Teens Have A Different Outlook On Social Media 

4 August 2016  
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Before I can even begin to talk about teens on social media, I have to bring attention to the feud on everyone’s lips at the moment. And no, I’m not talking about the Kimye, Taylor drama – I’m referring to Instagram blatantly copying Snapchat’s most praised feature – stories.

Since 2 August 2016, Instagram now allows users to post ephemeral image and video slideshows that disappear after, yup you’ve guessed it, 24 hours. Sounds a lot like Snapchat?  That’s because it is.

Surely this isn’t going to succeed, because the way many loyal Snapchat fans use the app as a messaging tool.  That was my first instinct. But having looked into it further, my opinion has changed.

Making Instagram More Human

Instagram has long since been known as a platform for high quality images – perfection was demanded and users complied. Now the stories feature offers users a chance to show their followers the unfiltered, more human version of themselves, without blemishing the usual feed.

teens social chicken on snap vs insta

What Does This Mean For Snapchat?

It looks as if Instagram has thrown a spanner in the works for Snapchat’s global domination plans. Teens love Snapchat for its goofy, silly image sharing capabilities but now that they can get that, and a curated version of real life on Instagram, will they jump ship?

Much has been written in the last few days about this move.  But ultimately what both platforms give teens is what they really want – attention. And now that Instagram has made it easier to build a following, and can generate likes and comments, this might be the beginning of the end for the visual messaging app.

Unless Snapchat fixes its ‘find friends’ feature…

Instagram already surpasses Snapchat in terms of popularity – 52% of American teens use it compared to 41% who use Snapchat. Instagram also has more of an international base, proving more popular in huge markets such as India, which doesn’t bode well for Snapchat’s overseas expansion plans.

With Instagram Stories only just being pushed out into the world, it’s hard to predict what this will mean for our beloved Snapchat. Their fate is in the hands of the teens that are the main players who use it.

Watch this space. And in the meantime, read on to find out how Teens Use Social.

How Teens Use Social

Pew Research Center has done it again, shedding new light onto teens’ usage of the internet.

Smartphones are the focus of its Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015 report as they enable 92% of teens to go online daily, with 24% going online ‘almost constantly’.

This online frenzy among teens is aided and abetted by other mobile devices, with nearly three quarters of American teens (13-17) having access to one.


teens frequent usage of internet


Many teens are using multiple accounts for different purposes

Unsurprisingly, the easy access to smartphones and other mobile devices means teens are using multiple social media accounts all at once.

And with all social networks promoting free access to their sites, it’s no wonder teens find it hard to commit to just one.

What I find most interesting about the way teens use social media is how easily they integrate their own interests, as in:

  • A wannabe fashionista who would be more Instagram than Facebook, or
  • A wannabe writer who would be more Twitter and Tumblr than Snapchat.

I spoke to Mike, 15, from Dublin and a self-proclaimed avid gamer.

He uses multiple platforms depending on what he wants to achieve.

Facebook but just for IM.  Skype or Teamspeak for voice chat.  And lots of gamer forums, I like Los Santos a lot at the moment.

I’m using Instagram more and also Tumblr. My friends and I use Imgur for photo sharing, you can vote on photos.

What Social Media Are Teens Using Most?

It differs according to gender. Girls are more visually orientated and motivated by the likes of Instagram and Snapchat whereas boys are more practical. 45% of boys compared to 36% of girls state Facebook as their preferred site, and 23% of girls vs 17% of boys would say Instagram was the top dog.

The two genders also differ in devices they use. Girls dominate social media on their smart phones whereas boys access it more through their video consoles

teens devices for social media

Are Teens Leaving Facebook?

facebook teens usage

Some have speculated that teens are walking away from Facebook because of the infiltration by Mum or Dad. Or because of the amount of ‘drama’ or what the media calls cyber-bullying, and because some people share too much. When social media is no longer fun, teens will just walk away:

Female (age 19):
“Yeah, that’s why we go on Twitter and Instagram [instead of Facebook]. My mom doesn’t have that.” 

Female (age 14): “OK, here’s something I want to say. I think Facebook can be fun, but also it’s drama central. On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a like, that they wouldn’t say in real life.”


But is the main reason why teens are walking away from Facebook because they don’t need it?

A good answer is this comment, from this great blog about teen usage of social media.  If someone does something stupid, you don’t need Facebook, you’ll find out within 5 minutes.

What is Facebook to most people over the age of 25? It’s a never-ending class reunion mixed with an eternal late-night dorm room gossip session mixed with a nightly check-in on what coworkers are doing after leaving the office. In other words, it’s a place where you go to keep tabs on your friends and acquaintances.

You know what kids call that? School.

But They Aren’t…

The Pew report contradicts the above findings. Not only are teens not walking away from Facebook – it is still their most preferred site.

71% of all American teens still use the site, followed closely by Instagram and Snapchat. Teens do love their visuals.

Teens love facebook graph


Snapchat Ghost logo teens

Snapchat, the much talked about image-messaging app where pictures and videos are only displayed for a few seconds and then are deleted by the platform (receivers can take a screenshot, but the sender is usually alerted to this). One of Snapchat’s attractions is simply that pictures and videos are sent through it much faster than through email or texts. Another is that the platform is so new many schools have not yet blocked access to the site. But the primary attraction of Snapchat is its central feature, the limited time a recipient sees a picture or video. Focus group participants reported using this feature to send silly or embarrassing pictures.

Spunout.ie has published guidelines about snapchat, intended to make young people think about how Snapchat might be used (for sexting) and to help young people to be aware of it. I think it’s great that an organisation like Spunout exists, and how responsive it is to providing the kind of facts that people need.

Female (age 17): “Snapchat is just kind of fun. Because it’s like texting, but you get to use your face as the emoticon instead of an actual emoticon.” 


instagram logo

This is a mobile-only photo and video sharing app that drives teenage girls wild. Surprisingly younger teens (13-14) claim to use the social media site more than older teens, 25% vs 17%.


Instagram gives teens a chance to communicate visually – and in the age of selfies, this is social media gold to them!



Twitter LogoIn the Pew study of 2013, Twitter was used by teens mainly to follow celebrities, but 2015 sees a shift,  with many of them posting their own content and engaging with friends. Many see the 140 character limit as good as it prevents the type of excesses seen on Facebook.

Though many have speculated that Twitter is dead – teens still love the site. They don’t use it to build up a following – they use it to talk to friends in a public manner.



Tumblr Logo

A blogging platform that relies on imagery and video posts. Tumblr culture is based on memes that relate to various topics, such as fashion, pop culture and photography. Tumblr users are much more engaged with the site — reading and posting content about things they care about for hours — much more so than on Facebook.


The Big Issue: Privacy

As a parent, I know that protecting your children is a key priority, and many parents are frightened by horror stories in the media about grooming through social media networks. In a world where social media is dominant, you can’t protect them from everything – but you can talk to them and educate them about what’s out there, just as you would educate them about crossing the road safely.

I give regular talks to parents on how to talk to your teens about social media. Check out some of the slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/maryroselyons/davy-lunch-learn


Teens and Texting

Now we know that teens love texting, but can often be limited by lack of credit!  So it’s very interesting to see that Twitter is being used like a big group SMS.  It’s like texting.  But it’s to everybody.  And it’s free! This explains the resurgence in Twitter – and Snapchat fits nicely into it, the visual accompaniment to the text.

The Pew Research found that:

Despite the overwhelming use of social media among teens, we found among focus group participants that text messaging and offline conversations are still the preferred method of communication for very sensitive, personal, or significant information.

So, teenagers are not abandoning social – they are just using it in a way that is social!

They are using the word with the intent of its original meaning: making contact with other human beings. Communicating. Back-and-forth, fairly immediate dialogue. Most of it digitally. But most of it with the intent of a conversation where two (or more) people are exchanging information and emotion. Not posting it. Exchanging it.

That is social.

Now, brands, how are you going to hook the attention of the easily bored teens?

Claire Kleinedler gave a talk on this at the #DMXDublin Conference, comparing teens now to teens way back when Tom Hanks was considered a hunk.

Hunky Tom Hanks

Back In My Day…

  • Teens looked to celebrities to define what is cool.
  • Exposure to brands was limited to TV, radio, print, and outdoor ads
  • Of course, there was no instant real-time interaction with brands. It was always a one-way conversation… one of my earliest memories was the Texaco Art Competition which is still going.  I was aware that was a ‘company’ promoting it, but it would never have occurred to me that I could contact them or talk to them!


  • Teens define cool themselves. Not only are they the ‘gatekeepers to modern brands’ as she said, but in social media terms, where they go, people follow.  It’s all eyes on Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram now because that’s where the teens are – the future buyers of the brands.
  • Teens are bombarded with brands in every space… but I wonder if they are aware of that?  If they register the brands constant attempts to invade their spaces, or are they just noise in the background?
  • They question and feedback to brands… but hey, that’s not just teens, we’re all at that, thankfully!
  • They discover, curate, and create on their own time and in their own spaces, they lead trends, not follow them… hmm, not sure how much of this is new or true.  Teens were always creating, they just didn’t have such public spaces for sharing.  I know I have a few pencil drawings of James Dean knocking about in a chest somewhere… sadly, I didn’t have anyone outside of my small sphere to share them with!

Teens Just Get It

I’m sure most of us can remember our teenage years – shouting to be heard, feeling misunderstood. Now there are social media provides platforms to enable teens to do this.

  • Teens feel they have little control in their lives; everything is dictated to them by parents, teachers, etc.
  • They want to be inspired and express themselves. They want to be heard.
  • They want to have their own space, the more customised to their needs the better.  So hello Snapchat and What’s App and farewell mum and granny over on Facebook!

So as a brand trying to generate interest among these elusive millennials, I have one tip for you – inclusion. Know where they’re at on social and what needs they need fulfilling and customise your campaign for this.

If you need help on keeping up-to-date on the ever-changing world of social media, drop us a comment and we’ll be happy to help!

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