Adults and Teens Use Social Networks Differently

How we talk about social networks has changed a lot in the last 12 months.

  • It used to be: “Kids use these, but not many people over 30 use them.”
  • Now it’s: “The fastest growing user segment on Facebook is over age 55.”

By now most of my clients get that a lot of these networks are now viable ways to reach a wide variety of demographics. But here’s some interesting data that I found on eMarketer that suggests that adults and teens use social networks very differently.

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As you can see, there is a fair amount of similarity in staying in touch, but then we see some divergence.

  • Teens are far more likely to actually make plans on the network. I imagine older people email or call to cement plans.
  • Self promotion is pretty far from the mind of teens, but adults often do so on social networks.
  • While business contacts are obviously something that teens would be less interested in, it’s a bit surprising that they don’t show up at all for organizing with others for an event, issue or cause online.

Even though this data was released in 2009, it looks like it was collected much earlier. I’d love to see updated information out of Pew on this, but it’s an important reminder for social media marketers:

Just because adults are catching up to teens in social network usage, doesn’t mean they behave the same once they are there.

What have you seen in your efforts in terms of these differences? Let me know in the comments.

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  • Kevin B. Gilnack
    Posted at 16:42h, 23 April

    It does look like the stats are pretty old, and I’d be even more interested in seeing something further segmented within adults (18-22, 23-27, 28-33, 34-40, 40-50, 51+). However, it’s definitely important to remember that different groups use these tools differently and to target appropriately.

  • Richard Pentin
    Posted at 17:08h, 23 April

    Thanks for the interesting post. It’s important to understand this behaviour when planning social media campaigns because it can make all the difference as to whether a campaign may succeed or fail.

    But understanding behaviour isn’t the only factor to take into consideration. Perhaps the more pertinent question when planning social media campaigns is not to ask ‘how’ consumers use social networks but ‘why’. We actually asked ourselves this question at TMW as it seemed to us that the reason why so many social media campaigns fail is because there’s little concrete evidence as why consumers adopt or participate in social media. We therefore conducted some research recently to get under the skin of this and found some fascinating insights, including key differences in motivations between age demographics as well as the gender divide. If you’re interested I’ve summarised the key findings in my blog here Hope you find it useful.


  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 20:18h, 23 April

    Thanks Richard. I agree with you totally.

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