Recently, I was on a road trip in Morocco with my family, including three teenagers. While my interest in their phone usage at home mostly concentrates on the amount of time they spend on their devices, during the trip I got firsthand insight into how they use their phones. All three of them used it as a lifeline to their friends at home in the Netherlands, but it was amazing to see how each of them does that in a totally different way. My 16-year-old son was primarily “apping” (texting using Whatsapp) with his friends and sending the occasional picture; my 14-year-old daughter was trying to keep her Snapchat “streaks” alive while dealing with bad Wi-Fi signals and long road trips; while my 12-year-old daughter was vlogging all day about everything she encountered and uploading the videos when we had a signal. Part of these differences in behavior can be explained by their characters, but it’s mostly the result of the two-year age gaps between them. Even though they are all in their teens, they grew up with different digital platforms and capabilities.
The Forrester Data Consumer Technographics North American Youth Survey, 2017 (US), also shows this. More than half of US youth use YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook daily. But when we dive a level deeper, we see that the 14 and 15 year olds are more likely to post online than their 16- and 17-year-old peers.
In contrast, just three years ago, we reported that Facebook was the leading platform among 12 to 17 year olds; just over a third of US online youth used Instagram daily; and Snapchat hadn’t reached critical mass among US youth. Now, Facebook is the 4th popular platform for 12 and 13 year old US girls after YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.
It’s clear that the social media landscape is very scattered for online youth. This means that marketers must follow youth cultures very closely when targeting these age groups – and not analyze their data as a cohort. While social remains a good way to market to online youth, there are no easy answers or one-size-fits-all social marketing solutions. But one thing remains the same: As Gina Fleming wrote in 2014’s How Do Teens Use Social Media? report: If you just want to buy reach, look to YouTube.