For the last few years the trend seems to have been to assume that young people are driving the social media change and the old folk (people over 21) need to get with the programme or be left behind, e.g. Eric Qualman’s Socialnomics. But that perception may be beginning to unravel, perhaps social media is mainly an older person’s thing?
The first indication that there may be a major age difference in social media was Twitter, as the popularity of Twitter grew so did the realisation that most of the users were older, well over 21. Even today, Twitter remains much less popular with the under 21s.
I have recently been looking into the uses universities could make of social media and it has become very clear that whilst there are opportunities, there are two major hurdles.
1) In terms of popular social media platforms like Facebook (nearly all the students have a Facebook page), most of the students wanted a clear demarcation between social and academic life.
2) Most of the leading edge of social media, such as FourSquare, Quora, and Wikis are much less popular with young people.
As an example of the difference, and as a result of doing the research into the use universities could make of social media, I conducted a one-off non-representative study. I joined Foursquare as did my 19 year-old undergraduate son. My son has 466 friends on Facebook, but only two of his friends were already on Foursquare. I have fewer friends, 428 in total, but 38 of them were already on Foursquare – not representative, but exactly in line with what I have been hearing during my research. [Quick update, my 20 year old undergraduate son just did the same exercise, he has 434 Facebook friends, and just 5 of them were on FourSquare.]
Talking to young people I get the impression that: they are using Facebook (for fun), they are messaging, and they are texting, but in most other areas of social media 18-21 year olds appear to be using less social media and to be less keen on social media than 28-31 year old professionals, and less than 38-41 year olds professionals. Perhaps they are having too much fun to be checking in, collaborating, and co-creating.