When Views Mean Less, Engagement Matters More

For a long time, online marketers’ favorite success metric was number of views. It’s a fairly easy thing to measure, it’s instantly available and readily understandable. The assumption was that getting a lot of views meant your content or ad was good and your message was getting through. As the web and its consumers have evolved, we’ve learned that’s not necessarily the case. 

The weakness in view count as a success metric is especially true with the coveted teen, “digital native” demographic. This population is completely entrenched in a type of digital lifestyle that reduces their ability to sustain focus. Instead, they “front load” their attention, essentially determining very quickly whether they do or do not want to process information or commit it to memory.  

Ultimately, a teenager who doesn’t care about your content will tune it out, view be damned. In fact, in a Ypulse survey of 13-to-17 year olds, 59% say they totally ignore pre-roll video. Those are views that have zero impact for your brand. If they do care, they’re highly motivated to take action, and that’s what raises the visibility and viral-ability of your content. That’s why engagement-related metrics — the likes, shares and comments — are what really matter, and here are three of the most important ways you can boost the likelihood that yours will be the content that gets that precious attention. 



1. Appeal to Teens’ Motivations to Engage

Having grown up with social media, teens’ relationship with the medium isn’t the same as those of us who remember life before Facebook. For many, their social profiles and activities are an important part of their identities and a driver of self-esteem. 

According to a YouGov survey for ASKfm that looked at drivers of social media usage for teens 13 to 18, teens take comments, likes, and shares very seriously. More than 25% check engagement with their social posts within minutes, and over one-third feel disappointed if they don’t get responses quickly. For marketers, this shows the importance of timely interaction. Too many social media campaigns rely too much on communicating at followers instead of with them. The simple act of replying on Facebook or sharing a tweet mentioning your brand, especially when done soon after the initial engagement, will inspire that follower to share again while building brand affinity.

The ASKfm/YouGov survey also indicates that teens use engagement as a means of conveying certain characteristics about themselves, such as content that shows how smart, funny, and cool they are.This is powerful intel! Clearly, content that appeals to this motivation has a much greater chance of eliciting the engagement behavior you’re looking for.

2. Don’t trigger their Bullsh*t Detectors

Teens today have no naiveté about advertising. They grew up keenly aware of the marketing messages that inundate their lives and, as a result, they’re highly sensitive to anything that seems salesy, patronizing, or inauthentic. This is a major reason we’ve seen an explosion in the number of social media celebrities, who, according to a survey by Variety, are seen as more influential than even A-list celebrities. Even more important for marketers: the survey showed that YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times (that’s 17X!!!) more engaging than mainstream stars.

With this ad burnout, it’s no surprise that content marketing has become an essential ingredient in the marketing mix. Still, even “native advertising” can be dangerous territory if the content seems more authentic to platform — or worse, the brand — than it does authentic to the audience. 

To effectively engage teens via social, it’s important to stop thinking of your audience as an object, but instead, think of them as they really are: a group of real people with living likes and interests. You don’t need to look like them or talk like them to appeal to them. You do, however, need to get to know and understand them, and you most definitely can’t force-feed or firebomb them with “marketing messages.”

3. Don’t “Set it and Forget it”

Any social media strategy needs to be closely and carefully monitored, because what works today might not work tomorrow. While you should maintain a somewhat consistent schedule, developed based on past engagement metrics to coincide with the highest likelihood of engagement, these might not always be the same. What if you suddenly get a huge group of followers in wildly different time zones? What about summer vacation and holiday breaks? By closely monitoring, you can see these changes coming and seize opportunities you’d otherwise miss. 

Another pitfall that comes with an over-reliance on a fixed schedule of prepared content is failing to be timely. The online conversation happens in real time, so the marketer who keeps up with current events and trends is more likely to make their content seem relevant to the audience. While this doesn’t mean you can’t pre-schedule content, you must supplement it with posts on breaking news and trending stories.
The truth is, our current generation of teens has a lot in common with all of those who came before them; they want to be treated like adults.

Remember? They want to be entertained. If they get bored, they move on. There’s always something else to consume. Teens have always been an important target for marketers, but now we’re on their territory, where the rules of engagement have changed.

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