Video – a key component in youth communication

If you have been around teenagers recently, you might have noticed how they constantly send video clips to each other, the sillier the better. I was curious about this behavior and how teenagers use video and what they think of it. I met 24 teenagers in the US between the ages of 14 and 15 years old to discuss their video usage.

What I found out is that teenagers have distinct groups of friends with very different communication patterns, and video is only used with some friends.

At 14 or 15 years old, you are in a state of transition – not just from middle into high school but also in relation to your family (you are just beginning to develop some autonomy) and, importantly, in your relation to friends. Friendship is crucial, probably the most crucial component, of all the factors that shape this life stage. But ‘friendship’ to these teenagers is a pretty loose term. With social media, it is now possible to have thousands of friends or followers on different platforms. To make sense of these notions of friendship I wanted to understand the underlying structure of the friendship groups these teenagers laid claim to.

One of the teenagers I met was Carolyn and here is how she communicates with her friends

Carolyn checks Instagram daily. She has 1,470 friends and followers and likes to see what is going on, but does not post often as she doesn’t want to spam her friends’ notifications. Oversharing is taboo in this age group. When posting, she spends a lot of time and thought on how to present herself, and her selfies are carefully curated as they can be shared by others. But selfies are not overused, as oversharing is not seen as a cool thing. She deletes older posts as soon as she has changed her look (that happens quite frequently).

Her second Instagram account is a different story. Here she has only invited friends, ones she can trust, currently 57. The communication is much more relaxed and more frequent both in checking and posting. There is no need for curated images, she can show ugly pictures, show her true self. Within this group of friends, it is also where video is used to a large extent, and Snapchat is the thing.

Carolyn has several Snapchat streaks going on that are a matter of life and death (a Snapchat streak is how many days in a row you and another person have snapchatted. It is sort of a game that can go on for months). It was a disaster when the family went on vacation for a week in the outback with no internet connection. The solution was to give her best friend access to her Snapchat account to keep the streaks going.

Then, she has her closest circle of friends, five people, who are the most trusted. With those friends there is a constant interaction from early morning to late night, mostly with Snapchat, often silly things, to show her friends her daily life. The video aspect makes it almost like meeting in real life.

In summary teenagers have distinct groups of friends with very different communication patterns.

  • In the wider group, you have all your friends and followers. Here, communication involves broadcasting with the intention of informing, gaining attention and impressing. The purpose is to maintain connections.
  • In the closer circle of friends, with far fewer friends, the purpose is to create and maintain an engaging connection – often through humor or shared interests.
  • And in the inner circle of friends, maybe just 4-6 friends, there is a constant interaction including sharing of gossip and secrets, an interaction – in a way just like in real life.

The issue of trust is huge for teenagers in the context of friendship and social media. With the dawning of self-consciousness and social group affiliation comes the realization that not everyone can be trusted and social media is a very judgmental place to be. Therefore, communications, both in terms of content and platform, are often selected based on perceived trustworthiness.

The closer you are to someone the more video comes into play in the communication and closeness has everything to do with trust. Trust is a key driver behind the circle of friends, and increases as you move from the wider circle of friends to the inner circles, while curation of posts works the other way around.

 This is the first in a series of guest posts by Ann-Charlotte Kornblad, Senior Advisor Consumer Insights, Ericsson ConsumerLab.

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