Andrew Watts, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas, published this article on Medium. It’s one guy’s take on today’s various social media platforms, what they’re good for, and how teens use them. I imagine it reflects the feelings of a lot of young people. I also suspect the picture would have been rather different if it had been written a couple of years ago. And the scene will probably be quite different again a couple of years in the future. It’s a snapshot of the present moment.
Very abbreviated summaries of Watts’ evaluations:
Facebook: Annoying, but you have to have it, because everyone does. The Newsfeed sucks. Mainly used for groups, messaging, and searching for friends online.
Instagram: Where the most people post the most stuff. The stuff that’s posted is higher quality, and the quantity is a lot more manageable and less commercialized than Facebook. It’s still a cool place because the older generation hasn’t flooded it.
Twitter: Some use it religiously, but many don’t understand the point of it. Not easy to find friends. It’s a place to follow and be followed by a bunch of random strangers.
Snapchat: Quickly becoming the most used social network, especially with the advent of My Story. A place to be the “real you,” free of social pressure to accumulate “likes” and comments. Most don’t really believe that Snapchat actually deletes everything after a few seconds.
Tumblr: A place to be followed by random strangers, but not have your identity attached to it, so snooping parents can’t find you there. It’s a judgement-free zone. Can find people with similar interests but you don’t necessarily know their real identities.
Yik Yak: A new contender that’s growing fast. Addicting because it focuses solely on the content of posts – it’s completely anonymous, no profiles or followers. Posts only reach a geographical 10-mile radius around you so it’s not much use outside of population centers.
Medium: Great place to publish a blog. The “recommend” and “follow” functions are what make it so good. Not widely known yet by teens.
LinkedIn: Not really for this demographic, but they know they’ll have to get into it eventually.
Pinterest: Dominated by females and artsy/hipster types. Not many people talk about it.
Kik: Kind of a mystery.
WhatsApp: You download it when you go abroad, use it there, then delete it and go back to iMessage and Facebook Messenger when you’re home. Important for international students, not so much for others.
GroupMe: By far the most used group messaging app in college. Everyone has it and loves it for its GIF support and ability to “like” messages. Works for any device or phone, even dumb phones (via text message).
Google+: Watts doesn’t even mention it. I find this quite telling.
Andrew Watts published a followup piece 10 days later to discuss some other social media sites that people had asked him about.
YouTube: Everyone uses it and has their own favorite channels. It’s entertaining, but also useful for students who need extra help with class material.
Vine: Not many teens make Vines but everyone comes across them on other social networks.
Reddit: Used heavily to find the hottest news. The upvote/downvote system makes the best comments most visible, so discussion is more useful than on Facebook.
Google+: Useful for photos and Hangouts, but not much else. Sorting people into “circles” and keeping track of them is tiring.
Plague: Simple to use, might be on the way to popularity.
Ello: People came, saw, and left. Not much going on.
Tinder: Romantic matching network, huge among college students.
Swarm: Not used much. Seems redundant with location-based posting built into so many other apps.
Quora: As a curious guy, Watts loves it, but knows only a few others who use it.
MySpace: A has-been; will never again be anything but a joke.
Watts then mentions a couple of examples of innovative social media marketing that have managed to get a lot of students excited about an app or product: Thread, a dating app, and Taco Bell’s use of Twitter and the social media blackout it used to draw attention to the Taco Bell app.
And here’s a 13-year-old’s response published in May 2015. This kid says that for his age group, Instagram and Kik are huge, and many aspire to become YouTube stars. Most of them don’t get Twitter.
Brian Dear has written a counterpoint to Andrew Watts’ original article, A 1980 Teenager’s View on Social Media. It’s a bit one-sided in that it discusses only the PLATO online community, even though by 1980 there were other social media sites such as CompuServe, The Source, and lots of dial-up bulletin board systems run by hobbyists out of their homes. But Brian’s piece provides a great description of what the actual experience of being on PLATO in 1980 was like.