Why & How Teens, Adults Use Instagram

Teenagers and adults use the mobile pho­to-shar­ing app for very dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es.

Greg Jarboe By Greg Jarboe from SEO-PR. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Many senior mar­keters have cre­at­ed a sin­gle Insta­gram account for their brand assum­ing that 300 mil­lion Insta­gram­mers are a sin­gle mar­ket seg­ment with com­mon needs, inter­ests, and pri­or­i­ties. How­ev­er, researchers at Penn State’s Col­lege of Infor­ma­tion Sci­ences and Tech­nol­o­gy (IST) have dis­cov­ered that teens and adults use the mobile pho­to-shar­ing app for very dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es.

The researchers detect­ed age infor­ma­tion in Insta­gram user pro­files by using a com­bi­na­tion of tex­tu­al and facial recog­ni­tion meth­ods. In their recent study, they found that teens lever­age social media as a con­ver­sa­tion space and an out­let for self-expres­sion to a greater extent than adults. The researchers also dis­cov­ered that while teens post few­er pho­tos than adults, they are more focused on post­ing pho­tos that attract atten­tion and gain­ing fol­low­ers.

We found that teens have much high­er lev­els of self-dis­clo­sure on the Inter­net,” says Patrick Shih, a research asso­ciate at the Col­lege of IST.

Shih, along with Kyungsik “Kei­th” Han, a doc­tor­al stu­dent at the Col­lege of IST, Dong­won Lee, an IST pro­fes­sor, and Jin Yea Jang, an IST master’s stu­dent, con­duct­ed a com­par­a­tive study of 27,000 teens and adults who use Insta­gram. They pre­sent­ed the results of their study in their paper, “Gen­er­a­tion Like: Char­ac­ter­is­tics in Insta­gram.”

We are able to show with real data how teens behave on social media,” Shih says.

The researchers chose Insta­gram for their study because more than 90 per­cent of Insta­gram users are younger than 35. They defined teens as peo­ple between 13 and 19 and adults as those between 25 and 39. They used an appli­ca­tion pro­gram­ming inter­face (API) to extract users’ data, and data col­lec­tion was done between April and May 2014.

In their paper, the researchers pro­pose a nov­el method that lever­ages online biogra­phies and pro­file images with exist­ing APIs:

  • They applied tex­tu­al pat­tern recog­ni­tion algo­rithms to parse a list of pat­terns that specif­i­cal­ly describe a user’s age (e.g. “I am a teenag­er”).
  • They used an online tool called Face++, which was designed to detect ages and gen­ders of peo­ple depict­ed in pho­tos.

Comparing Adults To Teens on Instagram

The results of the study yield­ed some sur­pris­ing results, accord­ing to Shih and Han. For exam­ple, teens were found to post few­er pho­tos on Insta­gram than adults.

This may be due to the fact that teens are finan­cial­ly and cul­tur­al­ly depen­dent on their par­ents to ven­ture out­side of their dai­ly activ­i­ties com­pared to adults,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The researchers also found a clear dif­fer­ence between the two groups in terms of the types of top­ics they engage.

  • Teens: More than half of pho­tos post­ed fell under “mood/emotion” and “follow/like” top­ics. Those top­ics aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly tied to the con­tent of pho­tos, but rather describe one’s emo­tion­al sta­tus or the inten­tion to have more fol­low­ers.
  • Adults: A high­er ratio of posts fell under more diverse top­ics, includ­ing “arts/photos/design,” “loca­tions,” “nature” and “social/people.”

While teens may not post as many pho­tos as adults on Insta­gram, Shih and Han say, they appear to be much more con­sci­en­tious about how they por­tray them­selves. Through pho­to con­tent analy­sis and cal­cu­lat­ing the num­ber of pho­tos with tags and those with “self­ie-tags,” the researchers found that teens post more self­ies than adults do. In addi­tion, teens tend to manip­u­late their pho­to con­tent to receive as many “likes” as pos­si­ble, and remove pho­tos with too few likes.

Teens also tend to be more ver­bose in their bios, the researchers report­ed, and to active­ly adver­tise for oth­ers to fol­low them. Teens tend to have more likes, tags, and com­ments and to be more expres­sive about them­selves and their pho­tos. Accord­ing to the researchers, the results sup­port the idea that teens see social media as a place for self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Shih and Han say they could extend their ini­tial study to oth­er social media sites to val­i­date their method­ol­o­gy and com­pare results, since many Insta­gram users pro­vide addi­tion­al social media links in their pro­file. The researchers are also inter­est­ed in exam­in­ing whether Mil­len­ni­als’ social media habits will change when they reach a cer­tain age, or are endur­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics relat­ed to the cul­tur­al moment they grew up in.

Instagram Segmentation

In the mean­time, dig­i­tal mar­keters may want to take a sec­ond look at what some of the most pop­u­lar brands are already doing on Insta­gram.

For exam­ple, Nike has more than a dozen accounts, includ­ing:

So, mar­ket seg­men­ta­tion is a key part of Nike’s strat­e­gy on Insta­gram. Is it a key part of your Insta­gram strat­e­gy?

Greg Jarboe

Written by Greg Jarboe

President, SEO-PR

Greg Jarboe is President and co-founder of SEO-PR, an award-winning content marketing agency that was founded in 2003. He’s the author of YouTube and Video Marketing and also a contributor to The Art of SEO, Strategic Digital Marketing, Complete B2B Online Marketing, and Enchantment. He’s profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes, a frequent speaker at industry conferences, and writes for Tubular Insights and The SEM Post. He’s an executive education instructor at the Rutgers Business School and the Video and Content Marketing faculty chair at Simplilearn.

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