Given the thorough integration of social media into the lives of the majority of American teens, it is no surprise that these sites play an important role in the establishment of friendships and the everyday back and forth of peer relationships. This chapter takes an in-depth look at the role of social media in teens’ friendships, looking at teen friendships more broadly defined.

Social media is an important venue for interaction and conversation among America’s youth. Fully 76% of all teens use social media. Facebook is the dominant platform, with 71% of all teens using it. Instagram and Snapchat also have become increasingly important, with 52% of teens using Instagram and 41% using Snapchat. One-third of American teens use Twitter and another third use Google Plus. Fewer teens use Vine or Tumblr.

Social media plays a critical role in connecting teens to new friends, allowing teens to learn more about new friends and get to know them better. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of teens who have made a new friend online say they have met new friends on a social media platform. Two-thirds (62%) of teens say they’ve shared their social media username with a brand new friend as a way to stay in touch.

Beyond making new friends, social media is major way that teens interact with their existing friends. More than nine-in-ten teens (94%) say they spend time with friends on social media. Fully 30% say they spend time with friends on social media every day, and another third (37%) say they do so every few days. When asked to rank the ways they communicate with friends, social media sites like Facebook or Twitter are one of the top ways of communicating with friends for two-thirds (66%) of teens.

A Majority of Teens Say Social Media Better Connects Them to Their Friends’ Feelings and Lives

As discussed earlier in the report, social media is a critical platform for making and staying in touch with friends. Given this, and the frequency with which many teens use social media, it is not surprising that teen social media users report that social media makes them feel better connected to their friends’ feelings and to information about what is going on in their friends’ lives. More than eight-in-ten (83%) social media-using teens say social media makes them more connected to information about what is happening in their friends’ lives and 70% say these social platforms better connect them to their friends’ feelings.

Girls who use social media are more likely than boys to say they are “a lot” better connected to information about their friends’ lives (40% vs. 26% boys) and their friends’ feelings (24% vs. 16% of boys) thanks to social media.

While teens of all races and ethnicities are equally likely to feel more connected to information about what’s going on in their friends’ lives through social media, black youth are more likely to say they feel “a lot” more connected. Hispanic teens are more likely than whites to say they feel more connected to friends’ feelings through social media, with 78% of Hispanic youth saying this compared with 65% of white youth.

Smartphones offer near constant access to friends and for social media users, their friends’ online postings. Not surprisingly, teens who have access to smartphones and use social media are more likely to report that they feel “a lot” more connected to what’s happening in their friends lives than teens without a smartphone. While both groups are equally likely to say they feel more connected to friends through their social media use, 36% of smartphone owners say they feel “a lot” better connected to friends while a quarter (25%) of teens without smartphone access report the same degree of connectedness.

Teens from our focus groups told us that they appreciate the way social media keeps them in the loop with friends. One high school boy explained, “One good thing to come out it is you can find out what your friends do and check on them if you’re not there. So like find out who they hooked up with and what they did…”

Teens also enjoy the way social media better connects them to more people. As one high school boy said, “And you can talk to people a lot more often ‘cause you don’t need to see them in person.”