Teens’ Social Media Preferences Update: Drastic Changes Over the Past 3 Years

June 11, 2018

This article is included in these additional categories:

African-American | Demographics & Audiences | Digital | Hispanic | Household Income | Men | Social Media | Teens & Younger | Women

Almost half (45%) of teens ages 13-17 in the US report being online “almost constantly,” reveals the Pew Research Center – and it’s a good bet that much of that time online is being spent with social media. So which platforms figure among teens’ favorites, and how have those changed over the years? Pew’s report [pdf] offers some insights.

Most Popular Platform

The most broadly used social media platform by teens in the US is YouTube, with 85% of survey respondents claiming its use. In this sense at least, teens are like adults, who are also more apt to use YouTube (73% doing so) than any other social platform.

Following YouTube in a tight race are Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%), each used by more than two-thirds of teen respondents. These platforms – considered youth-oriented – are far more widely adopted by teens than by adults (35% and 27%, respectively), though it’s interesting to note that 18-34-year-olds are more likely to use Snapchat (78%) than Instagram (71%).

As for Facebook? Just half (51%) of teens claim to use the platform as of the survey’s fielding, which took place from March to April 2018. This makes teens considerably less likely than adults (68%) to use the social networking giant.

Further back is Twitter (32%), at around one-third of respondents, with Tumblr (9%) and Reddit (7%) seeing low usage.

Overall, virtually all teens (97%) use at least one of the social platforms identified.

Trends in Teens’ Social Platform Use

The Pew Research Center last surveyed teens on their social media use back in late 2014 / early 2015. A comparison of those findings with the results from this latest research reveals some dramatic changes in teens’ preferences.

In the previous survey, for example, Facebook was the most-used platform, by 71% of respondents. (YouTube was not identified as an option in that survey). That means that in the space of around 3 years, Facebook use has plunged from 71% to 51% of teens.

Facebook has well and truly been overtaken by Snapchat and Instagram in that time period. Back in 2014/2015 only around half (52%) of teens used Instagram, as opposed to 72% now doing so. And just 41% used Snapchat, compared to 69% now doing so.

In other words, Facebook use has plummeted, while Snapchat and Instagram adoption have soared.

Twitter, for its part, has remained remarkably consistent, having been used by one-third (33%) of respondents in the previous survey, and about the same proportion (32%) in this latest study.

This year’s Infinite Dial report from Edison Research and Triton Digital supports the Pew Research Center’s findings. That report found two-thirds (67%) of Americans ages 12-34 using Facebook this year, down quite significantly from 79% last year.

Late last year, meanwhile, a study from Forrester Research suggested that teen use of Facebook may have peaked.

Teens’ Most-Used Platform Is…

While Instagram and Snapchat are engaged in a close race for overall popularity with teens, there’s a gulf between them when it comes to usage frequency.

Indeed, more than twice as many teens identified Snapchat (35%) as Instagram (15%) as their most-used social platform, with Snapchat ahead of even YouTube (32%). (These figures exclude respondents who did not give an answer.)

This result aligns with ongoing research from Piper Jaffray, in which Snapchat has emerged over the past couple of years as teens’ single most-important social platform.

As for Facebook? It’s the most-used platform by just 1 in 10 teens.

It’s worth noting that there is a gender gap in platform preference: girls are more apt than boys to identify Snapchat as their most-used platform (42% vs. 29%), while boys cite YouTube as their most-used overall, to a much larger extent than girls (39% vs. 25%).

How Teens’ Most-Used Platform Has Changed

It isn’t just teens’ adoption of social media platforms that has changed drastically over the past 3-odd years: their most-used platform has also undergone a radical shift.

Back in late 2014 / early 2015 Facebook wasn’t only the most popular platform among teens, it was also their most-used, by 41%.

In fact, Facebook was identified as the most-used platform by about twice as many teens as Instagram (20%), and about 4 times as many as Snapchat (11%).

How times have changed…

How Teens’ Social Preferences Differ by Demographic Group

The Pew report goes into more detail on teens’ social media use by breaking out platform adoption across various demographic segments. It’s worth noting that this dilutes the sample size quite markedly, so the margins of error on these particular adoption data points is relatively high. Even so, the data can be quite useful on a directional basis.

So here are some highlights from those results.

  • YouTube use is higher among teen boys (89%) than girls (81%), with this result in line with previous research into YouTube use among teens.
  • YouTube use is higher among White and Hispanic teens than among Black teens, but otherwise is quite consistent by narrower age bracket and by household income and parents’ level of educational attainment.
  • Instagram use is higher among girls (75%) than boys (69%), and is stronger among among 15-17-year-olds (78%) than 13-14-year-olds (63%). Similar patterns emerge with respect to Snapchat, though that platform has a couple of distinctions: it sees broader adoption among teens from lower-income than higher-income households; and it has higher use among Black teens (77%) than White teens (72%) and Hispanic teens (64%).
  • Facebook is also more commonly used by teen girls (53%) than boys (49%), but the gap is narrower than with Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook use is higher among Black (57%) and Hispanic (58%) teens than among White (48%) teens. Interestingly, there’s a wide gap in Facebook use between teens from lower-income households (70% using) and those from higher-income households (36%).
  • Both Twitter and Tumblr have similar rates of usage by gender and by race/ethnicity, but both are more broadly used by 15-17-year-olds than by 13-14-year-olds.
  • Reddit, while sparsely used by teens overall, holds much more appeal among boys (11%) than girls (4%).

The full report can be viewed here [pdf].

About the Data: The results are based on a survey conducted using the NORC AmeriSpeak panel. The survey featured interviews with 1,058 parents who belong to the panel and have a teen ages 13 to 17, as well as interviews with 743 teens. Interviews were conducted by NORC online and by telephone from March 7 to April 10, 2018.

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