Report: Pew's Social Media and Young Adults

Pew’s Internet & American Life Project has recently published their report Social Media and Young Adults, which looks at social media usage by teens and young adults.

Two Pew Internet Project surveys of teens and adults reveal a decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among adults 30 and older. Even as blogging declines among those under 30, wireless connectivity continues to rise in this age group, as does social network use. Teens ages 12-17 do not use Twitter in large numbers, though high school-aged girls show the greatest enthusiasm for the application.

The report goes on to say that whilst blogging amongst teens and young adults has dropped since 2006, down to 14% of online teens compared to 28%, it has risen amongst the over 30s from 7% in 2007 to 11% in 2009. 73% of online teens use social networks now, compared to 55% in 2006 and 65% in 2008. 47% of online adults use social networks, up from 37% in 2008. Furthermore, adults are “increasingly fragmenting their social networking experience” as 52% have two or more different profiles.

There’s lots more information, about Twitter, connectivity and gadget use. I haven’t yet had a chance to read the whole thing, but none of the above statistics should surprise anyone.

Teens never were particularly into blogging and if they were going to blog anywhere it was going to be on LiveJournal. Different blogging tools had radically different profiles in 2006, with tools like Typepad having a middle-aged, white male demographic and LiveJournal attracting mainly teens, 75% female, with a focus on cultural minorities. The blogging landscape has changed a lot since then, and the tool-specific cultures have grown or receded along with the tools themselves. LiveJournal, which had just been bought by SixApart was sold to SUP, a Russian media company and now has 11.6 million users. Movable Type/Typepad seem to have decreased in popularity. WordPress has developed is now one of the most usable and extensible platforms available. It currently has 202 million users.

Culturally, blogging has moved into the mainstream – a good enough reason for many teens to see it as ‘something old people do’ and that they should, therefore, avoid. And those teens who were on LJ in 2006 are growing up, hitting 20 and going to university or getting jobs. And I can say from experience that blogging really is easier when you’re underemployed!

The wider social media landscape has changed too. Facebook had started off as a closed, school-/university-only site, accessible only to those with an educational email address. In 2006 is opened its doors and so all of those teens/early-20-somethings who were facing having to leave their friends behind as they lost their university email address could continue their activities into the workplace. MySpace, which in 2006 was the most popular social network, became a lot less cool. In 2008, Facebook took MySpace’s crown and it is now pretty much seen as Facebook’s ugly little brother (even though MySpace is a year older).

Twitter, of course, barely existed in 2006, and whilst it’s still not hugely popular amongst teens, plain ol’ SMSing is. Teens have greater access to mobile phones now than they did, with 75% of American teens between 12 and 17 owning one. I’d suspect the pattern is the same in the UK and Europe. Text bundles are now very generous, so teens have no need of Twitter – their social circle is based on their school friends and neighbours for whom texts work well enough.(In most cases, they have yet to develop geographically scattered networks that tools such as Twitter are useful for sustaining.)

As for adults using more social networks, but fragmenting their social experience, well again, there are a lot more networks to join now than their were, and they don’t all do the same thing. I can’t do on Twitter what I do on Flickr or Dopplr. So I would expect to see usage and fragmentation continue to increase.

I love the Pew reports. We don’t have anything like this in the UK, although we desperately need this sort of research to be done. As I’ve said before, Ofcom and the Office for National Statistics do some work, but it lacks the focus and detail that business and government need if they are to base decisions on evidence instead of anecdote. However, it is important when we read these reports to remember that the digital landscape is continually shifting, and we can’t separate out the changes we see in online behaviour from the development of the web. As such, I’d say there is nothing that surprises me in this report, nothing that seems out of place within the wider context of technology change and adoption.

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This makes for very interesting reading. I think there needs to be a wider definition of blogging though. If you consider the Facebook Wall to be a 'private' blog (i.e. it is a walled garden), then aren't the status updates, posts, comments and accompanying media just really 'journals' aka blogs in disguise? They are not the place for in-depth articles, that's clear, but many old-school blogs were very simple posts about daily activities. Ergo, I view Facebook as a form of 'rudimentary' blogging.
I'm afraid I disagree with you on the need for a wider definition of blogging. Blogging has for ten years been quite well defined and when we see a blog it sets up certain expectations, whether we are aware of them or not. A Facebook wall also sets up expectations, but they are different. Blogging is generally open, archived, searchable and commentable. Facebook walls maybe open or semi-private (little on Facebook these days is truly private), poorly archived, just about commentable and I've no idea how or if you can search them. Just because you can comment on something, doesn't mean it's a blog. Blog is partly about functionality, but it's also about tone, culture, etiquette etc. We mix up blogging and social networking at our peril, because we'd be mixing up one set of expectations with another, and that's never a good idea.
I used the 'rudimentary' qualifier deliberately, but your points are well taken. Don't you think though a blog is also a form of Social Network, or at least can be?