Snap, Insta and YouTube : Can We Learn Something from the Centennial Students?!

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Although experts continue to study Millienials in an attempt to understand their behavior, a new demographic has surfaced that may significantly impact institutions of higher education: enter the Centennials.  Although some demographic research has been reported in industry, Centennials and their social media use have not been explored in detail in scholarly educational research (Chou, 2009).  We explore these and other issues in this study.     


Sue McGorry is Assistant Provost and Professor of Business at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. Prior to her appointment at DeSales, McGorry held positions with Chase Manhattan Bank, AT&T and UNESCO in France. Her professional memberships include the American Marketing Association (faculty advisor for the DeSales chapter), the Atlantic Marketing Association, the Marketing Science Institute, and the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators. Professor McGorry teaches Marketing Research, Data Mining, Healthcare Marketing and Services Marketing. She has managed numerous service learning initiatives at DeSales University in both undergraduate and graduate programs. McGorry's research interests include eservice learning, service quality in healthcare and education, measurement, service learning and technology in marketing and education. McGorry serves on the board of The Eastern Pennsylvania Down Syndrome Center and Lehigh Valley Hospital's Institutional Review Board. She has authored a variety of articles and publications. McGorry earned the MBA and Ph.D. in Marketing and Applied Social Research from Lehigh University and has completed post-doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been teaching online for over 20 years.

Extended Abstract

Although experts continue to study Millienials in an attempt to understand their behavior and purchasing prowess, a new demographic has surfaced that may significantly impact how institutions of higher education will educate young individuals:  enter the Centennials. 

Centennials are those born at the turn of the century from approximately 1997 to 2015.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this age group of the population accounts for almost 26% of the population in America (Vespa, 2017).   This generation may be called Gen Z, iGen, Founders, or Centennials.   Although data and demographics are beginning to emerge about this group, scholarly research regarding this demographic and its use of social media is sparse.  Are Centennials different from Millennials?  How do they use social media?  Can these forms of social media be productive tools for pedaogy with this demographic and beyond?  We explore these questions in this study and discuss future implications based upon primary survey results.

Who are the Centennials or the Generation Zers?  This group easily contributes $44 billion to the American economy, and by 2020, they will account for one-third of the U.S. population (Vespa, 2017).  Unlike Millennials, these young folks are concerned about their future.  Seventy percent of them are worried that they may not be prepared for the future;  they are less idealistic and much more pragmatic than their predecessors the Millenials.  In fact, some researchers have found that Centennials (or GenZers) behave more like the Baby Boomer generation (Lenhart, 2015; Moore, 2012).   This may have additional implications for social media use and thus how these tools may be used to communicate information to this generation.

The Centennials are “hyper” connected on social media (Fromm, 2016; Jacobsen, 2011).  These individuals may forego typical social situations because they are so completely connected to friends via social media.  These individuals, unlike the Millennials, have grown up with smartphones in their hands.  Many of them not only use the phones for social purposes, they are also encouraged to use them as learning tools in school.    They are constantly connected and have never been able to not “google” a topic.

This demographic is also a frequent user of what is known as “dark social.”  Dark social refers to private messaging apps and email.  While millennials began to move away from dark social and on to more public platforms, the centennials are attempting to find ways to privatize their relationships.   They may be more likely to use apps such as SnapChat and Instagram because they can be more selective about their audiences (Dua,2015) . 

Some of the more traditional forms of communicating in the educational setting will also not appeal to this demographic.  These students do not care for and do not use email as it is too slow and outdated.   This demographic will pay more attention to rich video if it is included in their educational content (Baird, N., 2016). 

Do Centennials prefer one type of social media versus another?  Why?  What are the educational implications of Centennials’ social media use and preferences? Are there differences by age and gender?  What must educators know and how might this info be useful?  Although some demographic research has been reported in industry, these topics have not been explored in detail in scholarly research (Chou, 2009).  We explore these and other issues in this study.     

In this study, we conducted a survey with 238 students from 11-20 years of age.  The survey was delivered in two modes: electronically and in person at two school events.  We asked students questions about their social media preferences, why they use social media and what type of social media they may be most likely to use to find out information about new products in addition to some other issues related to social media use.  Students were also asked some open ended questions in one on one interviews.  The students are from a suburban area 90 minutes outside of New York City and Philadelphia.  Household median income is $61,840.

Students were asked about Snap, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and “other” forms of social media.   Respondents indicate that SnapChat and Instagram are their preferred social media tools of choice.  Most frequently, the Centennials are using these most preferred tools to keep in touch with friends and entertain themselves.  When respondents were asked to rank social media tools in terms of their use, YouTube, SnapChat and Instagram emerge as top preferences.  While the audience equally uses YouTube, SnapChat and Instagram for general socialization on social media, there is a clear preference of YouTube for new product and services info.  It is also interesting to note that preferences vary by age.  While the younger teens (13 or younger) prefer Instagram, the older teens are more likely to use YouTube and SnapChat , (X2 = 84.4, p<.05).    Interestingly, there are no significant differences between males and females and their use of social media with the exception of using the tools to find information about new products and services.   It appears that females are more likely to use SnapChat in order to learn about products and services (X2 = 7.982, p<.05).         

In one on one interviews, students indicated that in using Instagram, they maintain a real Instagram account (RINSTA) and a fake Instagram account (FINSTA).  Students use the RINSTA account for information they’d like to display and share with a specific audience, whereas the FINSTA account was used for fun and other communication with another audience.  

What implications does this have for educators and future research?  First, video will be critical with this demographic.  Both SnapChat and Instagram use video in some format to communicate.  The videos are brief, which means if educators were to use either of these tools, the most important information for these students must be communicated in a short period of time.  Indeed, research indicates that the average attention span of this student is less than 10 seconds (Dua, 2015). 

This leads directly to the next inference: team work, which is an important skill employers seek in today’s market, can be well facilitated with tools such as Instagram and Snap Chat.  With these tools, students can select the audience with which they’ll communicate.  Again, because these tools utilize images and video, content will need to be visual. 

Due to the nature of these tools, and the fact that users indicated they prefer to use the tools to entertain themselves, educators will need to find ways to enable students to use them in a productive educational format that is simultaneously entertaining.  Additionally, given that students create alternative identities with Instagram via RINSTA and FINSTA accounts, perhaps educators should consider having students create completely separate accounts for educational purposes.

This is exploratory research on the centennial student and social media.  As such, additional primary research must be conducted to explore this demographic and their use of social media and opportunities to adapt the social media for educational purposes.  Future research should include more detailed study of this demographic and their preferences for social media tools relative to products and services and acquiring information.  There may also be implications for the type of information to be shared and the method by which it’s communicated via the specific social media tools identified in this study.



Agosto, D. E., Abbas, J., & Naughton, R. (2012). Relationships and social rules: Teens' social network and other ICT Selection Practices. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology63 (6), 1108–1124.

Baird,  N.   (2016).  Retailers Think Millennials Are Tough? Wait Until Gen Z Joins The Workforce.  Forbes Feb 16. Retrieved October 1, 2017.

Chou, W. Y. S., Hunt, Y. M., Beckjord, E. B., Moser, R. P., & Hesse, B. W. (2009). Social media use in the United States: implications for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research11(4), e48.

Dua, Tanya  (2015).  “5 things brands need to know about centennials.” Digiday

Fromm, J.  ( 2016, Dec).  What Marketers Need To Know About Social Media And Gen Z  Forbes December.  Retrieved from

Jacobsen, W. and Renata Forste. (2011).  The wired generation: Academic and social outcomes of electronic media use among university students.  Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. May 2011, 14(5): 275-280.

Lenhart, Amanda (2015).  Teens Social Media and Technology Overview  Pew Research Center.

Magee, R., Agosto, D., Forte, A., Ahn, J., Dickard, M., & Reynolds, R. (2013). Teens and social media: Where are we now, where next?. Proceedings Of The American Society For Information Science And Technology50(1), 1-4.

Moore, Marguerite. (2012).  Interactive media usage among millennial consumers.  The Journal of Consumer Marketing; Santa Barbara  29(6)): 436-444.

Vallone, D et al (2016).  Agents of Social Change: A Model for Targeting And Engaging Generation Z across Platforms.  Journal of Advertising Research.  pp. 414-425.

Vespa, J. (2017).  The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016.  Retrieved from