Which social media apps are middle schoolers using right now?

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In the past week or so I’ve presented my social media workshop 16 times. That’s crazy. It’s one thing to have a talk memorized but it’s another thing for it to become your meditation. I love that content and I love the impact of the workshop. But I’m also a bit thankful to not have any booked for a few weeks and concentrating on other stuff.

All of those presentations were primarily to middle schoolers or parents of middle schoolers. (And one for pastors who focus exclusively on middle schoolers.)

And in each of them, at some point, I gauge what social media apps middle schoolers are using on their phones or tablets. (iPad or Kindle)

I don’t have a 13 year old. So my middle schooler doesn’t use any social media in the traditional sense of the word, though both Megan (12) and Paul (10) regularly play Minecraft or other games which have a social element to it. (No. Really. We are a COPPA compliant family.)

What are they using?

Here’s the order I’ve heard most frequently. Bear in mind, these are 6th-8th graders.

  1. Instagram
  2. Vine
  3. YouTube
  4. Snapchat
  5. Twitter
  6. Text replacements like Kik (there are a pile of those out there right now.)
  7. Everything else

What about Facebook?

Facebook is still very popular across all demographics. With more than 1 billion active users lots and lots of people are on Facebook, even though it’s become cool to treat Facebook like we used to treat Myspace, the reality is that the middle schoolers I’ve been interacting with just don’t care about Facebook. That’s their older brother’s social network. Or their moms.

Based on the conversations I had last week I’d say gaming, especially games with a small amount of social interaction, is where it’s at for early adolescents right now.

What do they all have in common?

Pseudo-names. Seriously. None of the apps that middle schoolers are talking about requires you to use your real name.

That’s a direct reaction to Facebook.

It’s part of the larger fracturing of the demographic base we are seeing right now. Perceived anonymity is a response to an ecosystem where everyone is known by a headshot and full name.

And it’s a pendulum that wildly swings back-and-forth over time. (Myspace > Facebook > Current fracturing )

So where’s it headed?

Well, we’ve gone from Xanga to Snapchat in 7 years. Xanga was all about words and now Snapchat is a lower form of communication than a meme on Instagram.

So I don’t see things getting lower on the food chain of communication. It has to go up again.

Based on the fact that today’s middle schoolers grew up paying for social gaming via WebKinz & Club Penguin, I think a paid, ad-free app would do very well.

Paul gave up candy for 6-months to earn enough to buy Minecraft. ($29) So this tribe is willing to pay for something if they see the value.

And I’m confident that it’ll have a verified way of knowing you are who you say you are. Maybe iPhone 5S will pave the way towards bringing user verification back en vogue?

Right now, among what is popular, I see a lot of pretenders and not a lot of contenders, for who will be dominant in 2-3 years among this powerful demographic.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

6 comments

  1. Do you think the lack of Facebook adoption for middle school and tweens is due to lack of interest or parent restrictions? It seems like the students that I know are allowed to be on Instagram, but their parents want them to wait until they’re 13 or 14 to allow them a Facebook account.

    I am amazed at the popularity of Instagram these days. I see the 5-8th grade crowd flocking there.

    1. Also worth pointing out that students aren’t saying that they have any parental restrictions. While I heard a few parents say things they don’t allow… it’s more behavior than apps. The biggest leap is simply to getting a phone. Once they have the phone it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of parental involvement or pushback until there’s a problem. Make sense?

  2. I don’t think it has to do with a parental restriction. When I’d say, “What are you using?” Facebook would kind of come out apologetically. Many times, it came out in a long list of things middle schoolers aren’t really using. Someone would pipe in, “LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook… and Myspace.”

    Now, I don’t think teenagers (in general) are as Facebook averse as they are letting on. The data points out that they are still there. I think what’s happening is that it’s becoming ubiquitous. It’s the same as having a Gmail account… everyone has one and you don’t really think about it, it’s just there.

  3. Interesting. I’m looking at this list and seeing a shift from information sharing by text to storytelling by pictures and videos, which is a concept that my mid-30’s brain can’t quite make the leap to. If I have an experience worth sharing, I’ll wait a few hours when I have time, and post it on facebook with text. But capturing a story worth sharing needs to be instant, “finger on the trigger”, so to speak. Not sure if I’m prepared for that.

  4. Adam, have you done much research on “Ask.FM”? At least in my context, it has exploded with popularity. Some of my students only post screen-shot pictures on Instagram of questions they’ve been asked on Ask.FM. And almost all of the time it is a vicious, bully-esque question (“Why are you so ugly?”). I think it goes to the extreme of the point you made earlier: they don’t need to include their real name, and the creators of it don’t seem to care about regulating or protecting minors.

    1. I’m still finding ask.fm to be pretty regional. But I do agree with your observations… perceived anonymity is disastrous for early adolescents. I don’t think they really want to be mean to one another, but the perception that they can say anything without recourse frees up the full dictionary of insults, that’s for sure.

      Ask.fm is a disaster for middle schoolers. Which means they’ll love it!

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