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Uses and perceptions of Tuenti and Facebook among students from the University of the Basque Country
Sergio Monge-Benito, Ph.D. [C.V.]
Professor at the Department of Audiovisual Communication and Advertising University of the Basque Country (Basque - Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea) firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract: Previous studies about social networks have provided information about their penetration, frequency of use, and importance across the different sectors of the population. Nevertheless, these studies have ignored some more specific questions. This analysis intends to fill the gap left by commercial research and focuses on a strategic public: the university students who will become the future professionals. Based on several focus groups and a survey applied to more than 650 university students, this article analyses students’ perceptions of the two leading social networks in Spain (Tuenti and Facebook), students’ knowledge about the legal conditions of use of these networks, and the activities they do while connected to those sites. The results show that the two social networks have very different brand images among students, that there is a great ignorance among students about the legal conditions of use of the networks, and that students’ consumption habits are based on multitasking and include activities related to television.
Translation by Cruz Alberto Martínez-Arcos (Ph.D. Student at the University of London)
The results of this article are part of the research project entitled “University students and social networks, new online relationships dynamics” funded by the University of the Basque Country (reference number EHU10/17).
This project has already investigated how the media have already tried to use social networks (Noguera, 2010), what new professional profiles and changes are they producing (Flores-Vivar, 2009), how are their models being transformed (Campos, 2008), what media representations they generate (Bacallao Pino, 2010) and the reasons why Facebook has a greater growth than Tuenti (García, 2010). Although few years ago we wondered whether the social networks would be a temporary phenomenon or a significant change in the way people communicate (Fernández, 2008), today nobody doubts that these tools are here to stay and are becoming increasingly important in the way we communicate. This is especially true about the youngest segment of the population.
Social networks have experienced a considerable growth in Spain in the past two years, especially the two leaders: Tuenti and Facebook. According to the Observatory of The Cocktail Analysis (2008, 2010), between 2008 and 2009 the use of Tuenti increased from 12% to 33% and of Facebook from 13% to 64%, among Spanish Internet users.
The youngest population segment are the early adopters of the social networks but also the first population group that is building relationships dynamics in coexistence with them. It is predictable that during these early years we will witness the emergence of trends of use and perceptions that will mark the development of the medium. Therefore, our analysis will focus on the relationship between university students and the social networks. University students are part of this group of early adopters (Facebook began as an exclusively university network), show a high degree of Internet use, and are relatively accessible for this type of research.
One of the issues we are concerned about is that the two leading social networks, Tuenti and Facebook, are quite similar in terms of functionality and general purpose. What differences do young people find between them? Do students have different images of each social network? And in what sense? This article aims to provide an outline of the main characteristics that university students attribute to the two networks and tries to demonstrate that each one has a very different brand image (Aaker, 1996).
A previous study analysing the brand associations of the different networks (Zed Digital, 2008: 48-52) among the Internet user population found that Facebook was perceived as more international, more adult, more serious, more represented in the media, and with a more promising future. In contrast, Tuenti’s image was perceived as more playful, less original, more oriented to teens and more national. This previous study refers to the Internet user population in general, while our research will focus on a specific segment: university students, mainly between 18 to 23 years of age.
The secondary sources suggest that young people, in general, prefer Tuenti, while the most positive associations (International, with promising future) correspond to its competitor. We believe that it may be interesting to further explore the rest of the perceptions towards each of the networks It would be quite bold to attempt to correlate directly certain brand associations with the success of one or another social network, because the success of these networks depends on many other elements that are difficult to isolate: alliances with other media, human resources, the management of their user database, etc. Thus, this article aims to offer an overview of the image of the two social networks among students, since differentiation is one of the elements that give value to a brand and allow it to compete in the market (Aaker, 1996b).
On the other hand, we obtained certain information about the use of social networks from various secondary sources. We know that the percentage of users that connects to them daily is very high, between 61% (IAB, 2009: 8) and 55% (The Cocktail Analysis, 2010: 7). Based on these figures we can conclude that the networks are very frequently used. The main motivations for using social networks are (The Cocktail Analysis, 2010: 21): keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances (61%), entertainment (51%), finding old friends or acquaintances (36%), obtaining information about parties or events (28%), and making new friends (20%).
However, there are more questions about the intensity and forms of use that are not answered in recent studies, especially regarding the multitasking consumption of the networks. Do young people do other activities while connected to their favourite social networks? What activities? We are particularly interested on whether the networks share their time with television and how this overlap occurs.
The fourth report of the study entitled Televidente 2.0 (The Cocktail Analysis, 2010b: 37-39) offers some data on the social networks and television. For instance, this study indicates that 35% of Internet users stated that they "frequently" or "occasionally" comment on the social networks about what they are watching on television. Can the social networks be fostering a new type of interactivity in television consumption? Will this interactivity be more intense among university students, as early adopters, than in the rest of Internet users?
Finally, the last aspect to be explored refers to a very specific function of the social networks. We examine whether the recent implementation of chat functionalities on social networks is replacing the traditional agents of IM, such as Microsoft Messenger (the market leader). Are social networks replacing the Instant Messaging applications as the main providers of permanent communication with friends?
The two systems have with a similar frequency of use, but the social networks offer all the basic features of instant messaging (excluding, for example, file sharing) so it is reasonable to think that they will end up cannibalizing those communication spaces. Our research expects to confirm this.
a. University students are unaware of the legal boundaries applying to the content they publish on the social networks.
b. Social networks promote the consumption of television by giving users a channel of real-time interaction to compare or discuss with friends/contacts what they are watching.
This study is based on a combined qualitative and quantitative methodology. Firstly, two focus groups were conducted to ensure that the researchers shared the same terminology and perspectives with the subjects of study. The focus groups also gave us the opportunity to address the issues under study from a more open perspective. The results section includes some quotes obtained in these focus groups.
The focus groups were conducted on 8 and 23 February of 2010 and each involved 5 students from the University of the Basque Country. The sample selection responded to an equal distribution of males and females, and first-year and second-year students (which influences age). Participants were coursing different bachelor’s communication degrees (Journalism, Advertising and Audiovisual Communication).
Taking into account the qualitative information obtained from the two focus groups, a questionnaire was prepared and emailed to students of three faculties of the University of the Basque Country: the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication; the Faculty of Science and Technology, and the School of Advanced Engineering (Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería). The data collection took place in June 2010. After eliminating incomplete surveys, 652 valid surveys were examined through an electronic method.
Of the total of valid surveys, 403 (61.81%) were answered by females and 249 (38.19%) by males. Compared to the average of female students in the University of the Basque Country (56%), there is a slight over-representation of women in the sample in relation to the proportions of the University.
As we can see, 81.13% of the sample is aged between 18 to 23 years, the most common age range among university students.
Therefore, the sample has certain limitations. This is a sample of undergraduates from a single university in a specific region of Spain. However, the sample has an appropriate size to make generalisations about the students of the University of the Basque Country (margin of error of 4.5%, confidence level of 95.5%, and on the hypothesis of maximum variability: p=q= 50%), although it would be risky to think that the results could be applied to the whole of the Spanish university students.
This is very clear in the case of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. For some unknown and surprising reason, the study “Generación 2.0” detected that Spanish teenagers (11-20 years old) consistently preferred Tuenti over Facebook (as it is the case of our University sample) in all the autonomous communities with the exception of Catalonia, where 75.2% preferred the American social network while only 5.1% preferred the local version (Sánchez Burón, Fernández Martín, 2010: 11). There were also significant but much smaller differences in the Balearic Islands (24.1% and 67.3%). Apart from the issue of representativeness of the sample, these regional changes in preferences make us think that the networks may have completely different brand images in these autonomous regions, for example.
3.1. The image of Tuenti and Facebook
In this age range (81.13% of the sample is aged 18 to 23 years), the preference of Tuenti over Facebook is clear. 64.31% of the sample stated that Tuenti is their favourite network, while only 20.85% prefers Facebook, and 14.84% has no preference. Undergraduates’ preference for Tuenti is less marked, but still significant, than the preference of teenagers: 88,5% of teens prefers this network, while only 7.4% prefers Facebook (Sánchez Burón, Fernández Martín, 2010: 11). Preferences are distributed primarily according to age, i.e. as age increases, the preference for Tuenti decreases and the preference for Facebook increases. The data of our sample is quite similar to the results of the “Generación 2.0” study regarding young people: at age 18, for example, the preference for Tuenti increases up to 82.93%.
This relationship between the preferences and age may explain why Tuenti is clearly perceived as aimed to younger people (84.57% believed so, while 3.19% though so about Facebook). Part of Tuenti’s appeal for the younger audience may reside on its image. Tuenti is identified by younger people as the best tool to interact with close friends (71.63% believed so, while 7.09% though so about Facebook) and, to a lesser extent, as the best way to interact with acquaintances (51.50% vs. 13.27%).
Let’s not forget that access to Tuenti is by invitation only while registration in Facebook is voluntary and straightforward. This has probably led to the construction of a closer relationship environment, composed of friends of similar age. In the focus groups there were several statements that suggested this situation by pointing out that Facebook lacked privacy: “In my group of female friends their mothers have Facebook and so we have to be careful about what we say there”, and “Even my mother is on Facebook”.
Although Tuenti is used by younger people, who has gained accessed through invitation, and is considered to be the best network for keeping in touch with close friends, the social networks in general are far from being perceived as a really private space, in spite of what is proposed in one of the secondary sources (Zed Digital, 2008: 24). While in 2008 users believed Facebook and Tuenti were shared but restricted spaces, 92.87% of respondents in our survey said they had never uploaded private information to any of these networks (because this type of information was to be shared only with few trusted friends). Moreover, 45% has removed tags of their names in pictures, 62% has asked a friend to remove photos in which they appear, and 90% has changed their profile privacy settings. Based on the previous findings, we can conclude that university students do keep an eye on the contents that are uploaded to the networks and worry about their privacy.
Therefore, Tuenti is considered to be the most private network within a generic space (social networks) that is not considered private at all by the sample of respondents.
Perhaps related to this last aspect, Tuenti is also perceived as a “faster tool to share ideas” (52.74%) than Facebook (10.27%). Several contributions offered by the focus groups suggest that this factor could be related to university students’ frequency of use of the social networks (e.g., “I connect to Tuenti several times a day but to Facebook only once a week”). It could also be suggested that Tuenti is able to generate higher levels of engagement than Facebook, but we do not have the data to prove such hypotheses. Whether it is related to the simpler or more intuitive operation, the frequency of use, or the engagement that this tool generates, the truth is that the Spanish network is clearly perceived to be “faster to share ideas” than its American competitor is.
On the opposite side, Facebook is perceived as a more complete tool (77.33%) than Tuenti (10.25%). Several factors can contribute to this image. First, Facebook offers external software developers the possibility of adding applications to the platform. On the other hand, Facebook has traditionally had more features than Tuenti (groups, pages, tabs in the profiles, etc.). This image of a more complete network does not always have positive consequences, as some interviewees expressed during the focus group: “I get confused with so many little games [...] they send me some game invitations, but I only use the network to send messages and look at the photos…”
Facebook is also perceived as a more formal/professional network (69.20% vs. 6.73%). The positive impact that this brand association may have is limited since, as we have seen, the professional uses of the networks are quite low in users’ list of motivations for using them (The Cocktail Analysis, 2010: 7).
The American social network has an international reach that the Spanish networks lacks, as well as a huge user base outside Spain (more than 400 million active users worldwide). European university students frequently establish relations with other university students from different countries through various exchange programmes, of which the best-known example is the Erasmus programme. Facebook “is more universal” and is often used to maintain relationships with people in other countries: “my sister, for example, is living abroad [...] and we used to email each other but now we do everything directly through Facebook”.
This combination of ideas (a more complete, professional, and appropriate tool for maintaining international relations) might make us think that Facebook has a more serious image that Tuenti. However, the fact that Facebook allows external developers to design applications and games is not entirely consistent with that image. Respondents clearly identify Facebook as a social network that has more games (90.43% vs. 2.30%). Tuenti has recently begun to offer games on its platform, but its competitor offers them since long time ago and has a much stronger image in this regard.
Data from the focus groups could also shed some light on this issue: some of the interviewees stated that their preference for Tuenti was very marked and that they connected to Facebook from time to time “only for the games” provided by the platform.
69.29% of respondents stated without any embarrassment that they do not know the legal conditions governing the services of the social networks. Despite this, they continue to use them.
When students were asked about the things they believed Tuenti or Facebook could do with the user-generated content, there was a lot of confusion and inconsistency in the responses. A generalised idea emerged in the focus groups: “You lose the rights over your pictures and the pictures become property of the company”. 51.16% believed Facebook and Tuenti can do anything they want with user-generated contents because users give them all the rights over that content. More than half (56.98%) of those who considered they were aware of the legal conditions governing the services of the networks marked this option as answer, which is false because users only transfer very specific rights, as we saw in the introduction.
What is clear is that most of the respondents (66.67%) agreed that some rights are transferred to Facebook and Tuenti when users upload content to them (66.67% considered it is false that users do not transfer any right to the networks, 10.39% consider the statement to be true, and 22,94% do not know whether it is true or false). Thus, the most common belief is that uploading content to the social networks implies transferring rights over that content, so all control is lost: “what you upload to the network stays on the network”.
It is interesting that although 5 of every 10 (51.16%) respondents considered that by uploading contents to the social networks the users transfer all rights over the content to the social networks, 2.5 billion photos were uploaded monthly to Facebook in 2009 (Royal Pingdom, 2010). This figure contrasts with the fact that 54.92% of respondents completely or strongly agreed that they are concerned about what people can do with their personal information on the networks. University students are concerned about their privacy, but are also completely ignorant of the legal consequences of what they do.
University students show certain fatalism regarding the content they published on the web. This is reflected in expressions like “About the photos over which I do not have control? Such is life!” and “If you have uploaded a picture, it will stay there and there is no way back”. It is not surprising that the stronger idea is that the networks keep the rights over the uploaded content even after users cancel their accounts (43.19% believe this is true, 22.58% believe it is false, and 34.23% do not know whether it is true or false).
On the other hand, university students are not sure whether the networks have the right to reproduce their content through any other medium (33.15% said this idea was true, 33.87% said it was false, and 32.97% did not know whether it was true or false), so we can assume that they are not very aware of the places where their contents can be published.
Students are neither sure whether the social networks can allow third parties or companies to reproduce their contents (27.60% of students thinks networks can do so, while 36.02% thinks the opposite, and 36.38% does not unknown). This is an issue that does not seem to worry students too much and when asked about the uses that future employers (companies) can make of the contents they upload to social networks they expressed ideas such as the following: “I think I can trust the company as much as trust my friends” or “I think this is just rambling”. Even when one suggests to them that the networks could be using their personal data to send them segmented advertising, students respond that “it is better to receive advertising fitting their preferences”.
The most common ideas among the students of the University of the Basque Country had some ambivalence. On the one hand, all of them consider that using the networks involves some loss of rights. However, most of them do not have a clear idea of the limits of that loss, which they consider to be acceptable in general. University students define this loss of rights with the following terms: “It has given me more than it has taken away from me”, “we should assess the risk and the service” or “you take a risk, but it rewards you”.
In general, respondents believe that Tuenti and Facebook can do anything with the content they upload, but still they keep on using them inspired by certain fatalism: “I am responsible for my actions and whether I show it or not on the Internet does not change anything”.
3.3. Multitasking, television and the use of social networks
95.61% of respondents stated they do other activities while connected to Tuenti or Facebook, which is not surprising given that according to various authors (Combes, 2006; Skiba, 2003; Dorman, 2000; Oblinger, 2005) multi-tasking is the preferred learning style of today’s young people.
When we asked students about what they do while connected to their social networks, the favourite activities to synchronise with the use of networks were: other computer activities (89.67%), listening to music (82.03%), watching TV (46.85%), studying (35.61%), reading books or magazines (21.22%), and others (11.47%). The activities frequently identified as “others” include doing homework with low involvement (12), watching online series or movies while the networks’ windows are minimized (5) and house work (4).
The computer is maintained in the background as a continuous connection with their friends and as a window to the activities occurring in their social environment. The two activities that are most frequently synchronised with the use of networks are easy to explain. When students are working on the computer (checking mails or browsing, for example) it is easy to maintain the connection to the social networks and give them attention at specific times to respond to a chat message or to consult the new publications.
Listening to music, on the other hand, is highly compatible with the use of social networks, since their audio content is practically limited to the occasional videos and chat alerts. Most of the interaction in social networks has a visual, not audible, component.
The third activity that is synchronised with the networks use requires a more detailed analysis. A significant percentage (46.85%) of respondents stated that they watch TV while connected to Facebook or Tuenti. To some extent, the popularisation of Wi-Fi connections and laptops has enabled this phenomenon, which we should analyse in more details as it also appeared in the focus groups.
Initially, the idea of being connected to the networks while watching television suggested additional possibilities of interaction: “you can be watching TV and commenting on how bad the series is”. The act of watching TV could be increased by the real-time interactivity allowed by the social networks.
However, when respondents were asked about what do they use Facebook or Tuenti for while watching television, 71.84% stated that they use it to do activities (see profiles, photos, etc.) that have nothing to do with what they watching and 42.45% use it to talk with friends about matters that not related to what they are watching. Social networks are configured mainly as a distracting element that steals the attention of the viewer.
Some previous studies (Zed Digital, 2008: 31) already pointed out that the television consumption level of active consumer of social networks was slightly lower than the consumption level of people who did not use the networks. However, on the other hand, the percentage of respondents who stated they connect to the networks while watching television at night was very small (9.43%) as to be considered a major source of distraction. Today, nearly half of surveyed users simultaneously use social networks and watch television, so that the number of people involved in the trend is larger. The answers seem to indicate that, in general, television and social networks collide head-on and compete for the attention of the user-viewer.
In any case, not everything is negative. Cases of complementarity can also occur in the combination of media. For instance, 30.20% of respondents stated that they use social networks to talk with friends about topics directly related to what they are watching on television. This result is close to the 35% of people who in the “Televidente 2.0” study stated that they “occasionally” or “often” commented about the things they watch on television (The Cocktail Analysis, 2010b: 39). Therefore, it seems that university students are not more inclined to make this “interactive consumption” than the Internet user population in general. Here is important to investigate what advantages does this interactive consumption offer to the medium television: greater involvement? A more social consumption? Greater capacity to attract audiences in real-time with moments of maximum interest? However, the answers to these questions is outside the objective and capacity of the present study.
There is a small percentage (7.35%) of respondents who even accepted using the social networks to verify the information on television, which perhaps may be increasing the critical consumption of the media. However, the percentage demonstrates that at the moment this is a residual group.
Therefore, we must conclude that the complementarity between television and social networks is not the dominant trend in university students. The dominant trend is that both media steal each other’s attention at the moments of simultaneous consumption and it is expected that due to its ephemeral (audiovisual) content and passive reception TV will take be the most negatively affected. It is not difficult to imagine viewers completely engaged with the content in their laptops and only looking at the television at the particular moment in which something on the TV calls their attention, only to go back to what they were doing in the social networks just minutes (or seconds) later.
Recent participant observation exercises conducted with B.A. students (taking the subject of “Advertising persuasion”) have shown evidence that this situation is quite common among university students (families, shared flats for students), but we do not have stronger evidence based on a structured study with a representative sample to confidently affirm this.
3.4. Microsoft Messenger and instant communication
The results of a previous study (The Cocktail Analysis, 2010:8, 10) suggested that, in spite of the emergence of social networks, Microsoft Messenger continued to be the tool for immediate communication with more penetration among Internet users. According to the study, Messenger was considered to be “a better solution in terms of product” and with a “very strong emotional connection”. However, this trend seems to have come to an end.
Although the data are not applicable to all Spanish university students, they do give us a quite solid indication (of 652 surveyed people, 88.19% used Tuenti and/or Facebook) to affirm that the social networks are a consolidated trend with a great influence on the relationship channels of this group.
The surveyed students show a clear preference for Tuenti, which they regard as simpler, more intuitive, younger, more agile, and more suitable for communicating with close friends. In spite of its games and entertainment offer, Facebook is perceived as a more formal, as a more complete product, and as having a wider and more international audience. Therefore, the hypothesis that young people have different perceptions (hypothesis 1) is confirmed by the marked differences in the “brand associations” of both networks. These brand associations are quite compatible with the descriptions provided by the secondary sources that were consulted for this study.
It is worrying for the continuity of Tuenti that its recent strategic moves tend to imitate Facebook’s features and development. If these new developments and features are not implemented carefully, Tuenti could be damaging one of its clearest brand associations (“simpler and more intuitive”). The loss of this association could threaten the Spanish network’s widespread preference among young people.
The study confirms that young people use networks while doing other activities (hypothesis 3) but it is not true that this will serve to improve the experience when the main activity is watching television (hypothesis 3a). Based on the collected responses, the use of social networks does not strengthen the medium of television but disrupts its use. Most of the time the networks are used for tasks that have nothing to do with what users are watching on television (chatting with friends, browsing profiles, see photos, etc.), although in some cases they are also used to talk about what is shown on television. This trend has enormous implications, especially for advertising planners. In an environment in which television audiences are increasingly more fragmented and it is more expensive to reach them, the social networks are subtracting attention from television. Even when the viewers are in front of the TV they may be distracted viewing their friends’ profiles or sending messages.
Finally, it was confirmed that young people are letting Tuenti and Facebook to replace Messenger as the preferred tool for instant communication with friends (hypothesis 4). The answers to other parts of our survey allow us to predict that Tuenti is occupying this space more than Facebook is, because apart from being the preferred network for the sample (64.31%), it is considered to be faster to share opinions (52.74%).
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Monge-Benito, S. and Olabarri-Fernández, M. E. (2011): "Uses and perceptions of Tuenti and Facebook among students from the University of the Basque Country", at Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 66, pages 079 to 100. La Laguna (Tenerife, Canary Islands): La Laguna University, retrieved on ___th of ____ of 2_______, from
Article received on December 12; accepted on January 19; published on January 25.
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