How Your Library Can Reach Zoomers through Social Media

Is your library on young people’s most used platform? Spoiler: maybe not.

If you’ve been on an American college campus this past year, you’ve no doubt seen the Stanley mug—an infant-sized water tumbler that has become trendy on TikTok and a hot item among young people. Stanley is an outdoor brand that has been around for more than a century, but only recently has its popularity surged, with revenue increasing by $676 million between 2019 and 2023 in large part due to this mug. Naturally, the business world is abuzz with possible explanations for this unusual instance of consumer-led, viral marketing. One lesson Forbes observes is that new products aren’t always necessary—just new audiences for existing products. 

The Stanley mug is a useful way for thinking about libraries’ many offerings. To build student and patron engagement, it isn’t always necessary to buy the newest gadget (though those $3,500 Apple headsets have caught our eye). Rather, librarians should consider how they can connect new audiences to existing offerings. This is hardly a novel insight. Indeed, libraries of all types have employed fun and creative ways to introduce their communities to their many offerings. But the Stanley mug lesson stresses the importance of keeping up to date with your audience, who may very well surprise you if you let it. 

To that end, I wanted to highlight the findings of a new Pew Research Survey, “Teens, Social Media, and Technology 2023,” released right before the winter holidays. The survey, conducted from September to October 2023, studied how young people (n = 1,453) use social media. Though the age group of the study is slightly under college age (13–17 years old), the findings, I think, still offer both a valuable portrait of social media use among young people writ large and guideposts for how your library should begin tailoring its social media presence and outreach in the coming years.  

🤳 Young people are online. Basically all the time. 

Though it’s bad news for anyone who cares about the mental health of young people, it’s important to begin this piece by noting the most headline-grabbing finding from the report: 46% of teens report being online “almost constantly.” To give some perspective, this number is up from 24% in 2014–15. 

So is having an active online presence for your library worth it? Yes. Is stepping it up also worth it? Absolutely. 

🎥 The most used social media platform isn’t what you’d think. 

Given its nonstop hype and media coverage since its ascendancy in 2020, you’d be forgiven for thinking that TikTok is the most used platform among young people. But Pew found that YouTube is actually the most used platform, with 9 out of 10 teens having used it and 7 in 10 using it daily. TikTok isn’t far behind, though—just about 6 in 10 use it at least once a day.  

An important proviso to these data is that the teenagers’ social media use and platform preferences might reflect their parents’ limitations more so than college students’ use and preferences. Given the controversies around TikTok, one could reasonably speculate that YouTube is more popular among this age demographic because some parents might have hang-ups about their children’s use of TikTok specifically, thus giving YouTube the upper hand.  

Ultimately, the point to take away from this finding isn’t that YouTube trumps TikTok, but that you shouldn’t overlook YouTube as a platform for connecting to your patrons.

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💀 Facebook and X/Twitter are dead. 

It’s old news that, for young people, Facebook is passé, but to everyone speculating whether Twitter is dead, the answer for young people is a definitive yes. Of the sample group, only 33% ever use Facebook and 20% use Twitter. This may be a harsh blow to librarians, because these platforms offer practical formats for advertising and showcasing the services, events, and collections libraries have to offer. But if you want to reach young people, you need to think of ways to connect with them more deeply on platforms that prioritize videos and images, like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, all of which have almost double the number of respondents using them. 

🧍🏾🧍🏻‍♀️ Platforms have demographic differences. 

Across the major platforms, boys almost always use social media less than girls do. Not strikingly less, but noticeably less. For instance, 59% of boys use TikTok compared to 68% of girls, and 53% of boys use Instagram compared to 66% of girls. Boys use YouTube slightly more than girls, however, and use Discord, Twitch, and Reddit much more. 

Racial demographics have even stronger patterns. Almost across the board, Black teens use social media more than teens from other racial groups (though Asians are notably absent from the findings). In general, Black (54%) and Hispanic (55%) teens are more likely to report being “constantly online” than their white peers (38%). Black (80%) and Hispanic (70%) teens also use TikTok far more than white teens (57%). The platform with the highest usage and least disparities is, once again, YouTube.  

These differences are important to keep in mind, because social media strategies can easily replicate bias or entrench disparities that are already present on the platform. For instance, much has been written about the falling performance of boys in schools. Libraries offer many tools and resources that could help this demographic, but efforts to reach boys will fail if they aren’t occurring on the platforms that boys actually use.  

The lesson is to think of each platform your library uses as having a unique audience makeup (or potential audience) and nuance your strategy accordingly. Cross-posting the same content across all social media channels is efficient. However, lost in this efficiency is the chance to connect to your unique audiences on each platform. Remember: Your library already has a Stanley mug—it just needs to find the right audience.

🗣 A call for contributions 

At LibTech Insights, we give zoomers what they want: emojis and tacky gradients. But we’re interested to hear more about your experiences reaching out to young people through social media. Has your library had any notable successes or promotional campaigns? Any tips for branching out onto YouTube and TikTok? Please reach out to yours truly. I’d be interested in speaking with you and highlighting your wins on the blog.

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