Teens are limiting their social circles by choice. Our report found that only 30% of teens aged 14-17 have a large social network, compared to 45% of 18- to 34-year-olds. Teens have seen the effect that mass-scale social media has had on their older counterparts and don’t want to repeat the same mistakes. When they first arrived on social media, Gen Ys strived to attain vast, extensive networks, but eventually realized that many people in the group of “friends” they had acquired were little more than acquaintances and random connections that added little to their lives. Teens, on the other hand, are choosing quality over quantity as they form their social networks. They value close, meaningful relationships more than having a lot of friends.
A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Journal also noted that the current generation of teens has fewer friends than in the past, but they are paradoxically less likely to feel lonely. With their cellphones always in hand, they are essentially never alone, able to connect with their close friends and social networks with a few taps and clicks. In addition, as true digital natives, teens know that it’s easy to connect with a wide range of people. They can always find someone who has similar interests and experiences to talk to and commune with, both online and in real life thanks to a wide variety of apps that help them meet like-minded strangers.
The ease of such connectivity has put an even greater emphasis on recognizing and maintaining their genuine friendships with the people whose opinions matter most to them. This desire has manifested itself in the technologies and social networks they choose to use. Rather than spending a lot of time on traditional social media like 20- and 30-somethings, teens are giving an increasing share of their attention to chat apps where they can have more contained conversations one-on-one or with their group of best friends.
Their interest in fostering more deep-rooted connections is reflected in what they share as well. They aren’t afraid to show their true selves and have less fear of looking bad (after all, images and messages don’t last on Snapchat or when using Photo Bomb on Kik). They expect the same unbridled honesty from friends — and from brands.
This shift in mindset has multiple implications for brands. As teens gradually shift some of their social communications from mass networks to chat apps, brands need to find ways to leverage these new spaces for marketing. But the key is not just being on these apps but also knowing how to use them. Messages in this medium need to be genuine, like the very users marketers want to reach there. They can take a cue from brands who have already identified Snapchat, Line, WhatsApp, and others as ways to have more personal communications and connections with young consumers.
In targeting teens, brands should aim to develop friendships with them, and that begins with being open and honest about themselves and their company ethos. In an increasingly digital world, it’s important to remember the human at the receiving end of marketing messages, particularly as teens look to emphasize this in their own communication.