As a father of six children, three of whom are between the 6 and 11 years old, I have extensive hands-on experience with helping my kids grow up "social" as our home is a virtual focus group. I continue to be stunned and amazed at how agile and adept even our youngest children are with technology.
Starting around age 3, my children interacted with sites like starfall.com, which provides a safe and interactive environment where kids learn can learn their ABC's, simple math and reading concepts. They soon graduated on to more robust sites that add in social functionality from Webkinz to Disney's Club Penguin to instant messaging what is on their iPod play list.
Their participation and the social actions they take are truly emblematic of their personalities, their key attributes and how they want to be perceived by their peers and the world.
Social media are also simultaneously transforming the way brands connect to audiences of all ages. There is a great need to engage in Web 2.0 and create a seamless and safe experience that's entertaining and participatory. Having consumers at the center of the digital universe requires a huge shift in the way marketing is executed. For brands, having a social presence has become table stakes.
Savvy marketers know they need to position themselves effectively as this generation gravitates and matures. By making their brands more social today and adding in social elements to their marketing mix that are safe, effective and age appropriate, they will build trust and mindshare.
Giving consumers the right tools will help build brand affinity and long-term loyalty. Social media provide rich environments for self-expression and engagement with peers for self-development. However, with all audiences and especially the youth, controls and moderation need to be implemented to protect the audience and the brand.
Online communities are great tools to help us educate our children. Webkinz is a good example of giving kids the power of self-expression while teaching them important life lessons. By purchasing an actual stuffed animal and bringing it home and adopting it online, kids learn responsibility and how to care and interact with their pet. Webkinz creates a powerful environment for self-expression from naming their pet and even decorating their own pet's room. They are given freedom to create their own online persona. They can also chat with friends in a safe environment with stringent controls over content messaging (pre-populated terms only) and no personal information allowed to be shared (like phone numbers).
As a parent, I know safety is paramount, and there are controls in place to help protect my kids, but as with any social media space, I know my kids need my time, guidance and supervision in this arena. Together, we can work on great learning as they work toward financial goals to care for their pet and as they socialize with their friends.
I started in social media a few years ago. The spark of inspiration was not only many market indicators, but there was one event in particular that solidified my instincts that marketing had becoming truly social: I witnessed by eldest daughter building her iPod play list.
Marketers need to take notice, engage consumers early on with social tools and start to position themselves for this next generation. Our children are trained at an early age to use and embrace emerging technologies. We need to keep it simple and easy-to-use but, above all, provide safeguarded environments to build trust for the child, parent and marketer.