Gen Z: The Future of Teens and Social Media

In 2017, “social media” is no longer a monolith. And teens today have a myriad of options that weren’t available five (or even ten) years ago. Having grown up with social media embedded into the fabric of their lives, they find themselves managing a personal life and a digital life, making them one of the first generations that attempts to truly reconcile the two.

In our recent Generation Z study, we found through ethnographic research that to navigate this new online world, they have established their own rules of engagement: Every social media platform offers a different value proposition and creates a unique set of expectations. These differences then dictate the types of “followers” they seek and the tone and quality of content they decide to share through each one.

How Gen Z Chooses Their Social Media Platform

Facebook, for example, is used by teens primarily for keeping tabs on extended family and acquaintances. While Instagram is less about keeping a personal photo journal, and more about sharing interesting visual life moments your followers will like. To Gen Z, Twitter is a place to stay informed and to follow trusted digital curators of culture and information.

Snapchat gives teens a more private (and less precious) mode of communication to quickly share silly, off-hand photos and observations with their close friends. This “inner circle” of friends– whether online or offline – provides teens a place where they can let their guard down and relax their concerns about how their actions might be perceived. Yik Yak, referred to as “anonymous twitter” by a research participant, was particularly popular among the Gen Z we interviewed. They saw it as a lightly regulated place to vent, post jokes or share personal concerns that they wouldn’t feel comfortable posting publicly.

Not surprisingly, as a social network gets larger and more transparent, teens decide to share fewer personal aspects of their lives. Being a generation that spends a lot of time on social media, Gen Z are actively seeking pockets on the internet where they can be unfiltered, speak the language of their peers and worry less about “making mistakes”. And as they come of age, the lines they draw between their digital and personal lives become critical.  Facebook, like other social networks before it, is becoming less conducive to fulfilling those goals.  And as older parents, aunts and uncles join Facebook, the biggest social network continues to lose some of its youth appeal, increasingly placing Facebook in the “friend zone”, while social networks like Snapchat and Yik Yak that seem to represent the opposite have seen a steady rise.

To learn more about our ethnographic research into products for Generation Click here to check out our full report .

Karuna Harishanker

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Karuna Harishanker