The way that grownups have approached social media is totally different from the way their children use the tools. Adults don’t tend to have free flow conversations with each other on your Facebook wall and they don’t tend to send many virtual hugs. They don’t tend to use quizzes to the same extent as the younger generation, nor do they join hundreds of groups and subgroups. They do tend to contact their friends with birthday wishes, they will comment on their friends’ status messages, and they will click on the ’like’ tag on Facebook. They will even ’favourite’ a particular tweet on Twitter when something captures their interest. Their behaviours tend to be very different from their teenage children, and this behaviour even filters through to the way they use their profile information on their network.

Adult behaviour

Adults tend to complete their initial profile when they set up an account on a site. They use their profile primarily to promote their business; they add links to their website or blog. As far as the social aspect is concerned, they will display their hobbies and interests and they will complete most of the personal sections of their profile. Adults only tend to complete their profiles to a minimum level, presenting a minimal framework of their activities which becomes a permanent record of their account.

This is totally different from the way that young people treat their profiles. Teenagers’ and young adults’ online profiles are a living, breathing, organic record of their personality, mood and situation at that moment in time. Their status updates and their moods are frequently changed, often several times a day. They join numerous groups and interact and modify their home pages on the site.

Adults’ use of social networking sites reflects exactly what these sites were originally intended for, which is primarily to connect and communicate with their friends from now, and from their past. The networking site, Friends Reunited, is a prime example of this online ’school reunion’ where everyone can find out what happened to their classmates and work colleagues. They can communicate with old friends, comment on old enemies and rejoin the dots of their history.

Teenagers and social networking

For young people in the US, online services have become the place to go to socialise.

It’s a little like the online version of the youth club, it is the place for people to congregate, gossip, agonise over teenage relationships, socialise and exchange information. The term networking, which tends to be used by adults in business environments, is not an alien term to young people.

They congregate in groups of friends they know and they tend not to reach out to new groups. However, they don’t really need to socialise outside their immediate school or social group. If they use sites like Friendster, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, they can exchange information, chat with their online friends, enhance their profile and customise their page to suit their personality. They can advertise the things they like, the books they read, and films they watch, and create lists of their favourite foods. They can take quizzes, adopt virtual names and personalities which they change on a regular basis and they can express themselves to the world. This social behaviour seems to help them prepare for the transition into adulthood; it’s a type of social grooming amongst their peers that helps them to operate in the adult world whilst in the safety of their own social circle, with their own language, habits and social rules.

Teenagers use sites that allow them to interact within their social circle. They can update their status, they can join groups, and they can change their mood or their relationship status to alert their friends to what is going on right here, right now. They use emoticons to share the mood of the moment with their friends, not their parents. They are horrified that their parents are also on Facebook, though they might also connect with them or follow them on Twitter. This group of teenagers wants to hide certain things from their parents, whilst still telling all to their immediate social circle. They need to have a balance in information that is propagated.

I’ve seen blog posts that speculate that there aren’t too many teenagers who use Twitter. Perhaps this could be due to the very public nature of Twitter, where your every status message can be seen, unless your profile is locked. The nature of Twitter encourages sharing information in a wide public forum. Perhaps teenagers prefer to grade their broadcasts to different groups, and the only way to hide your updates in Twitter is to secure the stream. This doesn’t seem to be of benefit to the broadcaster who secures their status updates. Twitter is all about the broader conversation, and perhaps it appeals to an older age group. A Twitter update can potentially become a news item’as celebrities and politicians are increasingly finding out.