Meanwhile, kids continue to grow up. And when they do, they move on. Look at some favorite Web sites. While Webkinz and Club Penguin offer pseudo-friending features, kids today want more than just a collection of casual games. MySpace and Facebook are doing a better job of controlling access, but preteens are definitely tempted to sneak around the safeguards the sites and their parents put in place -- and they do. To parents, MySpace is the online equivalent of the belly shirt and R-rated movie. It just isn't designed, monitored or controlled the way a COPPA-compliant site for tweens should be.
Web sites for kids are often just a collection of casual games. When kids cross over from child (6-8) to preteen/tween (9-12), they are looking for more connection from their Web sites. Suddenly, it isn't enough to complete the puzzle or pop the balloons. Even though most kids say their primary activity online is casual gaming, the most successful sites must offer more depth.
There is a roiling cauldron of kids who are stuck between kid-oriented sites and grownup sites. Tired of what they see as babyish, they are not yet ready for the "Wild West" of true social networking. And they are looking for these more "grown-up" experiences younger and younger. Peers are one of the most often cited influences on a child's interests. One older sibling or more advanced child can "infect" a whole cohort. In our house, the elder sib played with Webkinz to age ten; the younger sib (age six) quickly tired of the site, and has a stated and demonstrated interest in "other things."
To engage with the latter group, marketers must first capture their attention, then their imagination, then their loyalty; all this without alienating parents who want "more" for their kids but are wary of anything that smacks of shortening the distance between childhood and the teen years. Here are some ideas:
And, if you can't deliver the tween experience on your kid site, think of those outgrowing your site as the feeder system for another site -- either yours or a partner's. It's not a loss, it's an opportunity.
Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, contact Nina Lentini.