Youth Culture Window

Ranking Social Media Sites

Dynamic ImageSome teens like to keep up with their friends on Facebook. Some like to shoot short clips for Vine. Others keep it short and simple on Twitter. And many like the idea of the (supposedly) short life cycle offered by Snapchat. But which is the best?

It might depend on who you ask….

Who’s the Best?
Social media has a long history that many modern users are probably unaware of. MySpace wasn’t the first online place to connect with others…not by a long shot! However, when social media is discussed in headlines and classrooms today, most conjure up images of Facebook feeds and Twitter tweets. But there are many, many more social media sites than just those two, and lots of conversations revolve around which of them is the biggest, most popular, and most influential in the lives of teenagers. Fortunately, there’s some new data on the issue to help us better understand where kids are spending time online.

Interestingly, a year-long study commissioned by Piper Jaffray found that Instagram was “the most important social network” according to 32% of teenagers. The research was conducted from the spring of 2014 through the spring of 2015 and found that Instagram had improved its popularity by 2% during that year. Equally important, this research discovered how teens felt about other social media networks. For instance:


  • Those who felt Facebook was “most important” fell from 23% to 14%.
  • Those who believe Twitter was “most important” decreased from 27% down to 24%.
  • Tumblr also slipped a little bit in this poll, from 5% to 4%.
  • Snapchat boomed from “no data” to “top choice” for 13% of teens.

There are several reasons why Instagram is so popular among this younger generation – and they’re not afraid to say why – but before you’re tempted to say “Facebook is dead!” consider the findings of another study that was conducted during the exact same timeframe that came to different conclusions.

According to a Pew Research report, Facebook remains the favorite social network amongst teens in the US. Based on their research of 13- to 17-year-olds:


  • 71% of teens claim to still use Facebook.
  • Instagram is used by 52% of teens.
  • Snapchat is used by 41% of teens.
  • Twitter and Google+ are both used by 33% of teens.

So, which is it: Facebook or Instagram?

Technically, “both” since Facebook bought Instagram for a cool billion.

Besides interviewing different teen groups, and in different ways, the reports were actually asking two different questions. The Jaffray report revealed the “most important” social media site according to kids, while the Pew study focused on the social media site that was “most used” by kids. Are those just semantics…or do they hint at something more? Yes, Instagram is hot right now, but where better to post those awesome pics than on Facebook, the social media site that’s bigger than any nation of Earth? And everybody knows about tools like Hootesuit that allows users to link and manage multiple social media accounts…like Twitter and Facebook.

The bottom line is clear: even if other social media sites experience tremendous growth, Facebook will still be the biggest and most influential in kids’ lives for a long time to come.

The Most Important Ranking
As adults – parents, youth workers, etc. – the vastness of social media carries many implications in our lives. So much of what happens in the virtual world impacts what happens in the real world. Thus, the biggest question is not “Which social media site does your kid rank at the top?” but rather, “Where do you rank with your kid?” Here are just a couple of practical ideas to make sure you rank high in kids’ lives regardless of their social media preferences.


  1. Find out where your teens are…then go there. If you’re a parent and your teens really like Twitter, then simply “follow” them (at a respectable distance). If you’re a youth pastor and you have kids who use Instagram and Facebook, then establish a presence there. (In this instance, you may want to do so, both on a personal level and a ministry level.) No, none of this means you should stalk your kids online; just have real world conversations with them about your intentions to monitor their interactions in online environments. Maintaining a presence in your kids’ social media sphere is just as important as maintaining a presence at the dinner table or in the bleachers. Go with them wherever they go.
  2. Help your teens manage their social media…every aspect of it. There are many “bad guys” associated with social media: the potential to cross paths with a sexual predator, the prevalence of cyberbullying, the risk of isolation, the certainty of wasted time, and many more. In the face of failure, which is almost inevitable, the temptation will be to go all Dirty Harry on your kids’ laptop (or tablet/smartphone). But bear in mind, social media also offers teenagers several advantages, if managed correctly. Treat social media – whatever brand it takes – like cheesecake. A manageable amount adds flavor…but an unchecked consumption will invariably lead to unnecessary problems. So help your teenager set guidelines regarding all aspects of usage. It’s easier to manage social media than the problems it can cause when void of loving supervision.
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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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