How Do College Students Approach Social?

College students, like other young consumers, are notoriously fickle and may not exactly seem like an ideal candidate for loyalty marketing. But there are at least two things that make college students hard to ignore for many businesses. First, college kids are usually at the cutting edge of technology and fashion trends. After all, two of the major online players today, Google and Facebook, had sprung from university campuses. This makes college students important trendsetters to watch. Second, although college kids may not be rich today and some may even have concerns paying for their education, they do tend to spend more (a good 40%) on discretionary items such as fashion and entertainment. They are also well on their way to joining the educated professional workforce in a few years. So for some businesses, college students represent valuable customers right now, and for many others, these students are potentially valuable customers in the near future.

Because of this, it is important for loyalty marketers to get into the mind of college students. Recently, I conducted a brief survey of 184 college students. Similar to an earlier study I did on adult consumers, the purpose of this survey was to understand college students’ online social activities and their consumption and sharing of online content. Some findings from this survey were expected, while a few surprising facts also emerged. Here are some highlights.

Facebook still rules, but what is Linkedin?

On average, the students participated in slightly more than two online social networks. Echoing other research that shows continued dominance of Facebook among college students, my survey also revealed nearly 9 out of 10 (88.6%) students belonged to the Facebook community. The other top ones were YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, and Yahoo! Groups. The chart below compares social network membership between college students and the non-student sample from the earlier survey. It is apparent that while MySpace and Twitter were among the top five online social networks, students’ participation was lower than that of the non-student sample. Furthermore, only 6 students belonged to Linkedin. Perhaps these students have not quite reached the time to realize the utility of Linkedin in developing relationships for their future career.

Online Social Network Membership

We like videos, and they like blogs

The college students in my survey showed clear enthusiasm toward online videos. More than half (54.3%) actively participated in YouTube, a leading online community for consuming and sharing user-generated as well as professional videos. What’s more, when asked the types of content they contribute to the Internet, students trailed behind the non-student group on blog posting, product reviews, and discussion board contribution. But they led by a wide margin on video contribution activities, with 54.9% having posted at least one video online, vs. 39.7% for the non-student group. Clearly, videos are a great way to reach these young consumers.

Types of Content Contributed Online

Make me laugh please

In my previous survey with the non-student sample, I was surprised that the top reason for passing along content online was relevance to those sharing information with, and humor only occupied a secondary role. With college students, these two factors switched their positions. Being funny took the front seat, while relevance to others was the second most popular reason. The other top reasons were: importance of the information, uniqueness of the content, and controversial content.

Family is important

This is the most surprising finding to me in the entire survey, perhaps partially because of my still somewhat etic view of the individualistic American culture and the stereotype of rebellious college students against older generations. In the survey, I asked the students who they usually share online information with, a full one third of the students listed their parents or siblings as the audience. Of course, friends were still the dominant group for sharing (listed by 83% of the students), but parents and siblings were the next most significant groups for information sharing. Compared with the non-student group, the student participants were more reluctant to click on shared information, and most of them listed the trust in and respect for the sharing source as well as the source’s track record for sharing interesting information as the reasons for them to click on shared information.

I’d love to hear what you think of these findings. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this and the earlier survey, please feel free to post a comment here or contact me.

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  • Birju Ransariya

    I am one of your 83.24% student group who share the information with friends. I agree with your survey on the top reasons for sharing information as two of the top reasons are:
    1) Humour
    2) Unique info. like some technical data, special deals (budget constraints) and some white papers.

  • http://www.yupingliu.com/wordpress/ Yuping Liu-Thompkins

    Thanks Birju. I should probably also mention that a recent study of NY Times readers (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/science/09tie…) suggest that awe-inspiring content is one of the top reasons for sharing NYT content. But this inspiring aspect is one of the least selected reasons for my college student sample.

  • http://www.yupingliu.com/wordpress/ Yuping Liu-Thompkins

    Thanks Birju. I should probably also mention that a recent study of NY Times readers (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/science/09tie…) suggest that awe-inspiring content is one of the top reasons for sharing NYT content. But this inspiring aspect is one of the least selected reasons for my college student sample.