younger teens), Snapchat (13% vs. 8%) and Twitter (8% vs. 3%) as a most often used platform, while younger teens ages 13 to 14 are more likely than their older compatriots to list Instagram (25% vs. 17% of older teens) as a platform they visit most often.

This is one of the most important takeaways of this research, in my opinion. The conclusion here is that platform use changes as they get older. In my research with college student-athletes, I have found that their platforms of choice shift again in college. In 2014, I found that 89 percent of them were accessing Facebook, but a large number of them were not using it as a main channel of communicating with friends. In other words, Facebook was not a place of influence for them. They were bigger users of Twitter and Instagram.

The hypothesis, which needs to be substantiated by your research, would be that high school age teens are using social media a little differently than middle school teens. If you are doing your own audience research, you will want to be sure and include age as a required question so you can differentiate your results.

  • Teens from wealthier families are higher users of Snapchat and Twitter. Girls are more likely to be on Instagram, boys on Facebook.

Again, these two pieces of information related to family income and gender-specific use confirm that a blanket declaration of teen social media use is not a good idea. It just gives you a starting point. More work is needed to inform your own marketing strategy.

Last But Not Least, There’s Texting

  • 90% of those teens with phones exchange texts. A typical teen sends and receives 30 texts per day. 33% of teens have messaging apps like Kik or WhatsApp.

I still believe the jury is out on the effectiveness of texting as a marketing tool. Snapchat, which started out as a texting platform has grown way beyond its original framework in order to appeal to brand marketing. YikYak, Kik, and WhatsApp are just texting platforms currently. The one takeaway here worth noting is that if a school wants to construct an emergency messaging system for students, they are reachable by phone. The one door this opens that concerns me is that some schools are allowing teachers and coaches to personally contact middle and high school students via personal text. This is a high risk practice and needs to be avoided. There are too many supervised options available to be indulging in this practice.

The new Pew data is a great start to your marketing strategy. There is a little more work to be done to make it effective for your efforts, so don’t be afraid to dig in and find out more about your audience. I’d be interested to know if  any of you use data of this type to inform your social media marketing decisions. I’m putting together some best practices of schools using data for marketing to students and would love to hear from you. You can share with all of us in the comments or contact me at chris@cksyme.com.