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Young Germans' Social Media Use

The next speaker at Transforming Audiences is Uwe Hasebrink from the fabulous Hans-Bredow-Institut in Hamburg, focussing on a large study of young people's social Web use in Germany. Social Web use is a crucial tool in identity formation and expression today, of course, as well as in the managing and maintaining of relationships. The study, which Uwe conducted with his wife Ingrid Paus-Hasebrink, involved an analysis of relevant Web platforms, a qualitative study with young users, and representative telephone interviews with such users.

The quantitative study broadly confirmed the results of studies in other countries: key social Web uses identified were instant messaging (69% engaged in this), social network sites (69%), audio listening (58%), but not so much audio uploading (5%), wiki reading (38%), but not necessarily wiki contribution (2%), video watching (34%), but much more rarely video uploading (1%), and Weblog reading (8%) and some blog writing (3%). Within the 12-24-year age group studied here, social network use also varied by age, with the peak users (using such sites several times per week) aged between 15 and 17 years, and less frequent use by users of other ages in the 12-24-year group.

Also, social Web services were not found to replace traditional media, but have become an integrated part of users' comprehensive media repertoires; users' differences in usage patterns for traditional media were reflected by their differences in social Web use. The relative importance of social Web use changes within the repertoires of different users.

The qualitative part of the study focussed on groups in metropolitan and rural areas, across various age bands in the 12-24-year range. These users showed a wide range of practices, which can be categorised across multiple dimensions (creativity, reflexivity, intensity, relevance, initiative, and innovation. Six common patterns of use were identified on this basis, leading to a categorisation of six types of users: respectively, these groups of users were

  • creatively and curiously using all social Web tools;
  • intensively, but conventionally managing social relations and information;
  • intensively managing social relations and presenting oneself;
  • just being there;
  • critically and selectively managing social relations and information;
  • and compensating for social challenges.

The sixth of these groups, for example, was represented by two respondents of migrant background, who were using social Web services intensively (but in a widely unreflected and uncricial way), and with great initiative. Such activities were highly relevant in their everyday life, and formed irreplaceable elements of their media repertoire. Their use was obviously linked to specific existing challenges within their everyday life-worlds, and social Web services served as a core instrument with which they tried to cope with particularly challenging conditions (if not necessarily productively so: one often bullied boy, for example, was himself a bully in the social Web space).

So, the social Web has high relevance for young people, but does not itself determine their media use; young people use the social Web as a tool to manage their social relationships, and for young people between15 and 17, it is particularly important as a tool for identity building. Such young adults are still focussed on communication, but shift to a more information-oriented pattern as identity management becomes less important for them.

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