Figures Never Lie, do They? – New Teen Social Media Survey

There has been some buzz surrounding the 2013 Pew Research Centers report on “Teens, Social Media and Privacy.”  While much of what is in there are things that we have all thought and suspected, there are definitely some gems if you read the report deeply.  Let me point out some things that I found interesting.  ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: I changed the way this blog displays in your newsreader to be more respectful of your time, so if you prefer it back the other way, leave me something in the comments.

Your Big Data and Big Analytics Project is Safe, But Beware of Dragons

Only 9% of teen social media users are very concerned about the data that is being shared to third parties.  There is another 31% who are somewhat concerned.  Which leads me to believe that if you are working on a project which plans to use this data you are good to go.

However, I think there is ignorance beneath the surface.  “Anyone who isn’t friends with me cannot see anything about my profile,” said one participant.  I would not be surprised if that particular misunderstanding was present in all demographics.  I am of two minds with this particular data point and statement.  Part of me wants to say that if the users don’t care, why should you, and that if the platform is not properly informing their users about the sharing of data, why should you raise the red flag.  Admittedly, this is the huge cynic part of me.  The bigger part of me is that when the backlash comes over the use of this data it will be you, the user of the data, not the platform that takes the hit.  So that project you have to underwrite teen auto insurance with social media profile and posting data, tread lightly.  Avoid surprise, folks, and you will avoid the backlash, because blaming the platforms will never work.

The flip-side of teen’s responses to this concern is that of their parents.  Almost exactly reverse of the teens is that only 19% are not concerned about the data that advertisers can use.  Almost half are very concerned about it.  More on parents later, as well.

Social Media Use Has Plateaued?

I think this is a head slap moment, to be honest.  Social media use on the established big platforms has reached a point of saturation across all demographics, according to studies.  There is no reason to think that teen activity wouldn’t marry the general public here as well.  There are some statements in the report that conclude that teens are moving towards other platforms.  I think a more interesting conclusion is that usage has become saturated on Facebook and that teens are merely experimenting with other networks to see what is out there.

Instagram seems to be the next network of interest.  “Yeah, that’s why we go on … Instagram.  My Mom doesn’t have that,” says one participant.  “Instagram is just basically like letting everyone else see what you’re seeing,” says another.  A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Given some of the security concerns about Snapchat (see Slate article), I am a bit concerned over statements like “Snapchat is just to one person;” and “they’ll see it for 10 seconds, and then I’m done.”  All the articles about Snapchat’s problems that are out there must not be filtering out to this particular community.  One of the other quotes was troubling – “[a]nd you can use Snapchat are school with the school’s website,” which the study points out that “the platform is so new many schools have not yet blocked access to the site.”  Technology will always outpace the controls that are put in place to control them.

Why are Teens Sharing More Information

The study points out that the large percentage of teens that are sharing things like their birth date, their school, their location and personal photos.  What might get buried in other reports is that this may be a factor of both teen’s shifting attitudes and the shift of platforms.  The platforms themselves may be contributing with their “near-constant changes to the interfaces,” as well as “dramatic changes in the devices teens use to connect to their networks.”

Privacy Settings Might be Working

The teens in the study expressed high confidence in their ability to manage their online privacy, but when you look at the above statement about sharing of data, I don’t know how much comfort I would take in these results.  61% of those in the study had checked their privacy settings, so they are checking.  The majority of participants also have their profile set to private so that only friends can see their updates.  So, bravo for the platforms.

Parents are Ok, No They Really Are 

I am quite intrigued by the reports out there in some of the early articles on this study that teens are moving to other platforms because their parents aren’t there.  Okay, I also pointed it out in the migration to newer platforms.  What interests me about the reports out there is the logical disconnect contained within the study itself.

If teens are concerned about their privacy, if they curate their friends and their content, and they are regularly visiting their charing preferences, why do only 1 in 20 limit what their parents can see?  A full 85% said that their parents see the same content and updates that all of their other friends see.  But this is the user group that understands the settings within the platforms to differentiate between user groups, right?  I don’t know what to make of this disconnect to be honest, so I will just throw this out there and let it ruminate for a while.

What Does This Mean For You

I don’t think any of this changes what you may already be doing.  This demographic will slowly become the consumers of tomorrow, though their influence has already been felt in the economy.  As we migrate to whatever society will become, these folks will be the driving force.  I don’t think there is anything in the study that changes what I already thought, but if you aren’t watching these studies to see what your users, present and future, are thinking, you really need to be.

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