There is a fascinating look at the way teens use social media in the form of a Q&A in FastCompany magazine. Writer Evie Nagy interviews Danah Boyd, a Microsoft researcher, who has written a book about teens and social media. In the interview, Boyd lays out the differences in the way we use these tools and the way our kids do. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our teenagers are our future so it behooves us to pay close attention to their media habits.
The revelations won’t be particularly revelatory to anyone with a teenager. Teens feel generally aggrieved by their perceived lack of freedom and see social media as a way of connecting with friends and tweaking parents just a bit (said the father of a 15-year-old.) But there are hints to the future in there as well:
It ain’t necessarily about cultivating a huge following. Boyd says many teenagers use Twitter, but most aren’t closely watching their number of followers the way we do. She said they consider the media a way to share quips among a close circle of friends and not a marketing or networking opportunity. Did you hear about Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp this week? That messaging service features no advertising and is a favorite among young people the world over. You say you’ve never heard of it? It has about twice as many active users as Twitter. …
It ain’t about links. She said teens aren’t so much interested in sharing interesting things they find on the Web as they are in continuing the inside conversation. They don’t share that hilarious SNL video because they assume all their friends have already seen it. That has big implications for those of us who continually try to push links down readers’ throats.
It is about freedom. From the above referenced Q&A: “Their lives are very heavily configured and structured. Their ability to get together in unstructured time with friends is extremely difficult.” Boyd says teenagers just want to get together in a virtual way that allows them to share the way they really are. (Incidentally, that is why my kid likes Snapchat. She sends a selfie and a brief note and then it’s gone. She says Facebook is forever; Snapchat is for how you really are.)
All of us court this valuable audience. We need to think more like teenagers if we want to attract their eyeballs.