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How do teens use social media?

Written by Simply Zesty on

The consumers of tomorrow, generation Z, are an elusive market for many brands. We all know we want to reach them, but in many ways they are the most unpredictable consumers who are hard to please. They're ultimately different because while social media is still a novelty to the older generation,the younger demographic have grown up with the internet and social technologies - you have to work a bit harder to please them. They are inherently web-savvy and have a complex set of needs but the good news is that they are receptive to brands that operate through social media, so long as you're entertaining them.

What's interesting is the keen awareness that Generation Z have for their own personal branding - something that many of us still struggle to understand or control. While we assume that this audience are comfortable with sharing their entire lives online, they're developing a sense of intelligence around this that shows how keenly aware they are of the consequences of this. A study referenced by Pew finds that that 18-29 year olds regularly control their online reputations by deleting certain posts or removing tags in photos. This is an incredibly interesting development in human and social behaviour - that this future generation have such a keen understanding of personal branding, even though they may not be calling it that. While many of us still get our heads around advancements in online technology, the Net Generation  are continually adapting it and optimising it for their own needs. The challenge for marketers is to find out how they can beat this web-savvy audience and give them something that they need, before they've found their own solution.

Abandoning Facebook

To understand how to reach the younger consumers online, you not only need to understand what they're doing and how you can add to their experience, you need to know where they're going. Where once Bebo was the social network of choice amongs teens, this eventually switched to Facebook. Now something interesting is happening, that perhaps point to a wider change in social media habits. Teens are leaving Facebook and losing interest in it. A recent survey from Roiworld found that one fifth of teens that have profiles on Facebook no longer use them, with 45% of those citing 'loss of interest' as the main reason for leaving. This should be put into context - Facebook is still the most popular social network among teens, closely followed by Youtube, but this trend certainly can't be ignored. This entertainment-hungry crowd are clearly starting to get dissatisfied with Facebook and are looking to newer sites to spend their time online. Companies need to be ready for this to ensure they are adaptable and can maintain cross-channel campaigns to keep this audience entertained.

What is also interesting is that teens often use social networks in a completely different way. While Twitter for example is seen as a much less popular site among youth, this doesn't really tell the full story. 11-13% of Twitter users are teens, but they don't really maintain active accounts. Instead they use it more as a source of information and news, rather than actively tweeting and using it from a social perspective. This is an important consideration for brands who may not think that there's a younger demographic on there to communicate with. There is but you need to think about how they're using it, again as they create their own rules. This represents a wider trend amongst teens' use of social media. They tend to be more direct in their use of social networks, using them less for gossip and chat and more as a way to get what they need out them, such as sourcing information or organising events. Again I think this is an outcome of teens having grown up with social media and using them more effectively than adults.

Purchasing power

Ultimately what brands really want to know, is whether or not their target audience really have an intent to purchase online. They do, but not where you might think. Where teens flash the cash is through social gaming. The same survey by roiworld finds that an incredible 43% of teens with a social networking profile have spent money on social gaming, in areas such as  buying accessories for avatars, music, or currency to buy virtual objects. And of these that are buying items in social gaming, nearly half say they have an allowance for this. Good news for companies.

Even though the teen audience in Facebook is starting to wane, Facebook's new virtual currency system  - Facebook credits - may have quite an impact here. More and more developers are choosing this method of monetisation, which will make purchasing in social games a much more streamlined experience.

What really separates and defines teens' use of social media is the fact that this is a generation of 'doers'. Many claim that the internet is making teenagers dumber, but I would rather look at this as a regular moral panic that is just getting recycled. First it was the TV, then it was video games and Child's Play and now it's youtube. I come from a less cynical school of thought, that the internet is improving the way younger people think, making them more active in their pursuit of knowledge, more amenable to multi-tasking. They also tend to use the internet to make them more effective and proficient at everyday things, getting to the information faster than most. Computers will always be there, so it makes sense that kids know how to use them. This is in line with the writers Howe and Strauss, who wrote 'Millenials Rising - The Next Great Generation' (2000). They saw the Millenials (those born between 1982 and 2000)  as a 'can-do' generation, armed with the tools and technology to plan, and build communities. This is not a passive generation and they were are certainly from stupid. And this is exactly what we can expect the next wave of youth to be like. What we are looking at is a connected generation and it's an exciting vision of the future.

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