Teenagers are a funny bunch. They have their own language, own trends, own logic, and own fashion sense – yet despite their “drawbacks”, they are often also on the cutting edge of what’s cool. Nowhere is that sense of cool more fine-tuned than in the digital world. They are frequently the first demographic group to embrace new technologies, new apps, and new ways of communication – leaving the typically more cautious older age groups to trail in their wake.
Their willingness to try new apps is perfectly demonstrated in the world of social media. While your parents and grandparents might still be working up the courage to create a Facebook account, teenagers have already moved on. The latest craze amongst the adults of the future is the secretive photo-sharing service Snapchat. According to Business Insider, two-fifths of American teenagers use Snapchat “multiple” times per day, with the app registering a staggering one billion photos daily.
The question is why? What makes Snapchat so popular amongst under-20s? We investigate…
Using more traditional social networks, such as Facebook, means that you’ve got very little privacy. You’re always going to have to worry about whether or not your mum is going to see that embarrassing picture of you vomiting in a gutter at 3am.
Snapchat removes those concerns. You’re also not going to need to scroll through photos of your old colleague’s new baby just to see what your best mate thinks about the latest football game, and you’ve no need to worry about whether your boss sees you out partying after you called in sick.
Ultimately, Snapchat is where teenagers can share shocking and hilarious pictures with intimate groups rather than the world.
2) Social Pressures
Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus all broadcast to almost anyone that’s interested. You’re “on show” permanently, meaning you have to worry about follower counts, who is judging what you’re posting, and making sure you look your best on every photo in case your secret admirer happens to stumble across an image of you looking less-than-glamourous.
It’s easy to underestimate the social pressures some teenagers feel when using social media. As one teenager, Andrew Watts, recently wrote on a blog post, “Snapchat has a lot less social pressure attached to it… If I don’t get any likes on my Instagram photo or Facebook post within fifteen minutes you can sure bet I’ll delete it“.
The upshot of this is that Snapchat becomes a place where teenagers feel more able to be themselves. Pictures aren’t touched-up, auto-enhanced, or hand-picked to look cool – instead they are an honest and open way of sharing what is happening their day.
Although they might not think it, most teenagers have far less “skeletons in the closet” than adults do. They might think of themselves as young and edgy, but most haven’t been in the real world long enough to have things in their past that could turn lives upside down if they became public knowledge.
This means they have less regard about their online security than older people. While those of us over twenty might spend days and weeks obsessing about privacy settings on Facebook, making sure no personal details are displayed in photos, and that passwords are all kept under a strict lock and key, most teenagers simply don’t care about privacy.
Snapchat has endured its fair share of controversy with both “leaked” photos and images being secretly saved on a giant database (or not), but a typical teenager’s response to these leaks is simply “so what?”.
4) Fast and Visual
When this author was a teenager, texting was revolutionary. Getting your first mobile phone was a liberating experience, as my generation wondered how those older than us ever managed without the ability to coordinate events on-the-go, or a way to circumnavigate your crush’s parents. Looking back, texting was painfully slow; counting characters and abbreviating words took far more time than a simple phone call.
Today’s teenagers have twigged on to this idea. Although WhatsApp remains a popular service among the demographic, it is Snapchat where most instant communication now takes place. As the old saying goes “a picture says a thousand words“; texting struggles to convey emotions and can easily be misinterpreted, a picture with a brief caption is both faster and more obvious.
When you’re a teenager, parents and older siblings are like walking fountains of embarrassment. A youngster’s desire to differentiate themselves from their family is one of the leading drivers of youth counter-culture, with all its crazy hairstyles, bizarre clothing, and obscure music.
Facebook enjoyed a similar bounce to what Snapchat is now experiencing when it first launched more than a decade ago. At that stage, MySpace was the leading social network, so the thought process of 2004’s teenagers was “Facebook is not MySpace, my older sister uses MySpace, my older sister is stuffy and boring, therefore, MySpace is stuffy and boring“. It was flawless logic for a 15 year old.
Horrifyingly, in the next 18 months we will have our first teenagers who were born post-Facebook launch – it is little surprise they are looking for something new.
6) Exclusively Mobile-Based
The fact that Snapchat only exists on mobile devices is appealing and is working to the service’s advantage in a couple of ways.
Firstly, it means the app is simply designed, easy-to-use, and isn’t laden with complex or unnecessary features. Research suggests people are increasingly frustrated with the requirement to log in to various products – with the younger respondents the most frustrated. On Snapchat you just need to enter your email and you’re ready, it’s fast and easy.
Secondly, the idea of taking pictures on a phone brings out a lot of people’s hidden artistic side (look no further than Instagram filters for evidence) – teenagers can use this artistic streak to appease desires they consider to be important, namely impressing peers and creating comedy.
Is it a fad? We are not sure. Teenagers are typically a fickle group and get easily bored, with fashions, music, computer games, and other gadgets moving through the “cool or not” revolving door faster than adults can keep up. They frequently adopt a “here today, gone tomorrow” approach to life, and there’s every chance that Snapchat will be usurped by something else by this time next week.
Maybe it’s not fair to call the service a fad, after all, Co-Founder and CEO Evan Spiegel turned down a not-insignificant $3 billion bid for his app from Facebook; he clearly thinks it’s got longevity.
What is certain is that by the time grandma is using it to send pictures of her cat, the teenagers will be long gone.
What Did We Miss?
We thought of seven reasons, but we are sure there are more… Do you have a teenage son or daughter? Why do they use the service? Are you a teenager yourself, and if so, what attracted you to Snapchat over other alternatives?
We’d love to hear from you, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credits: girls chatting Via Shutterstock