As I finalize my presentation for the Archdiocese of Hartford’s “Youth In Hart” tomorrow, I have been spending a lot of time with the question of “where are the youth on social media?”
People are always quick to say that young people aren’t on Facebook, and that the medium now plays host to parents and “old people,” but I do not believe that to be true. The statistics on Facebook tell you a different story: 214 million Americans are on Facebook (out of 1.8 billion monthly active users), and 46 million of them are under the age of 24. (Per statista.com). Despite what people might say- young people are on Facebook.
But there is no denying that they are using it differently. Astute social media managers may observe that these demographics rarely comment, like, or share posts, and are hesitant to join groups that are public. A closer look of the profile of someone under the age of 24 will often show you a carefully, almost meticulously, maintained presence. The perfect pictures, only positive comments, happy and excited moments only, and very few “pages” liked. That is contrary to how my generation used Facebook when it burst onto the scene a decade ago.
I believe the sentiment that “youth aren’t on Facebook” comes from this phenomenon. Young people use Facebook almost like a website. They build a digital persona for themselves, one that presents exactly the version of themselves that they want, and It is curated to an almost extreme degree. That is why they don’t comment or like certain posts, because they are afraid or unwilling to do anything that will disrupt the carefully crafted profile they have created.
The same can be said on Twitter (where you often get more “personality”), and Instagram (where youth go so far as having separate profiles for separate personas). This phenomenon can be linked to the proliferation of Snapchat and other “Dark Social Media” outlets- youth are using “public” social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to create their digital persona, and “private” social media like Snapchat or WhatsApp to share links, get silly, and actually converse with each other.
So what do you do about that, as a social media manager that wants to appeal to a younger demographic? My advice would be to start in two places: Facebook and Instagram. Facebook still has the largest audience of any social media outlet, and until it is eclipsed by another site, it is always your best bet. Further, if you are trying to reach youth, one of the best ways to do that is through their parents and grandparents, who use Facebook more often and more aggressively. Youth may not comment on your posts, but they will oftentimes see it, and that is half the battle sometimes.
Instagram is also important in any communications strategy geared towards young people. According to Statista, Instagram is the second preferred social network for teenagers (behind Snapchat and ahead of Facebook). That is likely because of its simplicity, mobile friendly interface, and of course, its ability to customize your digital footprint. Instagram suffers from the same treatment as Facebook- young people generally use it as their “showcase” or “highlight reel,” and thus comment infrequently on business pages. They will however, you’re your posts with a little more frequency. The fact of the matter remains, this is one of your audience’s preferred social networks, so you have to be here.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention Snapchat. I find Snapchat to be very problematic for non profits and for Church related social media accounts, as I find it difficult to navigate the app in a way that complies with (very important and necessary) Safe Environment guidelines. If you post exclusively to your story, do not accept any friend requests, and do not accept any direct messages, then I feel comfortable with it- but that’s not an awful lot of (necessary) restrictions for a successful Snapchat strategy.
My verdict? Stick to Facebook and Instagram for social media outlets when trying to reach young people, and couple that with a way to “push” announcements or news via Email, Flocknote, or something similar. And of course, always do so in a way that complies with your company or organizations rules and policies!