Clients often ask us for our take on social media trends amongst young audiences and advice on how best to connect with them. With this in mind, in partnership with The Lounge Group, we conducted a study of social media usage, with Facebook as the focal point, among 11-16 years olds across the UK. For brevity, we’ve called this age group Tweens. Using a combination of blogs, video uploads, qualitative telephone interviews and street vox pops, we uncovered some fascinating insights into this age group’s online behaviour and attitudes towards social media and online brand activity. We’ve translated these insights into a series of workable guidelines for brands to follow when marketing to this age group.
Even those under 13 are entering false dates of birth in order to create a profile. Facebook is by far the most popular site used, because “everybody has it”.
Although secondary sites such as Bebo (soon to close), MySpace (decreasingly so) or Twitter (increasingly so) are used, Facebook is the hub. YouTube is also hugely popular, but has a different, less rounded offering, with many simply embedding YouTube videos or links into Facebook Pages.
For Twitter, pop sensations like Justin Bieber have proven a tipping point for Tweenage adoption. Twitter has been battling to stop Bieber tweets dominating “trending”; the Tweens have been fighting back, however, by changing his name to Twieber and Jieber and continuing the conversation thereafter! But despite the growth in usage, Twitter has yet to reach its full potential and the relative complexity of Facebook provides greater opportunity for brands.
Of particular focus to brands when thinking about Facebook should be the millions of Pages and Groups available to ‘like’ or join. Tweenage years find individuals in a state of flux; they are rapidly and continually testing and changing their identity. Facebook ‘Pages’ and ‘Groups’ allow them to share information and therefore express their evolving identities. Tweens have control over very few things in their lives, yet how they express their identity via social media is an exception to that rule, and something this generation of Tweens is first to experience.
From a functional perspective, liking/joining Pages/Groups enables Tweens to stay in touch and up to date with their favourite brands/products/bands etc.
“I’m addicted to joining Groups. I’m on Pages for Jason Derulo, Samsung, The Saturdays, iPhone, Crunchie Bars, Lindor, New Look and River Island; loads of others. It’s how I stay in touch. Things like new launches, sales offers, discounts – I get to hear about it all.”
(Female, 13 years old)
But there are powerful emotional benefits too. Liking/joining a Page/Group is communicated to your Facebook network via your newsfeed and Facebook profile. This moulds and enhances a Tween’s online image, demonstrating to their peers that they are in touch and in the know. It’s a badge of identity, signifying their allegiance to a social group.
For brands, the benefits are clear. Tweens are hungry to add myriad Pages/Groups to their profile, word is then spread among large peer networks, greatly increasing exposure to the brand.
• Having a number of Facebook Pages/Groups is a must – an overall brand Page/Group, but also individual product Pages/Groups. (If you’re really lucky, consumers will create their own Groups on your brand/products – you can interact with Group members here, but don’t try to dictate what is and isn’t said as this is social media suicide)
• Ensure you nurture your Groups/Pages, keeping them up to date and developing a relationship with members; Tweens demonstrate a more voracious appetite and greater need for new content than older audiences
• Implement Facebook’s social plugins:
o Add the ‘Like’ button to your website(s). This new functionality from Facebook will potentially give brands a social media presence across all web spaces
o Look out for ‘Recommend’ and ‘Activity Feed’ – new plugins from Facebook which will increase the opportunities for online influencers to act as brand advocates
o Use a company such as AdNectar to enable members of your Groups/Pages to give branded virtual gifts to their friends
As stated in insight number one, Tweens have a voracious appetite for viewing and sharing online content. We delved deeper to understand why this is and how it works.
A significant motivation for sharing content is receiving feedback from peers – an important source of validation for this young age group – so only content deemed to be ‘good’ will be passed on. Sharing the right content boosts a Tweens’ online social standing – arguably to an even greater degree than liking/joining Pages/Groups. It positions a Tween as cool and in the know, or even as helpful – some report altruistically sharing particular content with specific friends whom they know will benefit from it. But more than all of this, sharing good content is fun: it stimulates endless funny chat, both on- and offline; it amuses and fills the time.
“I do this a lot but usually with statuses, quiz results and application notifications and not as much with photos. I like doing this as people can know all about what I’ve been doing and how I am feeling.”
(Female, 11 years old)
“Yes, I do look for funny stuff. I always look on YouTube and I have my own YouTube account where I upload my own videos and send the videos to friends. I normally add a funny video on to my Facebook profile so that all my friends can see it”
(Male, 14 years old)
Consistent with findings from other studies, we found peer influence to be hugely significant among 11-16 year olds. This applies to online content – friends were our Tweens’ most trusted sources for quality, likeable content and information – they have faith that if a friend thinks a piece of content is worth sharing, then it will be good.
“If a friend sends me a link I always look at it, as if they think it’s good I will too.”
(Male, 14 years old)
This creates clear potential for brands to increase awareness and, importantly, credibility through the provision of shareable branded content. However, all this will only work if the content is right.
Informative content can inform the Tween about the brand – this could be details of special offers, sales or competitions, opinions or reviews of products, music etc.
But the brand or product doesn’t have to be the subject matter. Tweens are generally accepting of news and information being delivered by brands rather than via conventional media channels like the BBC – provided it is a brand they trust. So for Tweens, brands needn’t just provide news on themselves, they can increase their utility to Tweens by bringing news from other areas of interest. This creates a clear point of different between Tweens and adults, who are suspicious and sceptical of ‘branded’ news.
“Red Bull do so much stuff that is right. There’s always loads of stuff coming from them whereas some brands seem really slow and lazy. Friends will send me Red Bull snowboarding videos and if my friends like them I probably will too. I also joined the Red Bull Music Academy fan Page, because I love music and I’m really interested in their academy idea.”
(Male, 15 years old)
Creating content that will entertain a Tween audience is a trickier task, as what is considered fun/humorous is highly subjective. However, our research has helped us identify some good starting points.
Tweens are avid consumers of videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites like break.com, so video content, particularly with music, works well. Our Tweens listed an array of entertaining content – from funny to cute to gross.
“Funny videos on YouTube – things like Jackass, funny animals and funny music videos”
(Female, 14 years old)
Providing content which either informs or entertains Tweens or, better still, does both, is the first and essential step to producing shareable content. However, in order to achieve standout, more can and should be done.
This age group is generally resistant to more traditional methods of advertising: it takes more effort to impress the typical Tween. They are at a highly exploratory stage in their life and love to experience new things, so brands that can facilitate this are likely to make more impact. The four Es of the new marketing model – emotions, experiences, engagement and exclusivity (as coined by the Heartbeats Agency) – work exceptionally well for a Tween audience and content that taps into some or all of these has a far higher chance of being passed on.
Tweens spend a lot of time online. Most report spending from around half an hour to an incredible five hours a day on social networking sites alone, with girls spending slightly longer than boys. While much of this time is spent socialising, chatting etc, a significant proportion is spent consuming different forms of content. The Tweens we spoke to are expert multi-taskers, adept at quickly viewing and filtering the vast quantities of information they face as a result of having huge numbers of online friends, and joining a multitude of Pages and Groups. Thus, they are accustomed to consuming a great deal of content – an expectation that brands would do well to meet.
• Make content easy to pass on – add the ‘Share’ button to branded content
• Ensure content informs or entertains – explore what ‘news’ they’re most interested in, make sure it is also relevant to the brand and invest in an ongoing programme of informative and entertaining content in this area
• Become a destination for finding out about a specific topic/theme; have an ‘angle’ to create a reason to be that destination
• Improve content further by following some or all of the four Es: emotions, experiences, engagement, exclusivity
• Always keep in mind the benefits that the Tween will reap from sharing your content – is it sufficiently funny / useful / cool to improve their social standing, OR simply be fun to share?
• Supply sufficient content – less is rarely more with Tween audiences
The majority of respondents thought location-based social media/services were of great practical use, for example, for finding places such as newsagents, shopping centres or cinemas, or for finding their way if lost.
“To find the nearest shop or bar.”
(Male, 14 years old)
“If you’re meeting up with friends and they had a GPS you could find them easily.”
(Male, 14 years old)
“It could also be used if you have invited a friend over, and they get lost or don’t know where they are to find them and guide them to where they want to be.”
(Female, 13 years old)
But they could also see the potential for more playful or whimsical applications:
“To track spaceships, asteroids and meteorites.”
(Male, 12 years old)
The third prominent theme amongst many suggestions was increasing or maintaining safety and security, a clear concern amongst this young age group:
“If you need help you could use GPS on your mobile and send a distress signal to the police and they would have your exact location.”
(Male, 14 years old)
“To track down missing pets.”
(Male, 14 years old)
Though the picture is positive for the most part, a minority lack confidence in the accuracy and thus reliability of location-based services. Brands would need to provide assurance of its accuracy in its communication with this audience.
Some Tweens criticised the dependence of location-based services on the internet, making cost and reliance on internet connection two key barriers. However, Tweens are increasingly accessing the internet via their mobiles, and network provider packages are only likely to improve in terms of value for money as they push to migrate all users online.
Service providers perhaps aren’t yet packaging and communicating location-based services in a way that works for Tweens. Rather than conveying any sense of ‘invasion of privacy’, they should communicate first and foremost the practical and fun (and to a lesser degree, safety-related) benefits that location-based services can provide.
• Facebook are set to roll out location-based status updates, allowing brands to target consumers with geographically relevant marketing. Time for brands to get their thinking caps on and devise strategies which work for them
• Tweens are fascinated by the idea of ‘treasure hunt’ format and other games which apply location-based technology
• Though currently favoured by an older audience, the location-based social media service foursquare is sure to gain greater traction with younger audiences. Check out their rewards system for good ideas
Initially for Tweens, the advantage of becoming a brand ambassador seems quite clear and simplistic. They see it as a straightforward task and an easy way for them to make money. However, brands need to be conscious that there is still an undercurrent of ill feeling towards the idea. At the extreme end, the issue of exploiting people ‘under age’ is mentioned, but generally it seems to be more about not wanting to be considered an annoyance to their friends. While it might be easy to make money/win rewards, for a Tween there is also the risk of spoiling relationships they’ve developed by introducing content to friends that they do not want to see.
For some Tweens, the concept lacked credibility – they were sceptical about whether they really could make money and be employed in this way. Though theoretically a Tween is more than capable of using social media and sharing content, some, acutely aware of their young age, feel they would be unable to communicate the message of the brand in the intended way. Clearly brands should select their brand ambassadors with the utmost care and reassure any who seem doubtful of the concept.
An important way effectively to engage Tweens as brand ambassadors is to ensure they are provided with content they genuinely care about. Even at the most basic level, a brand ambassador should feel comfortable enough to share the content within his or her peer group. However, utilising one of the four Es, in this case ‘exclusivity’, will help accelerate the sharing process. Giving a Tween exclusive content that’s not immediately available to their friends will naturally encourage them to pass it on.
• Always ensure you are recruiting Tweens who have a genuine interest in the brand/product you want them to represent
• Develop a robust screening process to ensure you are connecting with influencers
• Arm your ambassadors with exclusive content – make them want to share among their peers, rather than feel they have to; make it low-effort!
• Put the online functionality in place to make it easy for your ambassadors to share content with their peers
• Maintain a regular conversation with your brand ambassadors – ensure they feel part of the team
• Ensure there’s no ‘small print’ or ‘catches’ to put off your potential ambassadors
Using celebrities to reach a Tween audience can be an effective means of communication. However, Tweens will not blindly follow anyone and can be sceptical over the choices made by brands in this area. Tweens have no issue with celebrities endorsing brands per se, or in them doing so via social media; but it takes a lot – more than many might expect of such a young audience – to get Tweens to commit to a celebrity.
It is often said that Tweens are very fickle, but their fickle nature is closely linked to their relative lack of confidence. Tweens are at a difficult point in life where they are trying to negotiate the rules of what’s cool and what’s not.
Teenage celebrities represent a period of life that the Tweens will soon be entering. Their forthcoming late teenage years, while exciting, can also be quite frightening. Celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers show the happier, positive side of being a teenager, and this often inspires Tweens – more so females than males.
Despite the recent boom in teenage celebrities and the reasons outlined for their success, brands don’t (and shouldn’t) have to rely solely on the teenage angle. Overall, Tweens are looking for direction and inspiration. This means that sports personalities, musicians and anyone with a success story that Tweens can relate to still have a part to play. For brands using celebrities, it is about creating a narrative that young people can identify with, and placing the celebrity as the fulcrum of this identifiable story.
• Don’t expect them to follow any old ‘celebrity’. Pick someone who inspires them, and ensure there’s a good fit between your brand, your intended audience and the celebrity you work with
• Pay attention to the narrative. Ensure there’s an entertaining dynamic at play in terms of how you work with your celebrity. Make sure that a story unfolds