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Teens and Social Media: Where Marketers Should Focus
By: Jennifer Stack
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Advertisers and marketers face generational challenges in their digital communication with teens today as they are rapidly creating and consuming online content in various ways, whether it be videos on Vimeo or YouTube, images on Instagram and Pinterest, or monologues on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Understanding the nature of teens and their relationship with digital media will allow for the industry and their brands to leverage key learnings detailed below. Modern teens are very conscientious of their digital representation as their every move is documented in social media whether by themselves or friends. Eighty percent of American teens use a social networking site like Facebook, according to Pew Internet Research.
The frequency at which they edit and review their online identities is severe, as 70% of teen internet users admit they go online daily and nearly half (46%) log on several times a according to one Pew study. Thus teens are very sensitive to which brands and companies they affiliate with digitally, from Likes to Follows to actual hashtags or @mentions. They expect brands to be equally attentive to their online image and will not tolerate any discrepancies or outdated brand content. Critical peer analysis is understood and expected from their peers; in fact, it is the purpose of maintaining an account for a teen. Consequently, teens believe that brands are susceptible to the same standard online, which is why they provide feedback in order to inspire change.
Teens view social media networks as platforms for continuous validation and feedback, which brands can provide to teens via commenting, liking, and sharing teen user generated content even if it is not specific to the brand, like brands have done on Google+ or Pinterest. Brands can contribute to the 65% of social media-using teens who have had an experience on a social network site that made them feel good about themselves and foster supportive online communities, which in turn further the 58% of social media-using teens who have felt closer to another person because of an experience on a social network site evidenced by recent research.
Interestingly enough, the results of the study revealed a very unique take of the teen’s portrayals of themselves within social networks via the insight, “Many teens told us that they just felt like different people on these sites and thought that people they see online often act very differently on social media from how they act in person and at school.” Perhaps this means that teens feel they need to maintain a façade online and are not yet comfortable enough to convey their true selves in the digital space. Alternatively, this could be interpreted to be that teens felt online in social networking sites they could envision and express their aspirational selves — who they want to be as evidenced by the research that says that 74% of teen girls agree that “most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they are.” The sentiment teens have in social networking is already strong and ready for brands to harness and leverage it to foster positive brand-consumer relationships with teens via self-expression and empowerment, validation, and community.

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About the Author
Jennifer Stack is a Social Media Strategist at a digital advertising agency. She was a 2011 Notable.ca YP Social Media Finalist. International Marketing Communication, MA. International Marketing Strategy, MSc. LinkedIn + Twitter.
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