Knowing The Written Rules Of Teen Engagement

Marketers recognize that social media channels are often the fastest path between them and the young audiences so many covet. Most know all about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and limit their activities to kids over the age of 13. But how many marketers know the more subtle rules of connecting with teenagers through social media? Often the onus is on the teen and their parents but marketers should at least be aware of some of these written – but unknown – rules for teen engagement.

According to the Pew “Teens, Social Media and Technology 2015 Overview,” published in April 2015, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Google+, Vine and Tumblr were the top teen social media sites, apps and services.

These services fall into one of three categories:

  • No age restrictions – anyone can use the service (Twitter, Google+, Vine)*
  • No one under 13 – (Facebook, Instagram)
  • No one under 17 without parental/guardian permission (Snapchat)



Facebook is crystal clear. Their terms state that, “You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.” Of course that doesn’t mean U13s aren’t using the service, it just means they’re lying about their age. Facebook doesn’t seem to allow advertisers or marketers to use member data or content. 

Instagram, like Facebook, has no requirement that those under 17 get the approval of their parents or guardians in order to use the service. 

Snapchat, on the other hand, requires that a parent or legal guardian of those between 13 and 17 review and agree to the company’s terms of service on behalf of minors. This may seem inconsequential for a marketer but consider that Snapchat’s terms of service can grant 

“Snapchat and our business partners the unrestricted, worldwide, perpetual right and license to use your name, likeness, and voice in any and all media and distribution channels (now known or later developed) in connection with any Live Story or other crowd-sourced content you create, upload, post, send, or appear in.”

This could open a potential can of worms if content created by someone under the age of 17 is being used.

Twitter, Google+ and Vine have no age restrictions in their terms of service.

For its part, Tumblr does an excellent job of explaining its terms in super clear language:

“You have to be at least 13 years old to use Tumblr. We’re serious: it’s a hard rule, based on U.S. federal and state legislation. ‘But I’m, like, 12.9 years old!’ you plead. Nope, sorry. If you’re younger than 13, don’t use Tumblr. Ask your parents for a Playstation 4, or try books.”

Marketers considering connecting with teens on these services need to be sure that they understand who they are reaching and how they are able to connect. Most of these services provide unfettered access to teens over the age of 13 but Snapchat — one of the most popular — does come with strings attached.

This is especially important to consider given the growing popularity of user-generated content as a means to reach customers — and especially millennials — who eschew traditional advertising. Snapchat, in particular, provides marketers with a channel for engaging with teens, as well as for finding content that supports their brands or stories. The fact that the content is out there and available doesn’t mean it can be used without awareness or consideration.

* An astute reader pointed out that while the terms of service may not include age restrictions, the privacy policies of these services do — for the most part — make clear that they are intended for those over 13. This lack of consistency in describing who may and may not use a service can create confusion for marketers that want to either connect with teens or use content found on these services in their own advertising/marketing efforts.

While this may seem inconsequential to those marketing specifically to teens over the age of 13, it demonstrates the difficulty the industry faces when it comes to connecting with young customers.

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