How Your Students Utilize Social Media

Happy 20th birthday Social Media! It was in 1997 the first social media site launched called, (Based on the theory that there are no more than six degrees of separation from anyone and actor Kevin Bacon.) I cover social media’s history and purpose in my new book, Marching Off the Map. It’s stunning to comprehend what a central role it plays in kids’ lives. Today’s students cannot imagine a world without it. Snapchat. Instagram. Twitter. Facebook. YouTube.

Whether you realize it or not, social media now plays a central role in:

  • How students derive their personal identity
  • How students determine their value and popularity
  • How students bully, criticize or affirm each other
  • How students discover news stories and causes to engage in
  • How students communicate with both friends and strangers
  • How students find and connect with partners, from hook up to break up

According to #Being13 Study by CNN, some 13-year olds check social media accounts 100 times a day and spend about 9 hours a day using media for enjoyment. That is more time than they spend sleeping, at school, or with parents, and it’s more than an adult spends at a full-time job. (This time frame does not include the hours they spend using media at school or doing their homework.)

Nearly 2 in 3 say they check social media to see if their friends liked what they posted. What’s more, 36 percent say they want to see if their friends are doing things without them. More than 1 in 5 say they check to see if anyone said “mean things” about them.

Clinical psychologist Marion Underwood (co-author of #Being13 Study) says this is how they know who they are and where they stand with peers. It’s where they get their identity . . . and it’s highly addictive.

What’s Up With That?

What’s trending now will continue to morph as new platforms are introduced. For instance, teens and twenty-somethings chose Facebook as their site of choice for almost a decade. Then—Moms and Dads got on it, and they had to find another spot to hang out and interface. Many are still on it, but for other reasons.

I believe leaders like you and me need to leverage social media for constructive (and even educational) purposes. In order to do this, we need to understand how and why kids use various platforms. So, let’s glance at some popular sites to discover why and how students utilize them.

Five Popular Social Media Platforms


For most students, Facebook is an information hub.

While declining among teens, it’s still the most used social media platform in the world. But it is now used more for scrolling than for posting. Students use it just to see what people are talking about. It’s an easy and quick way to get the scoop. They know this is where all demographics go to post their thoughts.


Students use this for real-time updates—to vent or to brag.

Twitter is the “be on” platform. Messages coming or going are short and sweet. It’s not about being eloquent but instant. The life expectancy of a tweet that’s been re-tweeted is 18 minutes. It’s about immediacy. There are more Generation Z kids on Twitter than any other generation. It’s about here and now.


This is where students go to get inspired.

They spend time editing and creating the most aspirational versions of themselves. They post lots of updates of better photos to increase “likes” given by others. No low-quality images are used here; that’s what Twitter is for. There are more Generation Z kids on Instagram than any other demographic.


Students use this for raw, real and personal up-to-date posts.

While Twitter uses words to update others, Snapchat utilizes images and video. But Snapchat is more personal than Twitter, since the user must choose who gets it. It is a visual way to send a text message that’s often humorous, familiar or personal. There are more Generation Z students on this than any other generation.


Students use this for entertainment and to gauge popularity.

YouTube has been around since 2005, with millions of videos posted each year by all ages. At first most students used it to watch or download content; now more Generation Z kids are using it to create and upload video. It’s a way to discover how popular your work is with peers.

What Can We Learn?

As you consider the messaging you wish to relay to students, consider how each of these tools might be useful.

1. When you want to broadcast something, Twitter or YouTube are valuable resources for you to utilize.

2. If you have a more personal message for a handful of select students you know, Snapchat could be helpful.

3. If you want to teach something to students that will open up a discussion later, why not leverage a video on YouTube?

4. Before a performance (a game, competition or show), why not post an inspirational meme on Instagram?

5. If you have an article you’d like students to read, Facebook may be the best platform to use.

The key is to leverage both familiarity and uniqueness. Think about what it can do for you, using social media utilizes mediums with which students are already familiar. At the same time, for your message to stand out, you must be unique to differentiate it from others.

How can you do that? Share your ideas and stories below.

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How Your Students Utilize Social Media