Gen Y’s Split over Facebook and Social Networking

Facebook continues to trek the path of the gray-haired, attracting a consistently older user base. Twitter is getting younger, but one thing is clear: Social networking is what old people do. Old, meaning of course the mid-to-late 20’s and beyond. For example, though the number of young Facebook users has increased, the number of high school and college students has declined by -16.5% and -21.7%, respectively, quotes social media bible Mashable.com.

Gen Y networking

Gen Y is split down the middle between the early and late millennial kids. The oldest were born in the late 70s or early 80s, the youngest in the late 80’s to 1990. I’ve seen this split first-hand: I’m 26, born in 1983 and my younger brother, a college sophomore, is 19, born in 1989. It’s the difference between getting a cell phone at driving age (16) and middle school age (12-13) or before. The split between the text-only generation and those who had phones before texting was ‘in.’

What makes these two Gen Y sets different, and how it affects social networking usage all goes back to life stages and it’s not unlike the debates being had by companies everywhere. Here’s why.

PRIVACY NEEDS

Social networking is very, very public. Not only can that cute guy from math class see what you’re up to, now so can your mom, sister and grandma, every time you post a status update. Anyone who’s ever experienced a teen slamming a door in your face knows that privacy is of the utmost importance for teens and young adults. Watch teens text for 20 minutes to decide on a simple place to meet, when it would take anyone else 2 min. on the phone, and you’ll see the divide.

Social networking means you have something to say and an openness to share it with the world. Like many companies, hanging everything out to dry online is a scary prospect for sometimes-uncertain young people.

SELF-CONFIDENCE

Personal branding is a hot topic, but it applies much more to the graduating-college, I-need-a-job set than younger Gen Yers whose image is still in the making, even in their own minds. It requires a great deal of self confidence to not only recognize but consciously craft an image you want to portray.  Bullying on Facebook is a talked-about issue among parents and educators – so much so that how-to site ehow.com discusses how to prevent online bullying.

Companies and young people have to be comfortable with their individuality – and not just the cool parts. If you’re a struggling artist, a startup website, a band geek with an edge or whatever else, you still have to embrace it to share it online. When that starts to happen, in later adolescence, is when younger Gen Yers are really jumping into Facebook. Twitter’s a whole other story, because as has been frequently measured and commented upon, teens don’t tweet.

ACCESSIBILTY OF FRIENDS

Teens are constantly in each others’ presence, in the classroom, dorm, hallways, sporting events. They don’t need to broadcast their moves because they are more focused on face-to-face interaction. While older Gen Yers need to use tools to keep up with friends as peers move cross-country for jobs, develop relationships with significant others, and generally take divergent paths in life.  Tools like Twitter are slowly taking off only as it becomes ubiquitous with SMS or texting – it’s a quick way to just group-message for young Gen Yers.

MOBILITY OF THE AUDIENCEGen Y cell phone usage trends and stats

It’s all about movement. Teens and young 20s Gen Yers are constantly online, but not always from a computer and very often on a smart phone or at least a phone that can access the web. Do a little research, and you’ll find hundreds of predictions that easy access to apps, sites and virtual utilities is all heading towards one very small screen: cell phones. A recent study proved that Gen Yers of all ages are more likely to give up social networks before phones or texting.  In fact, on average, Gen Y send and receive upwards of 740 text messages per month.

Content providers are increasingly conscious of creating a site that is accessible through devices like the iPhone, and it’s possible that for a certain generational subset, social networking through a web browser may become obsolete. When mobile adaptation catches up to current sites, it will be about when the older teen and younger 20’s-aged Gen Yers are getting ready to graduate and move away… and then the cycle of actually needing and seeing the value of remote digital connections via social media outlets starts.

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