Social media has become such an integral part of society, it can sometimes be hard to imagine modern life without it. The usefulness of social media as a way to connect with friends and family, meet new people, share ideas, and communicate with businesses means social media will be around for decades to come. That doesn't necessarily mean there won't be changes. The latest survey from Pew Research Center suggests that the next generation of social-media users may use social media in different ways than people do now.

The Pew Research Center recently surveyed U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 17. There were no signs that the next generation of consumers have any qualms about using the internet and technology. According to the survey, nearly all (95 percent) of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they are online "almost constantly." However, what may surprise many marketers is how these teens spend their time online.

While many adults check their Facebook and Twitter accounts multiple times a day, these platforms appear to be less inviting to younger audiences. A little over half (51 percent) of teens have a Facebook account and about one in three (32 percent) have a Twitter account. That's not bad, per se, but the numbers pale in comparison to some other social platforms.

The fact that many teens are using smartphones to connect to the internet plays a role in the platforms they choose to use. In the Pew survey, the most common social-media platforms among teens were YouTube (85 percent), Instagram (72 percent), and Snapchat (69 percent).

While the above percentages relate to the platforms the teens said they have, the results for when they asked which platform they used the most were even more interesting. Roughly one-third of the survey respondents said they visit Snapchat (35 percent) or YouTube (32 percent) most often, while 15 percent said Instagram. By comparison, just one in 10 (10 percent) of teens say Facebook is their most-used online platform, and even fewer cite Twitter, Reddit, or Tumblr as the site they visit most often.

Contrary to what people may initially think, the decline in teen use of Facebook isn't related to some overall aversion to the platform or social media in general. Oddly, most teens seem not to have a strong opinion about the effects of the internet on society. Pew reported that nearly half (45 percent) believe social media has neither a positive nor negative effect on people their age. Three out 10 teens (31 percent) said social media has had a mostly positive impact, while just one in four (24 percent) described its effect as mostly negative.

Whether or not teens used Facebook was related to the incomes of their families. Teens in households with under $30,000 in income a year were more likely to use Facebook than those in households with annual incomes over $70,000.

According to Pew, "lower-income teens are far more likely than those from higher income households to say Facebook is the online platform they use most often (22 percent vs. 4 percent). There are also some differences related to gender and to race and ethnicity when it comes to teens' most-used sites. Girls are more likely than boys to say Snapchat is the site they use most often (42 percent versus 29 percent), while boys are more inclined than girls to identify YouTube as their go-to platform (39 percent versus 25 percent). Additionally, white teens (41 percent) are more likely than Hispanic (29 percent) or black (23 percent) teens to say Snapchat is the online platform they use most often, while black teens are more likely than whites to identify Facebook as their most used site (26 percent versus 7 percent)."

While this study shows the changing landscape of social media among teens, it may not be something online marketers should worry too much about for the moment. Teens may not be using Facebook as much now, but when they get older and want to connect to a wider audience besides their own age group, they may find advantages to using the social platform used by older groups. And since Facebook owns Instagram, the fact that rebellious teens are just using their other social-media product is almost the best case scenario. It's like if every teen stopped drinking Coca-Cola but instead started drinking Sprite.

All the same, business owners and marketers may need to keep an eye on changing demographics in case they need to adjust their online advertising. Using Google to put ads on YouTube is a good way to reach the growing number of teens (and adults) who watch YouTube more than traditional cable. Another way to adapt would be using Instagram placement options when creating Facebook ads.

Social media, as a concept, is almost certainly here to stay. And even if the next generation of consumers are using different social-media products, there will always be a way to use social media to connect with potential consumers.

For more recent research that can help marketers, read this article on how to create a better omni-channel experience.

Published on: Jun 4, 2018