Yes, Teens and Adults Use Instagram Differently

Of course it makes sense that teens and adults use social networks like Instagram differently, but we rarely see research detailing exactly how the usage differs. We were pleased to see that researchers at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology published such a study last month titled “Generation Like: Comparative Characteristics in Instagram”. Rather than conducting interviews, the team used a computer interface to look at 27,000 Instagram accounts and compare the two age cohorts across a number of metrics.

instagram-logoThe teen group was defined as users between 13 and 19. The adult group tested accounts of adults aged 25 – 39, and data was compiled for the accounts’ Instagram activity during April and May of 2014. Let’s take a look at the findings:

1. Teens post fewer Instagram pictures than adults

Since teens appear to always be on their phones, this might come as a surprise. The stakes are high for teens on Instagram, where your popularity might be measured by your number of followers or the number of likes any given photo gets. It can be devastating (we hear) for a teen who is unsure of her stature among he peer group to post a picture and only get a few likes. If the photo a teen posts does not quickly get likes, it may be juts as quickly deleted. This is borne out by the research, which found that the number of teens who had deleted a photo over random 12-hour time intervals was significantly higher than the corresponding number for adults.

On the issue of number of followers, keep in mind that a large follower number is most easily achieved if your account is set to public and people who don’t yet follow you can see your photos. We recommend that younger users keep their accounts set to private.

2. Teens tend to post about self, or post to elicit a “like” or other response; adults tend to post more about things, places and people other than themselves

We believe that teens use Instagram as a communication tool moreso than adults do, so it stands to reason that a higher percentage of teen posts are related to “here is what I’m doing” or “here is how I’m feeling” right now.

3. The percentage of photos that are actually “selfies” is much higher for teens

The research team manually examined photos from 1,000 random members of each age group. For teens, 26% of photos posted were selfies vs. 17% for the adult group. That’s not necessarily bad, but too much focus on one’s own looks can be a sign that all might not be well in the self esteem department.

What is a risk is that your teen may be divulging too much personal information (where he lives), precise location information via Geotag or a pattern of behavior that makes his location obvious (at Dunkin Donuts every day after school) to a predator or bully.

4. Teens tend to have longer bios, often in an attempt to gain followers

Again, this speaks to the self-promotion thing. In our experience, in addition to posting their sports team or school status (MHS Football ’17 or MHS Class of 2017), teens also tend to post more personal information in bios – sometimes their age, often their Twitter or handle.

5. Teen posts include more hashtags, get more likes and attract more comments

If teens are using Instagram to communicate with peers, it appears to be working. They are sending more signals via hashtags (#summer #beach #NJ) in addition to the photos themselves. Hashtags also improve the “searchability” of photos, making it more likely that you’ll gain new followers. Teens in the study group added 6 tags per photo vs. 4 tags/photo for adults. Online friends are rewarding them with feedback in the form of likes and comments. Teens’ posts garner on average 56 likes and 2.5 comments per photo vs. 40 and 1 respectively for adults.

In summary, just knowing whether your teens are using Instagram won’t get you very far, unless you are friends with them on that network but the numbers aren’t in your favor here – 52% of teens use Instagram vs. only 21% of adults.

It is more helpful for you to know how he or she is using Instagram. Keep an eye out for signs of self esteem problems or indications of cyberbullying, and by all means make sure that privacy settings are age appropriate and that Geotags or a pattern of photos aren’t giving important clues as to location.



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