I can’t go anywhere without my phone, my phone is my life. When I wake up in the morning I check to see if I have any notifications on Twitter or Facebook. The only time I use my tablet is when my phone is charging
It is often claimed that young people are ‘addicted’ to social media, but amongst our tribes, rather than an unhealthy interest, social media is an integral part of living. Imbedded into their lives – it is changing the way they behave, opening up opportunities and re-shaping the ways in which they interact. But with any social development of such a scale, undetermined consequences are bound to follow. This month we take a look at how Tribes are using social media today and what it really means to be “always on”.
“My Facebook feed is a day to day journal almost – Ill post photos when I meet up with friends or go somewhere interesting.”
For many of the Tribes the main use of social media is to document their lives and interests – creating a social representation of themselves for the world to see. The platforms become a story of their lives and sharing content that reflects the best version of themselves is normal behaviour. The reach is wide after all and as the old saying goes, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to share, don’t share anything at all.’ But, the potential to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction is a very real issue, as student Zilla Van Den Born proved with her brilliant social media experiment. The student from Amsterdam famously tricked family and friends into thinking she was travelling all from the comfort of her university bedroom, cleverly highlighting how easily online activity can lead to mis-representation. While this example is an extreme, the popularity of photo-sharing platform Instagram shows in lesser ways, that there is a real desire for young people to share the best parts of their lives with the world; it gives light to the unrealistic standards young people may be trying to obtain, as it provides a constant reminder of the supposed fun and excitement of the lives of others pushing young people to raise the bar.
“They consume us into having a desire to check up on new posts daily. How long do you think you could go without checking up on a social media site or without posting on one? For many of us we simply go out for lunch and have a burning desire to post a picture of the really cute café we are in or the amazing Starbucks coffee we’ve just bought.”
Despite the fact that Tribes are always online and always sharing, they reject content that is obviously mis-representative or attention seeking. They see through posts that are a generic quick hit that may gain them online popularity, well aware that online ‘success’ does little to reflect the person behind the screen. While the content Tribes share may be carefully curated, it is a genuine reflection of who they are, whether that’s their views, lifestyle or interests. When it comes to online feedback, be that likes or comments, they value quality over quantity – it’s not the number of likes you gain that matters but where they came from.
“Likes are important though as you want to feel like people are listening to you – and liking is the online way of expressing that you think someone had something good to say.”
Despite their quality over quantity attitude, positive feedback is a personal driver for most – from the gold stars collected at school to the nod of approval in the workplace, it is common to seek approval from the world. The constant self-reporting that takes place on social media has meant this desire for approval is taking place much more often. Young people are continually putting themselves out there, submitting a bit of themselves each day and awaiting response from their friends and followers. While Tribes do not outwardly seek online approval they do value the recognition and feel the sting of a lonely upload. When they are sharing something with the world it’s nice to know they are being heard.
“Its easy to be popular online. All you need to do is post some generic status or some flesh-full photo and you’ll be an instant hit. IRL you need actual charisma and character to gain some sort of popularity.”
“Sometimes I feel that people post certain comments just for the attention and to boost their popularity.”
So when it comes to social sharing what are the rules? While sharing photos and posts is seen as fairly standard and socially safe behaviour –when it comes to videos, Tribes tend to err on the side of caution. Tribes are harsh critics and quick to judge- videos that are pinned as try-hard, generic or lacking humour are quickly disregarded. Tribes look for quick wit, and light-hearted laughs and above all the videos need to appear genuine. With that in mind, it is no wonder that DIY trending videos along the lines of #DontJudgeChallenge do not go down well – they are viewed as an excuse to show off, while hiding behind the claim that they’re to be proving a point. Aware of the judgment being passed online, Tribes avoid sharing their own
“When I’m scrolling through my news feed then I enjoy seeing funny videos; what makes me ignore them is when people are just trying to be funny – because the majority of the time they aren’t – and lots have people have done the same or similar before.”
For Tribes, if it’s not funny it should at least be worthwhile. Using social media to share petitions, articles or videos to spread interest and awareness is an effective way for them to get their message across and raise awareness for a good cause. Circulating messages via platforms young people understand is proving an effective method for many organisations looking to reach this audience. Take as example, the last General Election, young people were targeted via social by key parties through various campaigns and was suggested as a highly plausible explanation for a 14% increase in 18 – 24s who registered to vote in comparison with 2010.
“I hardly ever post videos on social media! If they are my own then I usually don’t want many people to see them.”
“The other day I posted a petition to sign about not legalising fox hunting. Seeing likes and responses make me aware that people are taking notice of this”
Another fallout of reliance on social and more widely digital media is the increased confidence and openness in behaviour that may not be found as easily in the offline world. Take for example dating apps such a Tinder and Happn, the younger generation’s answer to online dating and seen as an acceptable option by Tribes due to the gamifiction and ‘laughs’ that surround the dating aspect. Tribes feel these apps remove the barriers found in the offline world – cutting out the initial awkward in person, ice-breakers and questions of attraction. Tribes report a sense of protection when using these apps – they get to hide behind a screen whilst they figure out how they feel about a potential “date”, and it is this that lends itself to an new found openness and confidence that isn’t expressed in the real world. As with most positives however, comes the watch-outs and in this case, it’s the carefree feeling and lax attitude towards dating that can often pose bigger threats. We’ all saw the disaster stories that followed from relaxed use of snapchat and stories around internet grooming are a constant reminder of just how dangerous these spaces can be.
“I think people shouldn’t expect anything to stay private – from the start of apps like Snapchat – there have been hacks – so its naive to think nothing will get exposed.”
Luckily, Tribes have grown up with these advancements and the stories that go with them so are, in the main, key advocators of safe online behaviour. They are aware, more careful and surprisingly more private with what they share today than ever before. While Tribes are still avid users of Instagram – posting pictures documenting their daily lives and points of interest the idea of sharing anything too personal does not appeal and they are strict about the information they post amongst fears of the wrong things going ‘viral’. Tribes are also seeing less of a need to share publically often opting to share information directly to friends instead.
“I share videos and articles to specific friends’ walls. I rarely post statuses these days, and rarely share to ‘everyone”
“So if you post a provocative photo of yourself, or a photo of your little brother, these people, who ever they are, can see them and save them. It’s as simple as a click of a button to save your photo and they can keep it forever or send it to whomever they please.”
Social media platforms were once differentiated by the type of content they provided; Text belonged to Twitter, photos were Instagrams domain Tumblr for GIFs and memes, and Facebook for silent stalking, friends’ pictures and Uncle Harvey’s political rants. Nowadays social media are beginning to resemble each other more and more in their competition for consumers’ online social life. What does this mean for Tribes, who now don’t need to share their online lives over several different ways on several different channels anymore?
Tribes are open to trying new types of social media as they love discovering new facets that aid their online activity. Nevertheless – to make life simple they often only select and use two platforms religiously. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Vine and Tumblr are the networks of choice, but Facebook and Instagram are clear front-runners. It is these two who call the shots in social-Tribe-land and both networks are building and fuelling the social preferences of Tribes; one in a picture-blogging sense and the other by feeding continuous updates through personalised feeds. However, it is this “feed-freedom” of Facebook that could become its downfall in the coming years. Tribes use both networks on a day-to-day basis but are clearly more negative about the Big Blue Brother. They like simplicity, genuine authenticity, no ads, original content, and creative expression, and while Instagram seems to satisfy them in these needs it seems Facebook is breaking the rules. Facebook has too many ads, too many functions, and too many people sharing too much insignificant content, this “too much” approach has seen Tribes use Facebook significantly less than before and become a bit of a dead space.
“Facebook is now far more about sharing funny clips by writing friends names in the comments; people rarely put their own photos on Facebook now and I haven’t seen a status for months! Instagram I use more because there’s no annoying people over-sharing lots of superficial information.”
While many Tribes are less excited by Facebook that they once were, they keep holding on to the network. Facebook is still the norm for most of them and the chat function seems to be an important incentive to keep it that way. The platform’s features have aided event discovery, event organization and group communication, claiming it’s place as an online WOM and social necessity. It also acts as a yearbook that they can reflect back on. Facebook acts like their digital home, and just like their analogue homes they don’t want it to be ruined by bad behaviour. It is the place where they’ll meet with friends and family, acting out of order here could have serious consequences. This fear of acting out in their digital homes is why they are more reluctant to make a post on Facebook than they are on other networks. Whether Instagram is going to be their new digital home is yet to be seen, but for now it’s like the cool club where Tribes can spot their favourite friends, bands and the celebs that they love.
“I am probably most active on Facebook … I’d say I’m visibly active on Twitter or Instagram more – but I feel like I am more careful with my Facebook content.”
So with the strength of networks like Instagram and Facebook in mind, is there any room for new social networks to inspire the Tribes? 2014 saw the rise of a number of new social networks. Ello, Tsu, Secret, Yik Yak, are just a few of the ones that popped up. They give users more privacy and other aspects missing in the current networks. But can they really change Tribes behaviour with regards to social media?
The problem new networks have to face, is to attract enough people to their networks so it does not feel like a ghost town compared to Facebook’s 1.3 billion users. Tribes mainly engage in different networks because it is another way to keep contact with their friends, as long as new networks aren’t inspiring enough for a big shift of friends it isn’t very plausible that Tribes will change networks in the coming years.
On the other hand networks that map into interests-not-friends are thriving below the radar at the moment. Apps like Foodie and Fitocracy are hugely popular among certain groups. With this in mind, Tribes’ shift from Facebook to Instagram makes a lot of sense. Tribes like to be defined by their skills and interests rather than made up titles or superficial judgements. Instagram gives them a chance to show their creative “real” side and helps them focus on their interests rather than sharing content. By combining an interest-based network with a friend-based foundation, Instagram feels like the network Tribes will keep on choosing in the upcoming years. But social media and its users move fast, their desires often only uncovered once indulged – the platforms that understand this best are likely to be the winners.
“I love it when I see people on Instagram or something similar listing all their talents/interests because we cant be defined by our job title. If I suddenly start work cleaning out bins Im not a Bin Cleaner and nothing else – Im still a film-maker – collage artist – singer etc… “
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