At a recent quick conversation with some secondary school students I asked, “What social media apps and sites are currently cool?” I realise, of course, by saying “cool” I looked decidedly old, but it seemed a cooler alternative to “trendy”.
Their responses taught me a valuable lesson – being down with the kids requires a permanent level of engagement. You can maybe achieve this if you work with kids every day.
I’m interested in understanding how 11-19s like to communicate in order that we can better communicate with them. Our discussion revolved around a list of the top social media sites published this year in “Texts, Tweets, Trolls and Teens”, a Teen Life Confidential survival guide for social networking, written by Anita Naik. It’s a fabulous read for any grown-up who wants an easy-to-consume insight into teenage social media use.
My question to the group was – do these sites still get a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down”? The sites listed in the book are as follows:
Facebook – Has so many users, if it was a country, it would be the third biggest in the world.
YouTube – 54% of all teens are on YouTube.
Twitter – 12% teens are unsure if their tweets are public.
Skype – free over internet video chat – one of the originals.
Tumblr – Most people on Tumblr are aged 14-25.
Kik – A smartphone instant messenger.
Instagram – For sending photos and another way to connect with people?
Vine – For publishing short videos on loop.
Pheed – 81% users 14-25.
SnapChat – Photo, and now video, sharing.
Ask.fm – Get responses to questions from peers in under 300 characters.
Omegle – For chatting to strangers with similar interests.
Keek – Instagram for videos.
Interestingly, only Kik, Skype and SnapChat got unprompted mentions. Surprisingly, many of the mainstream brands did not qualify for an unprompted mention. Are they’re assumed to be known by everyone? Or, like much in fashion, is mainstream no longer cutting edge?
I certainly sensed an appetite for young people to tell me about their apps. The ones they were using to communicate with their friends. They were:
Pin It – a way to share interesting internet content via a virtual pinboard .
iMessanger – iPhones’ native messenger service that is effectively free from iPhone to iPhone.
Oovoo – video chat with up to 12 friends and instant messaging.
Tango – free over internet voice and video calling plus messaging, much like Skype.
WhatsApp – a smartphone instant messenger.
Viber – free over internet calls, text and picture sharing .
Fring – free over internet text, talk and video calls.
Instachat – the new messenger app from Instagram
Google Hangouts – instant messaging and video chat for two or more users online, or on Android.
So what did I learn? Well, for the first time I got a sense of a highly fragmented market place, where this group of young people like to use that messenger service whilst that group of young people prefers another. You might say a social group’s chosen communications channel is becoming one of its defining characteristics. One girl describes how she connects with one circle of friends through Viber whilst her other main circle of friends tend to connect on WhatsApp .
I sensed fickleness too. To keep a fragmented market afloat there presumably has to be willingness to casually switch between providers – so what’s cool this week may not be cool next. At the moment there seemed to be a growing popularity for apps that enabled group based video chats. Meanwhile, it seems something as simple as a quirky feature, like an unusual range of emoticons, could be enough to propel an app into fashion. They didn’t mention some of the apps in the list from the book – not because they’re no longer the “in thing”, I suspect, but because they aren’t the in thing this week in this school.
I’m nearing 40, and the value for me of connecting with friends and colleagues through the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter is that “everyone is on there”, so it’s easy to connect with the majority of people, all under one roof. Maybe our young people don’t think quite like that – happy to live in a market place full of smaller providers. Is it even preferable to seek out a lesser known app as a unique way to connect with your friends? That would be classic teenage trend setting. Whilst I’m a Tesco shopper, they’d be seeking out underground boutiques.
I detected from the young delegates a sense of apathy about Facebook . I’ve no doubt they’re on there as standard (whether or not they’re over 13 years, the minimum age for users) which means they must value it in some way. But, is it now just a bit too middle of the road to warrant a mention? Ruined by the “oldies”? Can a social networking site be cool if you’re likely to get a friend request from your Mum and Dad whilst you’re on there?
It’s harder to define “cool” than I thought. I suspect the list of currently trendy communications channels for young people is not nationally definable. In a short group chat I noticed clear differences in the communications app choice between friendship groups, and I’d suggest the difference would widen between schools, regions and counties. I wonder how your young people like to communicate?