Project 5- Final Research Report

Research Report: Young Adults and Social Media
Liz Dean
July 14, 2013

What the power of social media? Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) defined social media as “A group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content”. Social media is a specific part of the Internet. Social media is not sending an email, buying an item from or enrolling in an online class. Social media is explicitly defined as “user generated”. This means that the public is able to change, alter and/or contribute while sharing in that application. The categories of social media that were created by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) are:
● Collaborative Projects (such as Wikis)
● Blogs (such as Blogspot)
● Content Communities (such as Pinterest)
● Social Network Services (such as Facebook)
● Virtual Game Worlds (such as World of Warcraft)
● Virtual Social Worlds (such as Second Life)
Many people mistake social media to mean Facebook. However, Facebook is a specific application in the category of social network services under social media. The top five social networking service websites reported by eBizMBA (2013) were:
● Facebook
● Twitter
● LinkedIn
● Pinterest
● MySpace
We already know that the youngest adults, 18-29 year-olds, go online at a rate equal to that of teens (both 93%) (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, and Zickuhr, 2010). We want to know more about this age group, such as their self-perceptions and preferences about technology, the applications they use to gain access to social media and why they use social media.

A Review of the Literature

The past research we reviewed on young adults and social media can be broken down into these categories:
1. Self Perceptions and Preferences
2. Specific Applications of Gaining Social Media Access
3. Purpose for Online Social Media Access

Self perceptions.
It is important to know the perceptions and preferences that young adult have about social media. These attitudes shape their use of social media and thus the spread of social media as an innovation. The research shows that participants ages 25-32 ranked only .12 points higher in areas of attitudes towards technology, technical proficiency and competency perception than their 33-40 year old counterparts (Poellhuber et al., 2011). To break the demographic down further, participants in the 25-32 age range ranked themselves better at Blogs, Photo sharing and Podcasts while participants in the 16-24 age range ranked themselves better at Video sharing, Social networking and Wikis (Poellhuber et al., 2011). In the broad term of social media, the younger (16–24 and 25–32) groups reported higher expertise with nearly all social media except web conferencing (Poellhuber et al., 2011).
Young adults are not always the age group that shows the most interest in social media. The oldest (49 +) age group is more interested in learning use social software, such as social bookmarking, Twitter, 3D virtual worlds, podcasts, blogs, and web conferencing, for learning purposes than the younger 16–24 group and/or the 25–32 group (Poellhuber et al., 2011). It has also been found that even though older students profess less expertise with all the social media, they express equal or higher levels of interest in using these media in their studies than younger students do. This could suggest that those with more experience do not see the value of these tools for formal learning or that they have become accustomed to and have expectations of only informal and entertainment uses (Poellhuber et al., 2011). The 16–24-year-old group distinguishes itself from other age groups not by revealing an increased desire of use, but rather a decreased one (Poellhuber et al., 2011). Young people use social media for social and entertainment purposes and do not necessarily see them as tools for learning. This seems to be particularly true for social networking, which a fairly large number of experienced users are not interested in using for learning purposes.  (Poellhuber et al., 2011).

Specific applications of gaining social media access.
Young adults are using the various devices wirelessly to access the Internet, but the question that follows is- what applications are they using to access social media? The reports are surprising. First, the category of blogging is on the decline with young adults. Since 2006, blogging has dropped among teens and young adults while simultaneously rising among older adults (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). In December 2007, fully 28% of online 18-24 year olds maintained a blog. By September 2009 that figure had fallen by half, and just 14% of internet users ages 18-24 maintained a blog (Lenhart et al., 2010).
The number of young adults using social networking sites has grown. The number of internet users has grown from 8% of internet users in February 2005 to 16% in August 2006 to 37% in November 2008 and as of September 2009, 47% of online adults used a social networking website (Lenhart et al., 2010). In 2010, nearly three-quarters (72%) of online 18-29 year olds use social networking sites with 45% doing so on a typical day (Lenhart et al., 2010). For adults under thirty, MySpace and Facebook are approximately equal in popularity, with LinkedIn a distant third. In this age group, 71% of profile owners between the ages of 18 and 29 have a profile on Facebook, 66% have a profile on MySpace and an additional 7% have a profile on LinkedIn (Lenhart et al., 2010).

Purpose for online social media access.
In terms of the Internet, social networking sites are a powerful application among young adults. In a study by Mattsson and Åhlund, young adults were asked about using social media and the participants reported that they used Facebook primarily to keep contact with friends through chat features or via status updates. Furthermore, the participants discussed the need to use Facebook to maintain contacts and arrange meetings for example, with friends from other schools. Young people’s use of social media proved to be about socializing with friends (2013).
Social media is also being used for business.  Social media has changed the power structures in the marketplace; evidence points to a major power-migration that is taking place and to the emergence of a new breed of powerful and sophisticated customers (Constantinides, 2013). In her doctoral theseis, Krisanic researched user’s motivations when using social media and found that “interaction between users on Facebook is not specific to product discussions or shopping” (2008). Krisanic’s explanation of this data was “In an attempt to understand why these motives did not have a significant relationship with Facebook use, Ellison et al. (2007) stated that the common goal of all social networking sites is, “forming connections between users,” (p. 1)”.
Social media is also used for information, such as entertainment and research. In the social media category of blogging, young adults chose to read blogs for entertainment (Constantinides, 2013). . Young adults said that they use the computer to search for information because they have not the time or inclination to browse paper books (Mattsson & Åhlund, 2013). Young adults are using social media for research as well.  In the 18-29 age range, 72% look online for health information while four in ten adults in the 25-39 age range (40%) look online for information about weight control (Lenhart et al., 2010).

Research Questions
To better harness the power of social media with young adults, the motivations for using social media and applications used by young adults to meet these motivations must be explored. This research seeks to find qualitative and quantitative data to answer the following questions:
1. What percentage of young adults use social media?
2. What are the main qualities that attract young adults to social media?


Student interviewers personally selected participants because they fit the age description. The average age of the participant was 24.3 years old. There were 13 Females and 7 males. When asked about their current job, 9 described themselves as not employed and 11 described themselves as employed. Among all the participants, the average amount of time using social media is 4.9 years.

Student Interviewers were provided with a set of questions created by Dr. Danilo Baylen for the University of West Georgia (Appendix A). Student interviewers were given a link to a survey generator to enter the participants’ answers. Data was automatically aggregated into a spreadsheet for review.

A survey of qualitative and quantitative questions was created to collect data about social media. Students interviewers selected one participant for each of 5 different age categories: Teen (19 years old and younger), Young Adult (20-29 years old), Adult (30-45 years old), Midlifer (46-59 years old), and Senior (60 and older). Each student interviewer was responsible for entering the answers to the survey into an online survey generator. The collected responses were aggregated for analysis in a data spreadsheet.


Framework for Data Analysis
Malcolm Gladwell (2000) discussed his idea of “The Stickiness Factor” in his book The Tipping Point. He described “The Stickiness Factor” in the first chapter as “there are specific ways of making [an innovation] memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes””(p.25). Gladwell (2000) continues in chapter four about the power of “The Stickiness Factor” saying “There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it” (p.132). In the analysis of the data from young adults about social media, it is important to focus on identifying “The Stickiness Factor” of social media. By identifying what percentage of young adults use social media and the qualities that attract them to using social media, we can discover the “sticky” power of social media over young adults.

Methods for Analyzing the Data
To answer the first research question, a quantitative analysis was performed on the responses given for Question 18: “What is your top social media tools and/or applications? List your top social media tools/application and why”.  Each response was examined for use of social media in the affirmative or negative. The number of affirmative and negative responses were counted and made a percentage. This process was made easy by the fact that all 20 participants responded that they use social media.
To gather the qualitative data to answer the second research question, qualitative analysis was performed on the responses to Questions 10, 12 and 18. These questions were used because participants responded with specific social media applications for these three questions. Each social media application mentioned in a question was marked as a response, meaning that some participants entered multiple responses for the same question. Any response that was given and was not a social media application, such as Skype, was not included in the analysis. The responses were then analyzed for the participants’ motivations for using these social media applications. These motivations were separated into three main categories of motivation to use social media: communication, business and information (entertainment and research).

Data Analysis
When participants were asked, “What is your top social media tools and/or applications? (Question 18), 100% of the participants listed an application of social media. Furthermore, participants listed different social networking services 25 times, various content communities 3 times and mentioned separate blogging sites 3 times:

Top Media Tools-Applications

When asked “What comes to mind when you hear “social media”?” (Question 10), participants were mostly neutral in their responses. Qualitative analysis of the results shows 1 positive response, 2 negative responses and 17 neutral responses. This means that the majority of young adults perceive social media as neither positive nor negative. Some participants responded to this question with specific social networking services: 9 participants mentioned Facebook, 6 mentioned Twitter and 1 mentioned YouTube. In this same question, participants also discussed some of the reasons they use social media: 4 participants discussed the interactive nature of social media sites (such as sharing), 6 responded with connecting (such as networking) and 12 discussed communication (such as advertising, dissemination of information). These results did not give enough information to satisfy the research questions.
Participants were asked, “What kinds of social media do you use?” (Question 12). All of the participants mentioned specific applications of social media:

Types of Social Media - Reported

Although the question specifically asks to define social media in general and inquired as to kinds of social media, all of the answers given were specific applications of social media categories. To reiterate, the categories of social media are:
● Collaborative Projects (such as Wikis)
● Blogs (such as Blogspot)
● Content Communities (such as Pinterest)
● Social Network Services (such as Facebook)
● Virtual Game Worlds (such as World of Warcraft)
● Virtual Social Worlds (such as Second Life)
To quantitatively analyze the data, the responses must be related to their social media categories.
table of reportedtoActualNone of the participants mentioned an application that would fall into the categories of Collaborative Projects (such as Wikis), Virtual Game Worlds (such as World of Warcraft) or Virtual Social Worlds (such as Second Life).
These responses can then be reset into their social media categories and the specific applications can be removed. When we apply these categories of social media to the answers given by our participants, the picture changes:

Types of Social Media - Actual

Key Findings

The data from the current research was correlated to the categories of the aforementioned research. Research categories were:
1. Self Perceptions
2. Specific Applications of Gaining Social Media Access
3. Purpose for Online Social Media Access

Self perceptions.
None of the questions asked of the participants directly required them to reflect on or rate their abilities with social media. There is however a correlation between self-perceived abilities with social media and preferences of use of social media. While people are quick to make evaluative judgments, these are a reflection of much more than the pleasurable and pleasing. Embedded in the preference reactions are assessments of the compatibility of the environment with one’s anticipated needs and goals (Kaplan, 1985).
Past research reported that participants in the 25-32 age range ranked themselves better at Blogs, Photo sharing and Podcasts while participants in the 16-24 age range ranked themselves better at Video sharing, Social networking and Wikis (Poellhuber et al., 2011). Our participants in the 25-32 age range did not choose to use any blogs for access to social media while the 19-24 age range mentioned blogs three times as their top social media applications. The 25-32 age range listed photosharing sites twice as their preferred application while the 19-24 age range did not mention them at all. Neither age range mentioned podcasts, which have not officially been defined as social media only as “new media” (Penn, 2008). Neither age group mentioned any Wikis or any other collaborative projects. Interestingly, of the 16 responses given in the 25-32 age range, 68% of them were social networking services, while in the 19-24 age range only 60% of the responses were social networking services. All of the current data shows a reversal in the preferences of social media from the young adult demographic from previous study performed in 2011.

Specific applications of gaining social media access.
The past research reported that young adults’ use of social media has grown from 8% in 2005 to 16% in 2006 to 37% in to 72% in 2010.  This research found that 100% of the participants used social media. The participants primarily listed social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, as their means to access social media.
The aforementioned research reported that the use of MySpace and Facebook were equal, while LinkedIn was ranked third (Lenhart et al., 2010). In the data collected from our participants, MySpace was not mentioned, Facebook was mentioned 46 times during the survey and LinkedIn was only mentioned twice. This data shows the decline in the use of MySpace since the 2010 and the growth in popularity of LinkedIn.
In our current data, only 7% of the responses mentioned blogging. The only blogging applications mentioned by our participants were Twitter and Tumblr. This result was congruent with past research reporting that blogging is decreasing among the young adult demographic. In looking for reasons explaining the decline of blogging, Mak offers “Many bloggers in the past few years have slowed down in blogging, and have shifted to Twitter, Facebook and Google + in the posting of links.  Besides the number of blogs posted have decreased significantly as bloggers found it hard to keep their blogs updated with posts, and that not too many readers were willing to provide comments as part of the conversation” (2013).

Purpose for online social media access.
The number one reason reported by participants for using social media, specifically their use of social networking sites, was communication with family and friends. Past data and the current participants both included the ability to manage social invitations. It can be argued that communication alone is not an element of the definition of social media. The definition of social media does include the aspect of “sharing user created content”. Looking at the responses, the motivations that the participants gave for their communication were similar to the past research and did include the aspect of creating of content. The current data discussed the aspect of developing relationships with other people whether they were acquainted in the past or met through the social networking sites. Participants discussed the sharing between people, not only posting messages, but commentary on other people’s messages, sharing and commenting on photos and videos, as well as seeking support from strangers on similar interests, such as childcare.
Participants’ second most often cited purpose for using social media was for business aspects such as purchasing or marketing. Participants did associate their self-promotion with social networking specifically and chose to use Facebook “because everyone is connected on one site”. Participants responded that social media made it easier to connect with other people as customers in user specific content areas, such as a forum for Pokemon cards. Although Ellison denounces the use of social media for marketing because of the collaborative nature of social media, which is difficult to find in a seller/buyer format, this is rapidly changing with the concept of customer product reviews becoming more popular (Chen, Fay & Wang, 2011).
The last main reason mentioned for use of social media was for information. Several participants used YouTube for entertainment while others use Instagram. Twitter was cited as an excellent source for current news and participants related their perceptions that Twitter, because of its inherent format, was more timely with breaking news than mass media. The previous research has not listed this as a reason to access social media and only reported that students preferred to use computers to access information. This new phase of social media being accepted as a format to disseminate information can be seen in the growth of collaborative projects such as Wikis from one billion edits on April 10, 2010 to 624,235,511 edits as of July 13, 2013 (Wikipedia, 2004).
In conclusion, our research showed that 100% of young adults use social media and the main qualities that attract young adults to social media are communication, networking for business and information retrieval, for entertainment or news.

The largest challenge of the data collecting process was the ignorance of the participants and the subsequent reporting of misinformation by the student interviewers. Participants answered “What kinds of social media do you use?” incorrectly with specific social media sites. It could be assumed that participants either did not know that there are different kinds of social media, that participants only perceive social media as social networking sites or that participants did not understand the question. These theories are all conjecture. The allowance of this incorrect information to be reported could mean that it is possible that the student interviewers thought the same way as their selected participants. Again, there is no data to support any reasons for these actions. Ultimately, the deficiency in reporting could have easily been avoided if the student interviewers and the participants had adhered to the entire question as written.
Several of the participants stated or intimated that they did not know the difference between users and consumers of social media.  When asked if they were a user or a consumer, 13 replied user, 4 replied consumer and 3 replied that they were both. When their comments are analyzed, 2 of the participants are actually users while 18 are consumers. These misconceptions of users versus consumers could easily be overcome if all involved agreed on the definitions and motivations of users and consumers prior to answering the question.

This research shows this innovation of social media has a “stickiness factor” because of its widespread use. This research shows the motivations of young adults to use are communication, business and marketing as well as access to information, entertainment and news. Because this research shows 100% of young adult participants are using social media and this research shows what their motivations for using social media are, this data can be used to prepare in several ways for the future.
First, the majority of marketing agencies appear to be already well aware of the interactive knowledge among clients and 40% of marketing agencies and are concentrating on training their employees in social media (Mortimer, 2010). This means that businesses are going to be using social media to their advantage. This needs to be prepared for by 1) educating impressionable young users of the persuasive tactics of marketing so they may recognize them and be able to judge for themselves the impact of these tactics 2) preparing secondary level students for possible careers using marketing and social media. Social media is the area where many marketers feel they are short on experience, “There is more focus on social media but far too few [employees] are qualified”  (Mortimer, 2010).

The overall use of social media has been on the rise in the last decade, despite the decline of specific categories of social media such as blogging and virtual social worlds. This research has shown that 100% of the young adult participants use social media through social networking sites. This research has also shown that young adult primary motivation for using social media is communication, business and information. This data is valuable to plan for the future use of social media, especially the education of those still learning to use social media. This research is not suggesting that the data collected is complete or that the research in this area can be labeled finished. The author would suggest more research into these motivations of users of social media to help educators harness the ultimate power, or “stickiness factor”. More research is also needed of the social media innovation as a whole to give educators leverage in making students successful in the classroom. Research of social media could also assist in lessening the slide in the perception of social media by young adults as pure entertainment and move these perceptions back to being viewed as a valuable tool.


Chen, Y., Fay, S., & Wang, Q. (2011). The role of marketing in social media: How online consumer reviews evolve. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 25(2), 85-94.
Constantinides, E. (2013). Social Media Marketing: Challenges and Opportunities in the Web 2.0 Marketplace.
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168.
Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Boston: Little, Brown.
Kaplan, A.M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business horizons, 53(1), 59-68.
Kaplan, R. (1985). The analysis of perception via preference: a strategy for studying how the environment is experienced. Landscape planning, 12(2), 161-176.
Krisanic, K. (2008). Motivations and impression management: Predictors of social networking site use and user behavior (Doctoral dissertation, University of Missouri).
Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social media and young adults. Pew Internet & American Life Project, 3.
Mak, S. (2013). Is blogging on the decline in 2013?. Retrieved from
Mattsson, I., & Åhlund, A. (2013). ” Biblioteken vill bara vara hippa”–en studie om ungdomars attityder till bibliotekens marknadsföring på sociala medier.
Mortimer, R. (2010, May 27). On course to develop social media skills. Marketing week, 32-34. Retrieved from
Penn, C. (2008, September 04). Social media and new media are not the same. Retrieved from
Poellhuber, B., Anderson, T., & Roy, N. (2011). Distance students’ readiness for social media and collaboration. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(6), 102-125.
Top 15 most popular social networking sites. (2013, July). eBizMBA: The ebusiness knowledgebase, Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Child Health USA 2011, 9. Retrieved from
Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2013, July 13). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from

Appendix A
Student Interviewer Questions for Participants
In which of the following categories would you consider yourself?
A. TEEN – somebody who is below 20 years old
B.  YOUNG ADULT – older than 19 years but younger than 30 years old
C. ADULT – older that 30 years old but younger than 46 years old
D. MIDLIFER – older than 45 years old but younger than 60 years old
E. SENIOR – somebody who is 60 years old and older
5. Your Name:
6. Your relationship to the interviewee

  • Immediate Family
  •  Relative
  •  Peer/Colleague (at Work)
  •  Friend/Community
  •  Other

7. Birth Year  (e.g., 1990)
8. Gender

  • Male
  •  Female

9. What is the your current job?  Please write “STUDENT” or “UNEMPLOYED” if appropriate for those not working.
10. What comes to mind when you hear “social media”? (define social media. Follow up with a “why” for the definition given)
11. Are you primarily a social media user or consumer? Why do you perceive yourself a user or consumer.

12. What kinds of social media do you use? (Be specific with the social media tool or application) How is each social media tool or application is being used?
13. How long have you used each social media you mentioned in previous question? (Be specific with the length of time — months or years would be preferable)
14. In what ways social media supports your life? Provide a situation or scenario where you use social media.
15. What challenges have you experienced in using social media? Provide a situation or scenario.
16. What are the benefits of using social media in your life? Provide a situation or scenario.
17. What advice can you give to those who want to use social media? What makes this advice important to others? beginners?
18. What is your top social media tools and/or applications? List your top social media tools/application and why.


About the Author

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  1. Pingback: MEDT 8461 Web-Based Portfolio | Liz Dean West Georgia Portfolio

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