Young people and social media

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Young person using social media on laptop and phone

On November the 13th, Sophie gave a talk on ‘young people and social media’ at Sadler’s Wells, as part of the Dance Education day. It was bitter sweet – sweet because it went down very well, and sparked some interesting discussions, but sad because it was Sophie’s last day at HdK. We’ll miss you Sophie!

Here’s what she had to say:

Tree of social media use

Researching where your audiences are, allows us to explore and discover the best ways of reaching them, talking to them and encouraging them to engage with us. And not just in a promotional sense, it can also be a brilliant and crucial tool for evaluation of your show or project.

Whilst it may not be practical to use all these social networking apps within your work, it’s good to know what’s popular with young people and why, especially if you’re working with them closely – even if it’s only for something to talk about… or to understand what they’re saying! So!

Where do young people hang out online? Firstly, here are some stats for you:

The media briefing website tell us that “among the 2-17 age bracket that use the web, the top three most-visited sites are YouTube, Google and Facebook.

(Whereas for people aged 25 and over and Amazon feature in the top three.)

Boys are more likely than girls to report that they visit Facebook most often (45% of boys vs. 36% of girls). Girls are more likely than boys to say they use Instagram (23% of girls vs. 17% of boys).

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.

Let’s break those platforms down a bit more:

Generation YouTube

BBC Radio 1, who asked more than 6,000 young people aged between 18 and 24 how they get their music fix. More than eight in 10 young people are using YouTube as their primary source of music, ahead of physical CDs or even streaming from places like Spotify. So we know young people are using the platform, but how
else are they using it?

Vloggers – AKA video bloggers. Let’s look at Vlogging sensation ‘Zoella’

Zoella has 9,465,435 subscribers and 586,711,156 MILLION views since she started her channel! Those are some pretty impressive stats.

She has real influence over young people and they want what she has. They want to wear her clothes, copy her makeup techniques and use the same bath and beauty products as Zoella. The ‘short attention span generation’ will sit and watch hers (and others) videos for 20, 30, 40 minutes, transfixed, paying attention the whole way.

The fact YouTube appears on the top 3 sites visited by young people tells us that’s where they are.


Facebook remains a dominant force in teen social media. Asking young people which platforms they used most often, many reported that Facebook was the site they used most frequently. But:

“Facebook has become a social network that’s often too complicated, too risky, and, above all, too overrun by parents to give teens the type of digital freedom or release they crave.”

Young people also report it being akin to an “awkward dinner party that you can’t really leave.” They are there still, but they are a somewhat reluctant audience as other platforms creep in, offering more freedom and less advertising.


Instagram is by far the most used social media outlet for young people. Please note the verbiage there—it is the most used social media outlet. Meaning, although the most people are on Facebook, they actually post stuff on Instagram. Let’s look at it this way:

It’s not a surprise to see someone with 1500 friends on Facebook only get 25 likes on a photo yet on Instagram (where they have 800 followers) they get 253. How can it be so? Here are some reasons:

  1. You are not as pressurised to follow someone back on Instagram, meaning feeds are normally comprised of content you actually want to see
  2. The content on Instagram is usually of higher quality. People take time to edit their photos with filters, use different brightness/contrast settings (it’s even one of the steps to posting a photo), etc., to make the pictures look the best they possibly can
  3. Instagram hasn’t been flooded yet, not everyone has an Instagram) meaning it’s still “hip” and “cool” to the younger crowd
  4. People do not post 10000 times a day on Instagram. Many are much more polite about posting, either doing once a day, or a few times a week.

But, what about Twitter?

Twitter is the least-used social platform amongst young people. There is always a core group at every school that uses it very religiously to tweet and another group that uses it to simply watch or retweet. There are different reasons for this.

Twitter is a place to follow/be followed by strangers, rather than socialise with your friends, however it is not very easy to find the people you do know on there. For young people who want to be more private it’s not so good, they use Twitter like Facebook—posting with the assumption that your employer will see it one day.

Some conclusions

For young people, tweens and teens, Instagram — and, more recently, SnapChat (an app for sending photos and videos that appear and then disappear) are the places to be – both representing the opposite of Facebook in that they are:

Simple, seemingly secret, and fun.

We hope that was useful… do let us know what you thought over on Twitter.

Sophie - Digital and Social Media Consultant