The Shortest Way On Facebook May Not Be A Straight Line

Contemporary composer Earle Brown once said, "The shortest way between two people is not a straight line." Based on some recent experiences with high school students talking about how they use Facebook, I say Brown could easily have been talking about them.

For the past several months, I have been working on a research series, "Subscribers, Fans, and Followers," that looks at the differences in how people use email, Facebook and Twitter. Since our next report focuses on Facebook, I've been talking with users about what they "Like" on Facebook to add color to the statistics.

We know teens are active on social media, and statistics regularly show it plays a more influential role on teens than on older people. For example, 39% say they are "more likely to recommend a company/brand to my friends since becoming a Fan on Facebook," which is nearly twice as many any other group, including college students.

Nevertheless, numbers have a hard time telling the full story. The following represent my favorite examples of things high school students Like based on recent conversations with a group of high school students who were kind enough to let me peruse their Facebook profiles.

1) I HATE WAKING UP FOR SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! - This page has nearly 4.5 million Fans and it's not hard to understand why. While marketers talk about Facebook strategies and creating engaging Facebook feeds, teens are finding pages that resonate with them. Often these are pages created by other students and make a funny twist on everyday experiences like this one or "I Only Check My Voicemail To Get Rid Of The Little Icon On The Screen."

2) American Eagle is cool, but Oreo is cooler. Oreo is the third most popular household brand on Facebook behind Starbucks and Coca-Cola. Oreo was more popular than either of these among the teens I spoke with because of their approach to Facebook marketing. Oreo keeps this audience engaged with photo contests, questions like "what do you dip your Oreo in when you run out of milk?" and a recent Double Stuf Lick Race.

3) PANTS ON THE GROUND - three million people have become a Fan of this page born out of General Larry Platt's song, which became a hit following his infamous performance on "American Idol." However, the page is actually a promotion for a t-shirt sold by Donkey Tees. In stark contrast, Donkey Tees' Fan page only has 7,500 fans so it is using the PANTS ON THE GROUND page to promote its latest "Quit your Job with Style - Team Slater" shirt.

4) Football two-a-days under way and Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour have secured their sponsorships with local high school football teams. In areas where football is a big deal, these sponsorships permeate the school. For example, when schools announce they are becoming an "Under Armour School" like this one, students switch their brand allegiances. Most importantly, it is not just the football uniforms that become part of the school, it is co-branded sports wear that is sold to students, parents and the community at large -- many of whom thank the sponsor by becoming Fans of the brand. At times, it can be hard to tell when something people have Liked represents their affinity for a brand, when it is simply a cultural reference, or when it is out of gratitude for getting involved in school activities.

What is clear is that a direct approach is not always best -- creating a Facebook presence isn't going to get teens Liking your brand. As these examples show, being part of what is already going on in their lives and contributing to their ability to express themselves is the way to get their attention on Facebook.

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