Social Media Usage: What Marketers Can Learn From The Kids

Is Facebook losing its cool factor?

Ask a teenager, and you might get a resounding “yes.” According to Pew Research Center research, teens are losing their enthusiasm for Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg actually needs to care. Amongst a number of things, when teenagers left MySpace a few years ago it became the catalyst for Facebook’s massive growth and for MySpace’s decline. 

If you’re a marketer, you can’t afford to ignore teen activity online regardless of whether or not this group of individuals is your target demographic. What teens consider “cool” is usually a foreshadowing for what is mainstream only a few months later.

So, this begs the question: If teens aren’t Facebooking as much as before, where are they going? And, more importantly, why are they going away? A few networks are gaining the users and cachet that Facebook is losing:  

  • Twitter allows teens to interact with celebrities and make new friends based on shared social interests (a new band, a favorite TV show, etc.). It’s a digital water cooler that supplements their in-person peer circle.
  • Vine and Instagram allow teens to present a more “curated” view of themselves via photos and short videos (the latter being a new feature for Instagram). In these networks, users can easily create, edit or curate content and post it for their friends and followers to see.
  • Tumblr gives teens a blank canvas to express themselves with few to no rules or guidelines on the design (or content) to hold them back. A stark contrast to the very standardized look of Facebook (and reminiscent of MySpace’s old days), the micro-blogging site is where users can get very creative with their artwork, fonts, color schemes, etc.
  • KIK and Snapchat give teens a cheaper, more secure platform than texting. For those who don’t have unlimited data plans or who own an iPod (but not an iPhone), these platforms allow users to send hundreds (if not thousands) of messages back and forth every day. Snapchat, in particular, enables self-expression and gives the impression of privacy because the messages self-destruct. And, as Ypulse’s Jake Katz mentioned in a recent Inc. interview, teens use Snapchat to get feedback from friends in real time, allowing them to beta-test themselves without leaving a trace.  

Clearly, social media usage among teens is becoming more fragmented. If you want to stay ahead of the social media curve, teens can probably tell you which new sites are hot and which ones may end up being popular tomorrow. But, before you follow where the kids are going, here are three things to keep in mind when evaluating an emerging social network: 

1. Research before you jump in
Earlier this year, driven by thousands of teens downloading the app, Pheed climbed Apple’s chart of the most popular free apps, beating both Twitter and Facebook in the social network category. Over the past couple of months however, buzz about this new social network fizzled with Snapchat and Vine getting more attention. Just because teens are jumping on a social network doesn’t mean you have to be there now too. First, you need to figure out if your target audience is on the hot new network. 

In a recent study about how social media drives purchasing, my colleagues found out that social media users engage with different topics on different social networks. So, in addition to your target audience, you also have to consider the content, culture and the most popular categories in that social network to determine if it makes sense to be there. Avoid getting distracted by the shiny new network: Pause and evaluate before establishing your presence there. 

2. Do not ignore Facebook
Teens may not be as enthralled with Facebook as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there at all. During last month’s earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg reiterated that the number of teens using Facebook on both a daily and monthly basis has been steady over the past year and a half. Furthermore, teens also remain highly engaged when using Facebook.

Facebook may be very 2010, but teens can’t avoid it. At the very least, teens are using Facebook as an instant-messaging platform.The site is a “start page” for teens and a good way for them to connect with friends and older family, the majority of whom are still active on the social networking site.

Overall, Facebook is still the king of social, with 75% of social media users logging on daily (although many simply lurk and do not post content). Given its omnipresence, you probably can’t ignore Facebook—at least not yet. Marketers need to do their research to see if the Facebook fatigue that teens are feeling is part of a larger trend and if the same thing is happening to their target audience. More importantly, it is up to marketers to figure out how their target audience is using Facebook. 

3. Conduct frequent research
Teens can be fickle. What’s gaining traction now may no longer be hot later on. The Pheed example I mentioned earlier demonstrates this point in action. Teens are more open to new apps than older consumers, so they are more likely to try new networks, but they also wouldn’t hesitate to switch.

For marketers, the implication is quite clear. Do your research frequently. If you have a private insight community of consumers, for example, consider a quarterly study to see how the attitudes of people on social media usage change over time. If you have your consumers’ demographics, you can match this basic data with other data you have on your customer base to come up with a better picture of your target audience.

When it comes to attracting the teenage audience, Facebook’s ubiquity is both a blessing and a curse. The network is a daily habit for many teens, but the presence of adults there (parents, grandparents, etc.) is diluting the site’s cool factor. Teens are prone to trying new things, so marketers should expect them to continue to join emerging networks. To stay ahead of the game, marketers need to do more than just follow the teens, they need to look to their target audience—their customers—when evaluating new networks. 

1 comment about "Social Media Usage: What Marketers Can Learn From The Kids".
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  1. Lisa Glover from Conversation, August 5, 2013 at 12:20 p.m.

    Hi Aaron - great recap! My colleague, Alex Realmuto, wrote something very similar in April and it generated quite a discussion. (Facebook Is Losing its Luster: It's nice to see that just a few months later, there's even more research and studies to drive home this point about Facebook, especially among the teenage demographic. Teens may still have Facebook accounts, but they are actively occupying other platforms that attract niche interests.

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