Growing Up with Digital Natives: The Maturation of Social Media

Aug 06, 2015


Lately, I've found myself almost in awe of how far social media has come in the past 10 years or so. I think back to when I first signed up for Facebook in 2004--how new it all was, how exciting. At that time, the social media site was trickling down through a handful of colleges and universities, starting in the ivy leagues, and slowly expanding to include my small college in southwestern Connecticut. The site was just for college kids, and people spent hours perfecting their profile pages. Now, 11 years and 1.19 billion users later, Facebook, and social media as a whole, has become so much more than just a place where college kids go to swap party stories.

For one thing, the demographic has changed. Now that the generation that welcomed social media into the digital stratosphere has reached the ripe old age of 30, more and more often social media users are posting baby pictures and asking for parenting advice instead of checking in at the latest and hippest wine bar downtown. In fact, as Pew Research reports, 75% of parents use social media, and "fully 94% of Facebook-using parents share, post or comment on Facebook (as opposed to simply reading or viewing content), with 70% of parents doing so ‘frequently' or ‘sometimes.'"

These parents aren't just posting their child's latest accomplishments. They are seeking and receiving honest support from their peers. According to Pew, "74% of parents who use social media get support from their friends there. Digging into the data, 35% of social-media-using parents ‘strongly agree' that they get support from friends on social media. Fully 45% of mothers who use social media ‘strongly agree' that they get support from friends on social media, compared with just 22% of fathers."

Even the founder of Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg, has posted about parental issues, announcing on the social media site that he and his wife Priscilla faced many struggles when trying to conceive their baby girl. It is almost like Facebook has grown up with Zuckerberg-morphing and mutating as they both mature. The result is a fully actualized community of people, looking to each for support as their lives move forward.

And because of this forward motion, social media is no longer about frivolity. It has purpose. Take for example, Cecil the lion. By now I'm sure you've read the (horrifying) reports of how dentist Walter Palmer lured Cecil from his reservation, and then "hunted" and killed him even though he was a protected animal. The story has been blasted on news sites around the world, and if your Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram friend list is anything like mine, you know exactly how angered everyone was by Cecil's murder-and rightfully so. But, as good as social media is at getting the word out when news breaks, in recent years, it has become even better at nurturing cultural movements.

Just look at what happened a few days after the news broke about Cecil, when over 180,000 people had already signed a White House petition to have Walter Palmer extradited, and the number of negative social media comments focused on his actions caused his dental practice to shut down.

Did social media make this possible?

Consider also how Facebook rallied around the Supreme Court's decision to strike down bans on same sex marriage. Within a day of the Supreme Court's announcement, the majority of my newsfeed was decorated with rainbow tinted profile pictures, created using www.facebook.com/celebratepride. The political push now present on social media sites isn't a surprise. According to Pew Research Center, "About six-in-ten online Millennials (61%) report getting political news on Facebook in a given week, a much larger percentage than turn to any other news source." More so, "Roughly a quarter (24%) of Millennials who use Facebook say at least half of the posts they see on the site relate to government and politics."

The long and the short of it: social media has grown up. As the user base that initially embraced social media evolved, so did the platforms. This is both good and bad for media companies. Good because it is now becoming just a little bit easier to hone in on the interests of social media users, and bad because those interests show that users come to these sites for serious feedback and communication, not just to find the latest coupon for their favorite store. They are looking for genuine connections as they grow, and media companies have to reciprocate in order to stay in the game and grow with them.