Commentary

Today's Teens Hang Together, Separately

It’s one of childhood’s fondest memories: hanging out with friends after school or on weekends. Whether it was going over to your friend’s house, inviting them to yours, or going to a “third place” like a mall, movie theater, pizza parlor or arcade, the hanging out was always in person. You could walk over to your friend’s house, ride a bike or skateboard, get a ride from an older sibling, or ask for a ride from your parents or your friend’s parents.

However, today’s teens have much greater barriers to hanging out in person. Neighborhoods are less safe and walkable. Classmates might live farther away, with more kids going to private, charter and magnet schools. Fewer teens have a parent to drive them, or a license and a car of their own to drive themselves. They have less free time and more homework, sports, activities, standardized tests and part-time jobs. And if they have a unique hobby or interest, the closest friend who shares that interest might be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

Fortunately, “there’s an app for that.” Teens can connect with friends using messaging platforms like Kik and WhatsApp; send thousands of pictures back and forth on Snapchat; broadcast live on Facebook; and now use a new app called Houseparty to hang together virtually in groups. Houseparty is the virtual version of the old-school event popularized by Kid ’n Play in their theatrical trilogy of the same name. As Christopher Mims explores in his recent column in the Wall Street Journal, the app launched about a year ago, hit a million daily actives within seven months, and continues to grow.

Those who use Houseparty can conduct live video chats with up to seven friends at a time. When members log on, all of their friends receive an alert that they’re active. Friends can “join the party,” and the party can spill over into other virtual rooms. If a stranger is in one of the rooms, users receive a “stranger danger” warning, and they can either decline to enter the room or proceed with caution.

How can brands make the most of Houseparty, and the phenomenon of teens hanging out together online?

Create virtual events. As discussed in previous columns, teens aren’t hanging out in malls or movie theaters the way they used to, and they can only afford to buy so many concert tickets. So if teens aren’t leaving the house to interact with brands, brands need to become more innovative about how they interact with groups of friends inside their respective houses. Consider events that teens can watch, listen to or experience together, like “must-see” live TV, music premieres or major online announcements. Promote these as ways for teens to connect online to experience something and react to it together.

Keep ’em moving. As Mims recounts in his column, the downside of staying home and connecting virtually is a rise in sedentary lifestyles, obesity and depression. All of these create opportunities for innovation in getting teens to move around more, even alone in their houses. Consider sponsoring dance-offs to promote when a new single drops; friendly competitions to see who can walk the most steps in a day; or live videos of teen chefs making healthy recipes.

Promote online affinity groups. Especially if your brand is a bit “niche” and attracts a diffuse cult of followers, foster ways of bringing together that cult. Create an online fanship community, and then either provide ways for them to hang out together on your platform, or provide them with ways to easily and safely hang out together on another platform like Houseparty. This allows fans to spend more time interacting with your brand; learning more about it, including new uses/applications/manifestations; reinforcing others’ love of it; and learning the tools to better evangelize it to others. It also helps potentially lonely or isolated people find their tribe.

There’s a party going on all around, and with apps like Houseparty and Kik, your brand is invited to it.

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