How My 16-Year-Old Cousins Use Instagram

How 16-year-olds use social media

I have a ton of younger cousins and second-cousins (which is what happens when your mom is #7 of 7 children and your dad is #4 of 4).

We were talking about how they used social media, and how completely different it was from how I (and my peers) use it. (Mary Choi takes an amazing in-depth look teen behavior on social media here.)

Here are my notes on how they use social media:

1. “I don’t have Facebook.”

She never got into it. And if she’s not into it, that tells me her friends probably aren’t on there either. Instead, her first social app was Instagram.

2. She curates on Instagram.

In other words, she has less than 50 photos on her account. She’s probably posted at least a hundred more, but she goes back and deletes posts.

How does she decide which posts to delete? If they don’t get enough likes. If it’s no longer a reflection of how she sees herself (“I had a bunch of photos of when I was in middle school, why would I want anyone to see that? And my first photo was a cup of yogurt. Like, why?”)

In other words, Instagram is a snapshot of who she is NOW.

Compare that to how I (and many peers) use Instagram: As an archive of everything we were and are, told through filters.

3. How does she know whether to like or delete a photo?

“Today, if a photo gets less than 100 likes, I’ll probably delete it (she has about 250 followers and a private account). It used to be 50 likes, more lately I’ve been getting a lot more.”

4. Likes/comments are actively sought out.

They don’t leave that to the internal plumbing of Instagram, e.g. the use of hashtags. Instead, they rely on timing: “I get the most likes when I post late at night, because all my friends are on Instagram too, just scrolling through their feed before going to bed.

From someone else: “I send a few photos that I’m thinking about posting to my friends, so they can help me decide which one to post. After we pick one, I’ll post it and they’ll immediately like and comment on it.”

5. There are social norms behind Instagram commenting.

“Friends HAVE to like or comment on your photo. Liking is really lazy, comment is better, even if it’s just a kissy face emoji.

A typical response to a selfie might be something like, “omg so pretty”, then the ONLY acceptable reply to that comment is “stop no you are” (or the equivalent).

By the way, if you’re judging this at all, remember this isn’t millennial behavior, it’s human behavior:

6. She doesn’t use IG or SC stories.

Or any of the “live” tools available to them (e.g. FB, Instagram, YT, pericope).

I thought this was interesting, but it’s consistent with the curated photo stream on Instagram: If they broadcasted live, the content would go out to the world, unedited, which is the last thing they want.

7. She prefers Instagram over Snapchat.

Snapchat is primarily used for just talking to friends, much like how my generation used to use text messaging (and before that AIM messenger).

8. Even when with friends IRL, they spend time on these apps.

When she’s with her friends, the social norm is STILL to use these apps to watch/comment on other people’s feeds — and talk to each other while doing it.

(Really, no different than how my peers might have people over and everyone is doing their own thing:  one person might be on the phone, another  playing a videogame, and others reading magazines)

9. Skype is used to as a live chat feature while playing video games.

This was news to me: When playing video games, one cousin fires up Skype on his phone and puts it next to him, to communicate with friends or teammates while playing video games.

10. Email

“I only check email 2 or 3 times… a month.”

11. Apps they know of but don’t use.

Yik yak, After School,, Peach, Whatsapp, Viber, Whisper

Why’s any of this important?

If we want to talk to this generation, whether it’s to get them to vote, buy, sell, protest, or just listen, you better understand how they naturally communicate with each other.

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