It’s a Youtube-Instagram-Snapchat world.


That’s the key takeaway from my annual social media survey of first-year students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Drake University.

The survey asks students to rate social networks on a scale from 1 (hate it) to 5 (love it), in addition to asking them which networks they actually use. For the past four years, I’ve combined the survey with a discussion about how first-year college students feel about various social networks.

For the fourth year in a row, those three networks (YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat) finished as the top three in the survey. And for the third year in a row, there’s a clear separation between those three and all others.

Here are other key takeaways from the 2016 results:

  • YouTube moved back into the No. 1 spot on the survey. It was No. 1 in 2013 and 2014 before dropping to third last year.
  • Instagram remained at No. 2, but Snapchat fell from first place in 2015 to third place this year.
  • The rating difference between first place (YouTube) and third place (Snapchat) was just 0.06. The difference between third and fourth (Pinterest) was 0.6.
  • Overall, almost all of the networks were rated higher this year than last year. But Facebook and LinkedIn had the highest increase in rating among the top 10 networks.
  • Among the top ten social networks, Snapchat had the smallest increase in rating from 2015 to 2016.
  • The students don’t see any use for Instagram stories in their lives. That’s what Snapchat is for.

I also discuss the survey with students afterward. From those discussions, Twitter and Facebook come back into the mix. Students just clearly don’t “love” those networks quite as much as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.

Based on class discussion, I would say that there are currently four social networks that really matter for how these first-year college students communicate in 2016 – Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (They really don’t use YouTube and Pinterest as communication tools).

Here’s how these first-year college students use those four networks:

Snapchat – Sharing their real life with friends.

Instagram – Sharing the very best moments of their life with friends – meaning one or two photos a week at the most (unless they’re on vacation, when they can share more often).

Facebook – Sharing an edited version of their life for family members to see (parents, aunts, etc.) Also for posting photos because there isn’t room to keep them on their phones.

Twitter – Following people they don’t know – usually celebrities. Many don’t post here. Those who do, post often.

How the class of 2020 rated social networks

This year, I asked them to rate 19 social networks from 1 (hate it) to 5 (love it). Here are the results.

2016 Love it (5) Hate it (1)
Youtube 4.54 33 0
Instagram 4.52 38 0
Snapchat 4.48 33 1
Pinterest 3.88 20 3
Twitter 3.79 17 3
Facebook 3.57 10 2
FB Messenger 3.52 9 3
Vine 3.52 12 0
tumblr 3.23 8 4
LinkedIn 2.95 6 4
Reddit 2.91 4 6
Periscope 2.89 3 7
WhatsApp 2.71 3 7
YikYak 2.52 0 11
Google+ 2.5 2 12
Tinder 2.5 3 14
foursquare 2.45 0 9
kik 2.32 0 14
Myspace 2.14 1 18


Here is how those numbers compare to the previous three years.


Network 2013 2014 2015 2016
Youtube 4.46 4.51 4.28 4.54
Instagram 3.99 4.25 4.33 4.52
Snapchat 4.04 4.16 4.37 4.48
Pinterest 3.65 3.84 3.72 3.88
Twitter 3.93 3.73 3.55 3.79
Facebook 3.71 3.38 3.18 3.57
FB Messenger N/A N/A 3.38 3.52
Vine 3.81 3.67 3.37 3.52
tumblr 3.44 3.24 3.14 3.23
LinkedIn 2.71 2.62 2.58 2.95
Reddit N/A N/A N/A 2.91
Periscope N/A N/A 2.39 2.89
WhatsApp N/A 2.47 2.61 2.71
YikYak N/A N/A 2.75 2.52
Google+ 2.85 2.79 2.53 2.5
Tinder N/A N/A 2.13 2.5
foursquare 2.59 2.47 2.43 2.45
kik N/A N/A N/A 2.32
Myspace 1.82 1.74 1.79 2.14


About the students

A total of 56 first-year students took the survey (last year there were 76).

They all own a smartphone (47 own an iPhone and nine own an Android).

18 of them own a tablet (a 10 percent lower ownership percentage than last year).

When I asked them on what device they spend the most time (smartphone, tablet or computer), 45 said smartphone, nine said computer and two said tablet.

I asked them to rate how they feel about social media in general (1=hate and 5=love), and the average score was 4.05. This was up from a score or 3.88 last year. Twenty said they love it and no one said they hate it.

I asked them to rate how they feel about new technology in general, and the average score was 4.39. This is up from 4.29 last year. Twenty-seven said they love it and none said they hate it.

More social media results

I asked them on which networks they spend the most time:

Network Responses
Instagram 14
Snapchat 12
Twitter 11
Facebook 9
Youtube 3
tumblr 3
Pinterest 2
Google+ 1
Reddit 1


I asked them on which networks they create the most content:

Network Responses
Instagram 23
Snapchat 15
Twitter 11
Facebook 4
Youtube 1
tumblr 1


Finally, I asked which networks they have used in the past month:

Network Responses
Facebook 54
Snapchat 52
Youtube 50
Instagram 48
Twitter 40
FB Messenger 33
Pinterest 31
tumblr 19
Reddit 10
Vine 9
Google+ 6
Tinder 6
LinkedIn 4
WhatsApp 3
Periscope 2
YikYak 1
foursquare 0
kik 0
Myspace 0


My takeaways

Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube have clearly distanced themselves as the most important social networks in these students lives. Facebook is still a necessity for them, as evidenced by the fact more people have used it in the past month than any other networks. And Twitter is really hit or miss – either they like it or they see no use for it.

If I’m a marketer trying to reach people this age, I would invest heavily on Instagram and Snapchat.