Top Teen Insights & Trends Of 2011

A lot has happened this year and teens have taken notice. World events, economic pressures, personal milestones, friends, education and brands all play big roles in influencing the lives of teens. Teens are evolving and maturing as fast as the technologies and platforms we build around them. 

We caught up with 300, 13-19-year-old teens in an online discussion to talk to them about the technologies, platforms and brands they used over the course of the year, with their responses offering fresh insights into who they are. Below are highlights from our complete findings.

The following narrative represents insights gleaned from more than 4,500 individual responses:

2011: A Year Of Personal Sacrifices

No longer insulated by parents doling out discretionary funds, teens are not only reacting to the pressures felt by their cashed-strapped parents, but are helping to take on the responsibility through part time jobs and making their own sacrifices on personal spending. Billed as "The Lost Generation," the unemployment rate of a teen is double that of an adult (20% by some measures; NPR, 2011), which leads to teens adopting many of the cost-saving measures they glean from their parents. 



Like Their Parents, Teens Are Savvy Mobile Users

Much of the coupon-redeeming, price-comparing and loyalty-point-aggregating activity marketers have witnessed among adults around Black Friday/Cyber Monday is actually taking place among teens, as well. The top shopping apps mentioned among teens in our discussion forum included Amazon mobile for scanning, Foursquare for check-in discounts, Old Navy's Snap Appy, Seventeen, Red Laser and ShopKick. A surprising number of teens expressed interest in using apps to learn about local deals at restaurants, as well as redeeming offers from Groupon and LivingSocial

The opportunity for a brand to step up as an ally of all things education is huge. Across dozens of posts, we found that teens are seeking a mobile solution for keeping track of their homework assignments, grades, high school sporting events and to-do lists. In 2012, there’s a viable opportunity for marketers to uncover what the next level of customization means for this generation, and find ways to add utility to their high school experiences.

Teens Are Native Users Of Virtual Currency

Gamification continues to grow among teens, as it provides them with a way of earning points and virtual currency in an entertaining format. 43% of teens have spent real dollars on in-game virtual items or virtual currency. Teens flock to games such as Cityville (Over 55 million active users, #1 game on Facebook in December; Games, 2011), Sorority Life and numerous others to earn points that can be redeemed for real items. Many teens in our forum described earning virtual points in order to save money on holiday gift purchases this year.

Top virtual points/currencies among our panel: MyYearBook's "Lunch Money," Facebook "Credits," Coca-Cola’s "MyCokeRewards," Sorority Life's "Brownie Points" and SwagBucks.

Watching Content Is A Social Experience

Social media turns watching content into a shared experience among teens, and with research citing improved ad recall when ads are published across multiple platforms (Up 150%, compared to just TV; Mashable, 2011), the circumstances are ripe for brands to create an integrated approach to content. When tuning-in to their favorite TV shows (“Glee,” by a two-to-one margin; our Nationwide Poll, 2011) 53% are posting comments about the show to their Facebook pages, 45% are texting their friends show-related updates, a staggering 39% will visit the show's Facebook page, and 18% will Tweet directly at the show. By contrast, only 11% report using a show's specific mobile app (our Nationwide Poll, 2011). 

Teens Yearn For More Customization On Facebook

Among 250 responses from our online discussion, teens expressed their overwhelming desire to keep things simple and unchanged. Negative sentiment (among our responses) to Facebook's ticker remains persistently highly, as teens think it provides too much information about their social activities. On the other hand, Facebook mobile (and “places” in particular) is very well received. Teens look forward to the day when they can customize their pages further, choosing their own color schemes, much like the old MySpace.

Teens Use Google+ To Meet Up Online

Teens are using Google+ to have more intimate conversations among subsets of friends, carving out circles, which fit their own definitions of social groups. Teens have fun defining these: "cool kids, weird people, fat people, hot girls (and guys) and Moustache Mafia," are among the more interesting circles. Teens also create circles for high school classes and after-school clubs/hobbies to facilitate study sessions. Hangouts are another way in which teens can connect with their classmates online to socialize their late-night cramming. Brands should support this activity, helping to bring together teens around unique circles and interests.

Spotify And TurnTable Turn Teens On To Music

With the ability for teens to follow what their friends are listening to on Facebook, teens now have Spotify and Turntable to thank for expanding their own musical tastes. In a recent poll among teens, we found that 70% of teens are "highly likely" to listen-in to music tracks that they notice their friends listening to in the activity feed on Facebook (our Nationwide Poll, 2011). Undoubtedly, this social integration has led to the successful rise of Spotify, Turntable and other services keen on taking advantage of Facebook apps, as a way to grow awareness of their services. Top music services with teens in 2011 included Pandora, YouTube and Spotify, as well as lesser-known sources Grooveshark,,, SoundCloud, and Tumblr.

Now it's time to close the door on 2011, and enjoy the holiday season. Keep these insights in your back pocket for 2012, and consider how the events, technologies and social platforms teens are using today will impact their decision making in the New Year.

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