According to the Pew Internet and American Life Study, 93% of teens use the Internet, and more of them than ever are treating it as a venue for social interaction -- a place where they can share creations, tell stories, and interact with others.
Also compelling, data come from eMarketer with estimates of over 17.7 million teens (12 to 17 year olds) will be using social networking sites by 2011.
My eldest daughter is on the cusp of being a teenager, and I find her media choices and socialization habits quite telling. She already spends a tremendous amount of time online -- I would estimate four times as much as she does with a traditional medium like TV. She plays Internet games wherein she IMs with friends, watches video on YouTube and participates in her school's blog. She is a fierce multi-tasker and is incredibly creative. We often see her creating personal greeting cards and working with photos as she is very content-driven, like most of her friends.
When I was in high school, it was at the end of the year that we got a yearbook and signed everyone else's. Now the yearbook is a living thing, and kids decide if they will sign their "walls." This social currency extends into college, career and family. These networks are being built early with teens.
Teens tend to share everything. There is a low level of censorship, and that is what makes it that much more real and, ultimately, viral amongst their friends. Teens are really not thinking about the day when they will apply to universities and how this content may appear to an admission counselor. To them, it is the here and now only.
For many adults, it seems to be a race to see who can have 100, 250, 500 friends. But teens don't see the number of friends as a badge of honor and are more interested in keeping their circles closed and keeping the messaging very personal. They are using sites like Facebook and MySpace as replacements for email. A recent Nielsen study certainly supports this; it cites social networking is now more popular than email.
Brand marketers need to note that teens represent tomorrow's core consumers, and they will look and act very different than today's.
Marketers need to think long and hard about their media choices and to "skate where the puck is going, not where it has been." Looking at the 12-18 demo, the majority of its members' time is not just online, it is social. Marketers need to make sure the dollars are consistent not only with where their future consumers are spending their time but that they are also engaging them with the collaborative tools they use and support.
It is important for brands to be recognized as innovative leaders and the media choices they make to reach their consumers will cement perceptions of innovative leadership. By leveraging social media to reach these core constituents, they will tap into passionate, excited consumers enabling strong bonds to be built.
As we know from tried-and-true marketing principles, a strong bond builds loyalty, loyalty drives preference and preference drives mindshare and consumption.