What Drives Students' Social Media Usage? | Top Universities

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What Drives Students' Social Media Usage?

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated August 6, 2021 Updated August 6, 2021

Why do students use social media? This was one of the questions we attempted to answer in the Students’ Online Usage Report, based on our global survey of grad school applicants.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have rapidly become a part of many people’s everyday lives, especially for the generations who have grown up with so much technology at their fingertips.

There are lots of possible reasons for students' social media usage – to stay in touch with friends, share a funny video, keep up with news, build professional contacts, and just generally feel ‘in the loop’. So, what did our sample of more than 900 students around the world tell us?

'Keeping up to date' most important reason

Of the four choices we offered, by far the most commonly selected reason for social media usage was ‘to keep up to date’. This was the leading reason across every age group, selected by a whopping 42% of those aged 20 or under, 38% of 21-30 year olds, and 37% of those aged 31+.

The second most common reason for social media usage was ‘it’s interesting’, followed by ‘for useful connections’ and ‘to have my say’. As may be expected, the opportunity to build useful connections was typically seen as more important among older respondents, who are often more focused on social media usage for professional development.

This also corresponds to our findings on the types of social network respondents reported using most often – we found that older respondents were more likely to be regular users of professionally oriented networks like LinkedIn, while younger respondents reported higher use of entertainment-based networks like YouTube.

Meanwhile respondents aged 20 or under were more likely to value the chance to ‘have a say’ than those aged 31+. (We all have one of those friends who apparently spends about 80% of their waking life commenting on other people’s Facebook statuses, right?)

Regional differences in reasons for social media usage

While these overall differences between age groups seem fairly intuitive, differences at the regional level would be less easy to predict. As we found across much of the survey, we found that in the case of social media usage the overall trends for Europe were pretty much identical to those in the US & Canada.

However, based on our sample, students in Latin America were much less motivated by opportunities to ‘have a say’, and much more driven by the interest factor. Those in Africa were the most likely to value the chance to establish useful connections, and those in Asia most likely to join social networks in order to express their opinions.

For more detail on students' social media usage, read the full report.

This article was originally published in May 2013 . It was last updated in August 2021

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Written by

The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'