Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

Article ImageHumans, by nature, are social beings. Teenagers, by nature, are social machines.

The advent of online social networking giants Facebook and MySpace—among others—has reshaped the face of a mainstay within teenage culture: socializing. A new study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Teens and Social Media,” shows that teens today are more connected than ever, and with the help of the web, they will become even more intertwined.

During my teenage years, my friends and I communicated with one another the old-fashioned ways: face-to-face and via a landline phone. Content creation and sharing came in the form of writing and passing notes to each other in class. It wasn’t even that common for teens to own a personal cell phone—and this was the mid-to-late ’90s.

Nowadays, teenagers are creating and sharing content and posting comments online at incredibly high rates. This study, the most recent in a string of teen-focused reports conducted by Pew, focuses on the difference in teens’ online participation compared to that of adults. Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at Pew and one of the writers of this report, says, “We decided to focus on social media in this survey because we saw a really big difference in teens’ online participation compared to adults.”

That discrepancy is obvious when you look at the numbers. As the 90:9:1 adage goes, a whopping 90% of online adults are merely lurkers, and only 10% actually contribute to the Web 2.0 movement. In contrast, according to the report’s findings, 64% of online teens have participated in a content-creating activity on the internet, up from 57% of online teens in 2004.

Most of the content creation among teens today occurs on social networking websites like the aforementioned Facebook or MySpace. In fact, according to the study, 55% of online teens ages 12–17 have a profile on a social networking site. Madden says, “This survey discusses the conversational portion of social media. We found that teens want feedback, and they can get that feedback on social networking sites.”

When it comes to social networking sites, feedback comes in many forms. Wall posts, photo albums, comments, blogging, and video posts are among the most popular, and the report from Pew finds that not only are teens in general using social networking sites to interact, but the type of online interaction varies depending on gender.

The study indicates that teenage girls as a whole are more likely to be content creators than are teenage boys (55% and 45%, respectively). In this case, Pew defines content creators as “online teens who have created or worked on a blog or webpage, shared original creative content, or remixed content they found online into a new creation.” The differences continue as methods of content creation are broken down.

For instance, teenage girls are blogging. The study states that 35% of all online teen girls blog, compared to only 20% of teen boys, and that “virtually all of the growth in teen blogging between 2004 and 2006 is due to the increased activity of girls.” Furthermore, older teen girls are more likely to blog than older teen boys (38% versus 18%), but younger teen girls are now outpacing older teen boys in the blogosphere: 32% of girls ages 12–14 blog compared to 18% of boys ages 15–17. Madden says, “Girls have always demonstrated a more aggressive adoption of online messaging in general. Prior to Web 2.0, it was instant messaging, and now it is seen in the forms of writing on friends’ walls and blogging. It seems that girls are more focused on verbal expression.”

In contrast, teenage boys are posting video files more readily than girls. While the study states that 57% of all online teens watch videos online, teenage boys are twice as likely as girls to post video files (19% versus 10%). “There is a fascination with visual media, especially among boys, today,” says Madden.

It also appears that all online teenagers have a comment about something: 89% of teens who post photos online say that people comment at least “sometimes” about the photos they post, and 37% of those teenagers say that their audience comments on their photos “most of the time.” Further, 72% of teen video posters report receiving comments “sometimes,” and 24% say that people comment “most of the time.”

What all of these numbers seem to suggest is that teenagers today are super-connected communicators. A huge aspect of adolescence is socialization, the need to feel like a part of a larger group, and social networking sites make achieving that sense of belonging easier. “I think teens are more open to exploring and trying out these new tools,” posits Madden. “They just want to feel connected, maintain ties, and receive feedback from friends.”

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(www.pewinternet.org; www.myspace.com)