Which social media and messaging apps do teenagers prefer?

Anne Freer | September 16, 2015

App Business

Much has changed in social media since the days of Friendster and Myspace and whilst Facebook continues to innovate to defend its throne, it appears teenagers may be getting tired of the networking site. Or are they?

We’ve compared social media and messaging app use across six countries (China, France, Germany, India, UK and the US) to find out which apps ranked top among teens today.

Nowadays, teenagers are accessing their favourite social sites using a variety of devices. According to research from Pew Research Center, desktops/laptops are still a preferred method to access the internet for the majority of those aged 13 to 17 in the US. A large percentage (73%) of teens now also own a smartphone and of those who access the internet, 92% do so daily, with 78% of them checking in multiple times a day.

Majority of teens own a smartphone

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Source: pewinternet.org


The Chinese social media landscape is unique compared to its Western counterparts. Here, mobile internet is the primary point of access for teens. QQ (including Qzone) is being cited as their favourite social network, followed by RenRen and Sina Weibo. Across all age groups, WeChat is the most used messaging app, followed by Sina Weibo and Qzone. Only 9% of Chinese internet users access Facebook, largely due to the site being blocked in the country.

China top social platforms

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Source: wearesocial.net

Whilst Chinese teens use social media to express themselves through sharing images and stories about their daily life, they also perceive social media as a very credible source for information. Developers and marketers are advised to research their core audiences and platforms carefully and focus on mobile to reach Chinese teens. Since teenagers in the country are using social media predominantly for self-expression, carefully curated content is more likely to attract their attention.


French teens are some of the most dedicated Facebook users with 85% of those aged between 15-24 having accessed the site over the last 30 days. Youtube and Snapchat are also popular apps in the country.

Social networking apps in France in 2014

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Source: statista.com

However, comparing the growth of social media portals of users aged 13 to 19 between 2013 and 2015, finds that Instragram is growing fast in the country. In fact, the popular imaging site almost doubled users over the course of year, whilst Facebook decreased by seven points in two years.

Social network penetration among teenagers in France from 2013 to 2015
Screen shot 2015-09-16 at 10.11.29 AM

Source: statista.com

Perhaps one of the most important findings in a research paper from InMobi in 2014, highlights that French mobile web users are the most active when it comes to app usage. On average, the French use 7.9 apps actively over a period of 30 days.

French mobile owners use apps most actively

Screen shot 2015-09-16 at 10.15.56 AM

Source: inmobi.com

However, the same research also found that mobile does not influence purchasing decisions in France. Only 15% of respondents agreed that mobile was an important factor for such activity. Whilst eCommerce has since grown in the country, a Criteo report earlier this year confirms that mCommerce accounts for only 20% of all eCommerce in France, whilst the global average is 24%.


Teenagers in Germany are actively participating on social media, but their favourite site is not Facebook. 83% of those aged 13-19 use WhatsApp. Facebook ranks second at 77%, followed by Instagram (18%). According to the study from iconkids & youth, three quarters of those who use WhatsApp are checking in multiple times per day.

WhatsApp leads teenage app usage in Germany

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Source: emarketer.com

One of the reasons why Facebook has fallen out of favour with German teens is that WhatsApp, but also Snapchat and Instagram are more discreet and seemingly more private ways to communicate.

Ingo Barlovic, Managing Director, iconkids & youth, says:


“WhatsApp managed to become number one among teenagers within a short amount of time, because it allows for easy, fast and cheap communication with friends. Never before has it been this easy to make a date. However, Facebook is still in. It’s an indispensable tool to tell the world something about you or stalk others – a basic need not just for teenagers.”


India continues to be one of the fastest growing smartphone adopters globally, expected to grow to over 650m devices by 2019. Internet usage among teens is still predominantly desktop-based with 70% of youths spending more than five hours on the internet per week.

Among their favourite social apps Facebook ranks highest for 90% of Indian teenagers, followed by WhatsApp (72%) and Google+ (65%).

However, India’s online population, irrespective of age, seems to prefer WhatsApp, with 11% of those surveyed using the messaging app, followed by Facebook Messenger (9%) and Facebook (8%) tied with Skype (8%).

WhatsApp dominates social media in India

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Source: wearesocial.net

Given the rise in smartphone usage, it comes as no surprise that India’s mobile advertising market is growing rapidly. Favored apps among the country’s teens are likely to shift as more of them move from desktop to smartphone technologies.


Young internet users in the UK have begun to focus on Instagram and Snapchat over the last two years. Facebook usage dropped 1% between 2013 to 2014, whilst Instagram shot up to 36% (from 16%) and Snapchat attracted 26%. Twitter’s loss of engagement however is more critical at a drop of 9%.

Twitter usage drops dramatically

Screen shot 2015-09-16 at 11.11.21 AM

Source: emarketer.com

Teenagers have become more experimental and newer messaging apps such as Snapchat make it easy for them to share silly content, often anonymously or with the evidence disappearing. Indeed, one of the reasons for Instagram’s success is the teen’s need to generate reactions from his/her followers by publishing and promoting their own profiles through selfies and other images. Unsurprisingly, it’s a universal need for teenagers to fit in and seek verification among their peers.

Lewis, a 16-year-old teenager who recently did an internship at digital agency Blonde, London, has presented his findings on why teens are flocking away from Facebook in a blog post. According to him, Facebook has become a place to organise events with friends and watch videos. However, Snapchat and Twitter are better suited to status updates and Instagram for photos. He writes:

“I think the main reason for this is how the content is more efficient on Snapchat and Instagram. If I go on Snapchat, I know I will definitely see what my friends are doing, whereas on Facebook, when it was used more often, I would have seen what they were doing but this is after scrolling through all the Pages posting and people liking photos I’m not interested in. Snapchat is uncluttered and efficient, getting the information you want quickly.”

He adds that for him and his friends messaging apps such as WhatsApp have become obsolete due to Snapchat and Facebook Messenger already offering similar functionality.


Among US teens, Facebook still leads engagement at 71%, followed by Instagram (52%) and Snapchat (41%).

Facebook still going strong in the US


Source: pewinternet.org

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With half of all US teens now using Instagram, a closer look at their demographic profile reveals that girls make up the majority of users at 61%, compared to boys at 44%. Black, non-Hispanics are the most predominant ethnicity across the site’s US users. Evidently, household income has little effect on usage.

Instagram demographic profile for US teens


Source: pewinternet.org

Whilst Facebook may be accessed most often, US teenager no longer see it as the most important network. A survey by BI Intelligence highlights that for 32% of teens, Instagram is their most valuable social network, followed by Twitter.

Facebook loses status

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Source: businessinsider.com

As new technologies, apps and social media portals flood the market, figures are likely to evolve over time. Facebook may be losing traction, but the aging company still has a lot of tricks up its sleeve and continues to innovate at a rate faster than ever before.

According to latest news, the company is currently working on a dislike button, which should bring some fun back to engagement. In addition, it is now working on a virtual reality app.

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