What You Need To Know About 10 Social Networks, Sites and Apps Popular With Teens

Ever ask around about a new site and find out it’s the new craze in social media you haven’t discovered? Maybe you’ve searched online for a word you’ve heard buzzing about and discovered it’s the latest must-have app. If so, you’re not alone. How teens stay in touch with friends - or even meet new ones - is more instant, more visual, and more diluted with messages from friends and in many cases, advertisers. This “keeping in touch” is also more virtual. From mobile messaging apps to video platforms, what teenagers are using to express themselves and stay socially connected changes as quickly as their wardrobe.

According to Pew Research, 95% of kids ages 12-17 are active online, and 56% of kids in the 13-17 age group go online multiple times a day. So how are teenagers spending their time on digital media, and what’s popular and important today with this generation?

Here’s a quick rundown of 10 sites and apps every parent of teens and tweens should be familiar with to enable knowledgeable and comfortable conversations at home:

Facebook

What it is:
Social Network

How you use it:
Facebook is one of the largest and most recognizable social media networks in the world. And on it, everyone is ‘friends.’ Its features are endless: users can share what’s on their mind or what they’re doing via status updates, can check-in at a location, post photos, tag themselves and friends in pictures, post videos, like posts, comment on posts, chat/send messages, catch up on friends’ activities in the newsfeed, create groups, join groups, follow their favorite brands and celebs, accept new friends, unfriend contacts, and much more.

Good to know:
Facebook’s still relevant to teens you ask? Yes. To the famedom it used to have? Maybe not, but more teens have Facebook accounts than any other social platform, despite only 50% of those users being active, according to data from GlobalWebIndex.

Parents of younger kids might ignore Facebook because it's not that “hot” to this age group, however it's becoming increasingly important for kids to be on. Especially kids entering high school, because Facebook is used for so many things -- sports teams, school clubs, private study groups, group chats and more. It's the one site that offers almost all of the necessary communication tools under one umbrella.

It’s also important to be aware that Facebook recently introduced its Messenger App to extract the messaging feature from the usual interface and encourage chat and conversations among friends within the app. It’s a simple substitute to SMS, emailing and text messaging for many. Could this be a move to retain the teen audience and even enhance its collection of vital demographic data? (Nodding yes.)  

(Note -- Though FB usage may be down a little among this age group, other Facebook entities are very popular among teens and tweens. Companies Facebook swept up in the past few years include WhatsApp and Instagram.)

 

Twitter

What it is:
Social Network

How you use it:
Twitter encourages and enables users to communicate in short form - 140-character messages, aka, Tweets. Users can also tweet pictures or share 6-second via its video platform, Vine. Tweets from people users follow show up in the constant stream known as the timeline. Twitter attracts an average of 302 million active users monthly, and while popular among the older crowd, it’s reported that approximately 26% of kids ages 12-17 have a Twitter account.

Good to know:
A few things are important to know about Twitter. Of all the social networks out there, this is arguably the most public. Twitter describes it best in their Terms of Service“What you say on the Twitter Services may be viewed all around the world instantly. You are what you Tweet!”

Anyone can read Tweets, but only registered users can post or reply to Tweets. It’s important that both kids and parents understand anything sent from an account -- an original Tweet, a re-tweet, a favorite or a reply -- is for the world to see, so digital responsibility is extremely important on this platform. Also, Twitter is great as it connects people with similar interests - music, gaming, art, sports, hobbies, news, celebrities, trends, etc. This does mean, though, that in many cases, users may be following and interacting with people of all ages from all over the world who are hopefully using their real identities. Therefore, having accountability for content they post, being on the same page about what is acceptable communication within your home -- and with whom, and having a new kind of ‘stranger danger’ talk with older children, as detailed in this recent DijiWise Moment from a parent, is important for any teenager using Twitter.

 

Instagram

What it is:
Photo Sharing App

How you use it:
Instagram is a popular photo sharing and editing social network which enables users to snap and share what’s become its recognizable, square-shaped photos -- from selfies to outings to concerts to pets to whatever their heart desires. As of Spring 2015, Pew Research ranked Instagram #2 in the lineup of most-used social networks by teenagers ages 13-17.

Users can also post 15-second videos, edit pics with in-app filters, and post with comments and #hashtags related to the content or sentiment of the post. By doing so, users can find content from other like-minded users and be discovered themselves, gaining a following of friends and strangers alike (depending on privacy settings which can be enabled to limit who can view an account.) To be a player in instant messaging, Instagram introduced Direct, which lets users share content directly with another Instagram user. Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and sharing of photos across social networks is easy through integrations with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

Good to know:
Instagram is appealing because it’s visual and makes moments shareable real-time. It also enables users to get creative with their photos without having to use a desktop software. Business Insider did a write up that offers some great perspective on Instagram; you can check it out here.

A few features parents should be aware of and discuss with their children are username choices, information provided in their Instagram profile (telephone number or other), and location settings (optional) which map where photos have been taken. It’s also important to realize that increasingly, kids are incentivized or exposed to sharing and “favoriting” on Instagram in their daily environments, such as organized activities, celebrities they follow, concerts they attend, tourist destinations and branded promotions. Instagram lives as a digital photo album for its users, and when used responsibly can be a great social network for both sharing and discovering.

 

WhatsApp

What it is:
Instant Messaging App

How you use it:
Pew Research reports 33% of teenagers use instant messaging apps on their smartphones. This is where WhatsApp enters the picture. WhatsApp is an instant messaging platform for smartphones that lets users send text, image, video and audio messages, as well as location information.  

Good to know:
Texting and instant messaging are very popular and important activities to teenagers, who spend almost as much time doing this as they do on social sites. Texting and chatting are also easy to do around the clock with smartphones and mobile devices in teen hands.

WhatsApp has been dubbed the hottest and largest instant messaging platform globally, which is one of the reasons parents should be familiar with it. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that in April of 2015, WhatsApp hit 800 million active users, up 200 million users in just 7 months. (Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp last year might have played into this gigantic growth.)

What are some key details parents should know about WhatsApp? In April of this year, they implemented a new calling feature enabling free calls over your phone’s Internet connection. Also, to the relief of many parents, WhatsApp is ad-free and does not have in-app purchases. It is, however, subscription based -- free for the first year, followed by a very low subscription cost (currently $1 per year) that cumulates (will get more expensive) with each year of use. We recommend staying on top of the features available in WhatsApp. Like all emerging technology and apps, we expect new capabilities and features to be added.   

 

KIK

What it is:
Instant Messaging App/Chat App

How you use is:
KIK is an instant messaging app made for smartphones that makes chatting easy, using the phone’s Internet connection. Its features are intuitive, and the app is a popular alternative for teens and tweens to email and texting. KIK supports the sharing of photos, videos and emoticons as well. Whether they’re at concerts, school activities, team practice, out with friends, or chatting people they’ve met via online gaming or other social networks, KIK is how millions are keeping in touch real-time. In fact, KIK reports it has the most engagement among teenagers 14-17 years old across all instant messenger and social networks.

Good to know:
There are some important app features for parents to be familiar with. Users have usernames instead of phone numbers. KIK is also integrated with other social networks and sites, making it easy to make new KIK friends or share pics and videos across different networks. In 2015, an in-chat browser feature was added to enable sharing of websites and other content via chat. The app also has in-app advertising via Promoted Chats, enabling brands to engage with their target audiences in an interactive, familiar setting.

Now let’s get to an important matter. Because of its integration with other sites and the nature of chat, it’s easy for kids to interact with people publicly on one site, create KIK connections and continue conversations via one-on-one, private messaging on KIK. KIK has also been scrutinized as a vehicle for the exploitation of children. Its usage is hard to track and images can be immediately deleted, which becomes problematic if the app is being used inappropriately. The company has taken technology-driven measures to tackle the sharing of child pornography or receiving of messages not in a user’s network, but recent news reportsprove it’s not yet bulletproof. That said, like all messaging, chat and sharing environments, it’s important for parents to encourage open dialogue with their kids, and be aware of who they’re having conversations with -- and the nature of those chats, on KIK.

 

SnapChat

What it is:
Video Messaging App

How you use it:
SnapChat’s concept and technology are interesting. It’s a video messaging app on which content disappears shortly have the recipient has viewed it.

How does this work? Snapchat users send video or photo ‘snaps’ (sometimes accompanied by text or a sketch) to one or more of their Snapchat contacts. The sender determines how long the content can be available after their friend views it, and then it is hidden from the recipient’s device, and according to Snapchat, deleted from its servers. (Is it really, really, not backed up somewhere, “in the Cloud,” possibly? The jury’s still out.) But currently, senders can choose between a 1 to 10-second window before their message disappears, unless the receiver’s screen captures the photo. (How to screen capture on iOS and Android devices.) The SnapChat Stories feature allows users to tell a story with multiple pieces of content (snaps) woven together, and lingers around for up to 24 hours.

Good to know:
Usage of SnapChat is a noteworthy trend right now and attracts more than 100 million users. Before the intriguing “007” nature of the app raises a red flag for you, we should understand that SnapChat is another innovative, communication tool enabling people to stay connected new, more visual ways. One college student described it as “different than everything else we use. It’s lighter and for fun. Most of the stuff we share is funny or silly for quick laughs.” Like Army crawling down a hotel hallway? Check. Dancing at a concert? Snapped. Brands are using it, too – and their followers are engaging.

That said, in our more connected and mobile society, parents and their teens – even pre-teenagers - can’t ignore the realities of different things the app can be used for, including sexting. SnapChat is widely reported to be a popular forum for sexting and the sharing of nude or provocative content. And while a teenager might think what they’re doing is private or safe because it will be deleted in under 10 seconds, screen capture capabilities on devices and over-the-shoulder eyes could land their photos and videos into the hands of unintended audiences – including public forums that live online.

SnapChat can be fun and friendly, but it’s a multi-media haven that adds a new level to the importance of discussions about digital responsibility.

 

Tumblr

What it is:
Blogging Site

How you use it:
Tumblr is home to more than 238 million blogs which give users a creative platform to express themselves by way of short or long-form written posts, graphics, art, videos and more. It’s short of having your own website; instead, you have your Tumblr (or multiple Tumblr blogs). While you have to be a registered user to post or comment, you don’t have to be a registered user to read. By default, Tumblr pages are public, however users can create a blog set to private which can be viewed only by those who have the specific URL. Tumblr is a forum for expression. There’s joy in being followed, and joy in following your favorite authors and creators. It was also purchased by digital giant Yahoo!, so it’s backed with a trove of tech and innovation potential.

Good to know:
Tumblr is the pen to paper journal in the digital world for an estimated 420 million users. It also has a strong user base of 13-17 year olds, and acknowledges that half of its audience are users age 13-34. There are so many good things about taking to blogging and other multi-media as outlets for creativity or expression. But it’s also important for teenagers to think before posting, and understand that having a Tumblr page creates (or adds to) a digital footprint of themselves.

 

YouTube

What it is:
Video Streaming Site

How you use it:
YouTube seems so second nature that we almost take it for granted. This ad-supported, video streaming site is owned by Google. YouTube is home to millions of user-generated videos, and increasingly, music videos and YouTube-original programming. Users and advertisers alike can upload videos to their YouTube Channel. Users can also search and click on content. When signed in to Google, users can also rate videos and post comments.

Good to know:
Numerous studies rank YouTube as the top social media site teenagers hit most frequently, which isn’t surprising considering there’s bite-sized entertainment waiting to satisfy almost every interest. In fact, it’s fairly easy to spend hours at a time watching videos either via the YouTube app or site via a browser. YouTube is also a top destination for teens to discover music, putting it in competition with Spotify and Pandora. Whether your teenager is recording and uploading videos of their own, discovering new music or passively watching videos, a valuable conversation about YouTube should cover these bases: the pros and cons of posting videos, viewing of age-appropriate contents or ads, tone and exposure to user comments (and posting of comments) which accompany videos, and if necessary, just like TV viewing, amount of time spent on YouTube.

 

WeChat

What it is:
Instant Messaging App, Voice Calling and Video Calling App

How you use it:
WeChat features are in one word - robust. Which is likely what makes it so appealing. They include but are not limited to instant messaging, sticker and emoji conversation features, free voice calling and video calls. WeChat also has an extension for online browsers, something many of its app-only competitors do not. There are a few features of note for parents, one of which is the Walkie Talkie feature, where users can voice chat with the click of a button one-on-one or in a group. Since this is voice communication, staying on top of how your teenager may be using this function is more difficult. WeChat also has location-based features that have become popular on social media, such as Friend Radar and People Nearby. These features use smartphone location data to inform friends (Friend Radar) or other WeChat users (People Nearby) of people who are relatively close to their location. Other features important for parents to know are addressed below.

Good to know:
WeChat is instant messaging on Red Bull. And in a good way. Its appearance is slick, functionalities smooth, features vast, and technology crisp. It’s no wonder that WeChat’s active user base among 16-19 year olds grew 1,021% in 2013. The platform originated in China, and is seeing nearly 25% of its usage continuing to climb to more than 100 million around the world – and is popping up more and more on our kids’ mobile devices and computers.

Among features parents should know about are WeChat’s Shake and Voiceprint Password. By simply shaking your phone while within the app, WeChat’s Shake feature enables users to find and make new friends who are also using the Shake feature. This makes finding new friends and meeting strangers very easy for users of any age. Lastly, WeChat’s offers login feature called Voiceprint. Users who select the Voiceprint feature log in to their account using their voice. While sleek technology, this feature makes the chat app harder to access by anyone other than the user, and can create a challenge for parents and teenagers who agree to share passwords.

Keeping in mind the popularity and ease of instant messaging and the sleek communication features of WeChat, parents should be familiar with features their teenagers are using, who their WeChat contacts are, and the nature of conversations.

 

Periscope

What it is:
Live Streaming Video App

How you use it:
Similar to the Meerkat platform, Periscope is a live-streaming video app that enables users to share and experience what is happening in the world around them by simply using their smartphones. It gives viewers a front-row seat as users broadcast whatever is happening from wherever they are, and if the time is taken to archive, videos are stored for 24 hours. Add to the picture that Twitter acquired and backs the app, and a whole new level of content and sharing among a teenager’s existing, established contacts and online communities unfolds.

Periscope features are simple. To broadcast, users are required to provide a little information about what they’re broadcasting, click of a button, and voila. Broadcasting is public by default and can be viewed by any Periscope user, however at the start of a broadcast, users can set the broadcast to private and invite users who already follow them. To watch a broadcast, simply choose featured broadcasts or do a search by name, Twitter contacts, topic, location, etc. (Try it. It's curiously fun and addicting.)

Periscope is also interactive. Viewers can interact real-time with broadcasters and ask questions or share what’s on their minds in the comments feature. Oh, and like what you’re watching? A touch of the like button sends heart-shaped bubbles floating up the broadcasters screen, reinforcing that whomever is watching enjoys what they’re broadcasting or finds it valuable.

 Viewers can tap the video to send heart-shaped bubbles to the broadcaster.

Viewers can tap the video to send heart-shaped bubbles to the broadcaster.

Good to know:
How can an app just a few months old (launched March, 2015) land on list of 10 social network sites and apps parents should know about? Because its potential, how it’s used and who uses it will be quite interesting to watch. 100 million people registered with Periscope in its first 10 days. It’s reality TV in its purest form, can become a new form of entertainment for people of all ages, and will likely gain traction by teens who want to watch or choose to broadcast planned or spontaneous video.

A scenic view, unfolding news, behind the scenes with celebs, civic unrest, special moments (like my sister’s wedding we Skyped to the Groom’s ailing mom a few years ago), lazy nights at home, goofy moments, or pet and refrigerator broadcasts (believe it or not, yes, those are trending). There’s no telling how creative, ridiculous or spontaneous people will get, or how Periscope will impact how we learn of current events, experience things as they unfold live, or draw us in to neat (or strange) experiences – but its potential is great. With Periscope, kids will have access to moments they otherwise would not have experienced or witnessed, or they may find themselves being the broadcaster and storyteller. Periscope may or may not already be on your child’s phone, but watch for it, and experience and explore it together.

 

This list does not cover every social network or app your child may be using, but touches on many that are important to teenagers today or are gaining rapid traction. More than ever before, how and where our kids spend their time is spread out -- and it’s often virtual with exposure to sizeable audiences and content many of us never had access to when we were teens. By staying on top of the social networks and apps out there, you’ll not only have a better understanding of the world our children live in today, but you’ll be empowered to have more connected and meaningful conversations with them as well.

 

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