Teens And Online Privacy: It's More Complicated Than Marketers Think

Conventional marketing wisdom suggests that teens don’t care about online privacy. It’s assumed that teens worry less about sharing private aspects of their lives online, but that line of thinking is inaccurate. 

Yes, younger generations are more comfortable sharing online. They’re also more likely to use their real name when joining new networks and they’re not as concerned about sharing their personal data with advertisers. But teens, as it turns out, are also more selective in terms of which social networks they participate in and what they share. 

According to Fast Company, teens are savvy about hiding aspects of their virtual lives. Teens are more aware of their online privacy settings, creating a thought-out and well-curated online persona in the process. 



One manifestation of just how savvy teens are in controlling their online lives is through their use of more niche, ephemeral or anonymous social networks. YikYak, Whisper, and Snapchat have seen their valuations take off, in no small part because teens have fueled the popularity of these networks. 

Teens have many reasons as to why they’re looking beyond Facebook for social networking. For one, they’re more hesitant to share anything embarrassing with parents and other older relatives. In a world that increasingly controls them and their expressions and puts a lot of pressure on them, teens need a place where they can share their secrets, speak freely and openly and blow off a little steam. 

For marketers trying to engage teen consumers, a deeper understanding of their privacy preferences is important to grasp. Figuring out why teens increasingly use emerging apps and the need-states that these networks serve will allow companies to offer more relevant products and services. 

To address these need-states, marketers should do the following: 

1. Create and Abide By a Clear Privacy Policy

Teens aren’t expecting complete privacy, but they want control over what they share. They also need to know that their private photos and expressions won’t be easily hacked, accessed by strangers, given to advertisers or used for marketing purposes. No matter how you interact with teens online, provide these reassurances to your teen customers, and realize that you’re entering a contract with them — one that you must adhere to in order to maintain their trust.

2. Create a Community Where Teens Can Safely Explore and Shape Their Identity

It’s stressful for a teen to figure out what’s “cool” and what’s parent-approved on Facebook. But teen-centric companies are in a unique position to provide a community where teens can freely pursue their interests. For example, if a brand like Nike were to set up a community for student athletes, a young teen could communicate with other, like-minded teens while choosing an online persona that lets him express his love for sports. An engaged, secure online community not only provides customer intelligence to companies, it also offers a platform for teen customers to chat with each other about topics that they are passionate about. 

3. Give Teens a Chance to “Rant and Rave” 

Marketers should realize teens just need to blow off some steam and not worry about over-thinking what they share. Once they get this off their chest, they can then tackle more difficult assignments. 

Regardless of whether or not you’re a social network, or just looking to better understand your teen customer, teens need a place online where they can feel safe to vent, rant and rave. Consider adding a “tell us anything” or “sound off” box, with the best responses posted anonymously for all to see on your website or within your customer community. Or consider a moderated bulletin board where teens can post anonymously on a timely and fun topic (“What’s been the worst thing about practice this season…GO!”). 

When it comes to online privacy and social media, the preferences of teens evolve quickly. Marketers cannot afford to depend on long-standing assumptions about these customers. After all, they already represent more than a quarter of the U.S. population. Engaging frequently with teens and understanding why they do what they do will give you the insight needed to develop a more meaningful relationship with them.

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