Earlier this year H. Erin Lee, a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin, and I began combing through the data of a new national survey we conducted of young Facebook users. Our goal was simple. We wanted to learn more about the complex social transitions that characterize life in the age of social media. You hear a lot about young people and social media these days. Unfortunately, much of the public attention, scrutiny, and hysteria treats young people as a monolith, an undifferentiated mass. Based on my earlier work and the publication of The Young and the Digital I understood that young people’s social media behaviors are dynamic and often interact with factors like gender, class, geography, and race and ethnicity.
Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
As young people move from one life stage to the next their motivation for using social media evolves as does the networks they maintain and the content they share. Whereas engagement with Facebook four years ago was principally about connecting to a small sphere of friends the use of the platform today includes a broader range of activities, such as communicating with friends and family, collaborating on school work, browsing photos and videos, playing games and quizzes, consuming news, and participating in civic life.
In this study we focus on a key period in many young people’s lives: the transition from college to the paid workforce. In that relatively short window of time a number of life changing decisions are on the horizon: career, where to live, and starting a family just to name a few.
No matter if it is a wall post, a comment, or a photo, young people’s engagement with Facebook is driven, primarily, by a desire to stay connected to and involved in the lives of friends who live close by, far away, or have just entered in to their lives. And yet, we also find some interesting distinctions among young Facebook users. For example, women and men use the platform in uniquely gendered ways. Women, when compared to men, are much more likely to use Facebook to communicate about or share content related to friends and family. Men, by contrast, are much more likely to communicate about or share content related to pop culture, the news, or current events.
Facebook has evolved into a source of community leisure and entertainment. Of all the media content young people share via Facebook—photos, videos, links, quizzes—sharing photos is most common with eighty-seven percent of respondents reporting that they post photos on Facebook. The world’s biggest social network is also a social gaming platform with fifty-eight percent of respondents reporting they are likely to play a game or take a quiz on a typical day. Of those who participate in gaming, fifty-two percent are college graduates and forty-four percent are college students.
A few years ago there was a general belief that Facebook was principally a platform used by whites. But the presence of African Americans and Latinos has grown substantially over the last three years. Many of the black and Latino students we first met four years ago have moved from MySpace to Facebook. In 2009, Facebook’s Data Team even released a report on the demographic diversity of the platform. Erin and I will share our results related to race, ethnicity, and social media practices in the next wave of data we study.
This was a relatively large sample (N=900) considering the number of questions (more than 100) that we asked. So while there is much work for us to do going forward we decided to share our first Executive Summary, titled: Got Facebook? Investigating What’s Social About Social Media.
You can read the executive summary.
* A note on the survey methodology:
We worked with a survey research company and their sampling company. SSI provides access to more than 6 million research respondents – some managed exclusively by SSI, plus millions more through preferred partner relationships across 54 countries. Online respondents are recruited from more than 3,400 sources using a variety of methods and targeted approaches. These include banner ads, keywords, search links, pop-up polls, email, online invitations, and co-registration. Community membership is double opt-in, and all applicants are carefully screened.
The sample for this survey is a nationally-based, non-random , panel participant list. The sampling company initially contacted panel participants by e-mail and those who decided to participate went to a link that directed them to the server with the survey. Panel participants were contacted once.