85% of U.S. College Students Say Social Networks Make Them Feel More Connected

mtvU, The Jed Foundation and The Associated Press have collaborated on a survey of of 2,207 undergraduate students ages 18-24 at 40 randomly chosen four-year colleges. Similar to the recent Harris Interactive survey, which reported that social networking led to a greater sense of connectedness (but at the expense of in-person relationships), these interviews, conducted by Edison Research in September 2010, focused on how digital networks impact inter-personal communications and stress levels among teens.

Teens and social networks:

  • 90% saying they’ve visited a social networking site in the last week, and about four in 10 having over 500 friends on those sites.
  • 85% feel that social networking sites make them feel more connected.
  • 1 in 7 say that social networking sites increase feelings of isolation.
  • 57% of students saying that removing technology completely from their lives would make things more stressful–twice the number of students who say it would have a calming effect


  • At least half the time when students read emails, text messages or posts on social networking sites, 48% say that they are unsure about whether the sender was serious or joking.
  • 84% agree that it’s better to resolve personal conflicts with friends face to face (84%), yet nearly 70% report that they have had arguments exclusively via text messages, and half admit to using technology at least moderately to avoid in-person confrontations.

Using digital media to communicate emotions and stress

  • Nearly 70% report reading posts from someone close to them that seemed like a cry for emotional help.
  • Most students would offer support in some way:  just a little over half report they are extremely or very likely to call the person on the phone to express their concern, 49% say they would reply to the message privately using social networking tools, and 4 in 10 would pay a personal visit to their friend.  10% would formally reach out to campus officials and 6% would contact a national help line.
  • Nearly four in 10 students report they are likely to ask for help with a serious personal issue or let a friend know they are upset with them via text message.

Stress, happiness … and some personal observations

The coverage we’ve seen to date of this research focuses is putting a mostly negative spin on the results: that heavy use of social networks increases feelings of isolation, that many teens think about suicide or use social networks to track each other.  (See the official press release and this story at MediaPost.)

But, buried at the bottom of the release are these facts:

  • Over 80% of students say they are somewhat/very happy with how things are going in their life in general–compared to just under 75% in the May 2009 study, and 64% in the March 2008 study.
  • This is in spite of the fact that 62% of students say at least once in the past three months they have felt so stressed they didn’t want to hang out with friends or participate in social activities, an increase from the 2009 mtvU/AP data (53%).

So, U.S. college students are both happier and more stressed out than they were a year ago.  Maybe it’s possible to be both stressed and happy?  While we love stats, we would always caution readers to beware of the power of spin and the danger of inferring causation where none has been proven.

Social networks make us more connected.  In some cases they are an easy substitute for in-person communications.  But asking whether using social media to help manage relationships is better or worse is the wrong question.  Instead, we should be focused on the best ways to use social media as a communication platform — whether you’re talking to your teen or your customers.