'Doing Snapchat' Is Not A Teen Engagement Strategy

At last week’s Mobile Marketing Association SM2 Summit, much of the discussion centered on the elements of great marketing campaigns. As exemplified by the winners of the annual Smarties Awards, marketers today need to create emotional connections with their audiences and drive engagement across multiple touchpoints. Using Snapchat, for example, isn’t really “doing mobile.” I got to thinking about marketers’ missteps when approaching the teen market. Are they, for example, “doing Snapchat” and considering this single tactic to be a “teen engagement strategy?” 

With the sheer popularity of Snapchat among teens — 41% of American teens ages 13 to 17, according to the Pew Research Center — it’s no wonder that brands targeting the demographic are prioritizing it. Some are experiencing great success and that’s fantastic. My point here is not that brands shouldn’t try to engage on Snapchat. It’s that relying solely on Snapchat, or really any single tactic, can never have the impact that a truly multi-channel strategy can have. 



Here are a few options to consider: 

1. Create shareable moments 

Teens today are more interested in doing things than having things. In fact, a survey by Ypulse, an authority on Millennials and teens, found that 74% of 13-to-33 year olds would rather spend their money on experiences than products. And what do teens do while they’re having these experiences? They share them on social media. 

For marketers, the opportunity lies in what Ypulse calls “Experiencification.” By engaging young consumers with shareable moments during branded experiences, a brand can significantly amplify their message. Even better, this social amplification is coming from the brand’s audience, increasing its authenticity and impact. 

Music festivals are a popular choice for these types of shareable-moment campaigns. Activations at this year’s Coachella included Popsugar’s “personal brand-building sessions,” where visitors created videos for Instagram and Snapchat, and Sonic Drive-In’s #SquareShakes campaign, where festival attendees were delivered special-edition milkshakes that were paid for by posting a photo on Instagram. 

In each of these cases, the number of people who experienced the actual campaign was dwarfed by the quantity of genuine engagement from authentic voices across social media.  

2. Speak in their voice…or with their voice

While it’s tempting for marketers to hop on the latest teen trend, it’s a risky proposition. In general, by the time we “olds” take notice, the trend is already passé and you just look, well, old. But you know who does know the teen trends du jour? Teens! 

With their need for authenticity, Gen Z sees right through most celebrity-driven marketing campaigns. Instead, they want to see people who they relate to, who look like they’d be their friends, who speak to their interests and seem relevant to their lives. Where generations past may have looked to supermodels and rock stars, teens today are more influenced by fellow YouTubers and Instagrammers. Beauty brands have been particularly adept at these types of campaigns. A recent report from Fashion and Beauty Monitor found that 57% of companies in these sectors use influencers as part of their marketing mix.   

Besides serving as a more effective bridge between a brand and the teen audience they’re looking to engage than celebrities, social media influencers can also be much more cost friendly. Just yesterday, influencer marketing firm TapInfluence published results from research done in collaboration with Nielsen Catalina Solutions that showed an 11x lift in ROI vs other forms of digital marketing. 

Whereas the goal with celebrity influencers is generally reach or awareness, this new breed of influencer is a powerful driver of connection. Livestreaming platform YouNow is one place where authentic teen-to-teen connections are happening en masse, and brands like iHeart Radio and America’s Got Talent have engaged with the platform’s active and engaged audience with impressive results. 

The America’s Got Talent activation with YouNow was particularly unique and successful. The show’s producer invited prospective contestants onto his broadcasts to share their talents - and perhaps even land a spot on the show. Over 13 broadcasts, AGT generated 1.3 million views. But more than just views, the campaign drove that coveted connection. Audience members engaged with contestants through likes, comments and gifts over 500,000 times.

3. Communicate using the Medium Teens Use

For some verticals, connecting with teens doesn’t come quite as naturally as it does for a cosmetic or fast food brand. For insurance companies, legacy media companies and other organizations that are typically thought of as being the domain of us olds, doing activations at Coachella can be perceived as the opposite of authentic. Still, there are companies that want to establish relationships with younger demographics with an eye on keeping that relationship as the (potential) customer ages. 

The Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) is one such organization. A new artistic director taking over in 2005 made engaging teens a priority. While PNB had participated — fairly successfully — in a low-price-ticket program,  their online presence was static, which reinforced stereotypes of ballet as for the rich and old. What was missing? Video.

PNB implemented an aggressive behind-the-scenes video program that demonstrated, in the visual format the teens are most comfortable with, the liveliness of the studio and excitement of performance. They engaged with those videos on their website as well as social channels. ramped up its social media presence on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and, after four years, doubled ticket sales among teens. 

Another company that has turned to video as an audience growth — and teen engagement — strategy is the French newspaper, L’Opinion. Looking for new ways to broaden its reach, L’Opinion implemented a social video program and, seeing it as a primary driver for younger audience targets, launched an all-video sub-brand for Facebook called O’Play. 

In just four months, L’Opinion reported a 50x (yes, fifty, five-oh) increase in video views, hundreds of thousands of shares and like and significant revenue growth resulting from syndication across distribution platforms like DailyMotion and Digiteka. 

It’s well established that teens today are skeptical of advertising. They are known to scrutinize brands, looking for those with whom they share values and can connect with authentically. To engage this media-savvy, digital-native population, marketers have to be media-savvy, digital-friendly and, maybe most importantly, authentic. It’s not enough to “do mobile” or “do social.” To truly engage teens, look to strategies that cross platforms and offer genuine shareable experiences, appeal to their wants and needs and speak in the language(s) they speak.

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