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Are they getting the message?

Connecting and communicating with the mobile, online generation.

Andy Marken

Technology is a powerful tool, especially when it is placed into the hands of teens. But technology is also fraught with dangers and drawbacks. There are a lot of benefits to be had with technology, but knowing what’s right and what’s wrong comes with experience and sound judgment that needs to be passed along to younger, less experienced users. For marketers looking to tap into this group of young buyers and influencers, they, too, must learn what’s right and what’s not appropriate if they want to succeed.  

(Source: Snatti89, Deviant Art)

“But when he came back, he had something attached to his face, some kind of parasite. We tried to take it off, but it wouldn’t come off; but soon it sort of came off all by itself and died. Kane seemed fine; we were all having dinner. I don’t know what, but that thing must have laid something inside his throat, some kind of embryo.” —Ripley, Alien, 20th Century Fox, 1986

Perhaps the Boston-area high school English teacher’s commencement address last year was right. The graduates aren’t special or exceptional… just different. They’re different significantly from him, from Gen X/Yers, boomers.  Helping them be different, better, more tolerant and less violent is one of the main reasons older generations are around. In their constantly connected, open world, that’s one of the reasons parents have to take more than a passing interest in the kids.

They should:

  • Talk with kids about ways to use the Internet and cell phones safely.

  • Talk with them about ways to behave toward other people online or on the phone.

  • Talk with preteens and teens about what they do on the Internet.

  • Talk with kids about what kinds of things should and should not be shared online or on a cell phone.

  • Check to see what information is available online about their kids.

  • Check their social network site profile.

  • Check which websites you/your child visits.

  • Friend their children on social media and in the real world.

  • Use parental controls and tools to block, filter, and monitor their online activities.

  • Use parental controls to restrict, guide their phone use.

Kids are pretty smart, which is why one of them explained it like the character Hicks in Alien, I like to keep this handy… for close encounters.” Teens are also fervent communicators.

You probably don’t remember that far back, but they’re somewhere between being a child and an adult; and in our online world, they’re getting inputs, ideas from everywhere, everyone. Today, they’re able to continually communicate with everyone who is important—and irrelevant—in their lives: friends and peers, parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, other adults, and institutions. They look at us with amazement and disbelief, and like Newt in Alien, they reassure us by saying, “Don’t be sorry, it wasn’t your fault.”

(Source: Julia M. Cameron, Pexels)

The average 13- to 17-year-old spends an average of 4.5 hours online doing everything from instant messaging, watching TikToks/videos, visiting social networking sites, online shopping, and listening to music. While a lot of folks say all of this online activity is bad for kids and isolating them from the real world, research by OTX indicates that teens are a little more complex, more sophisticated, better founded than you might think.

Given the choice, teens prefer real friends to online friends. They’d rather date someone from school than someone they became “friends” with on the Internet. They prefer to shop in a store more than shopping online or in the virtual world. The big difference between them and “us” is that for us, being online usually means using our iPad or computer. For teens, being online simply means being online with the device they have at the time. Increasingly, according to Pew Research, that’s their smartphone, which is always in the hand or close at hand. Overall, 99% of teens in the US have smartphones, while 66% of them globally have a mobile device.

And they use them for everything. Messaging is the centerpiece of mobile teen communication. Their monthly exchanges hit 3,417 per teen last quarter, according to Nielsen, which is roughly seven messages per waking hour (and you wondered why they didn’t call).  Actually, voice calls declined significantly with this group, from an average of 685 minutes to 572 minutes. It turns out they prefer messaging to calling because: it’s faster (22%), it’s easier (21%), it’s more fun (18%), and it’s more easily shared (15%).

According to Pew Research, among the texting teens:

  • Half send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month; and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.

  • Fifteen percent of teens who are texters send more than 200 texts a day, or more than 6,000 texts a month.

  • Boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day; girls typically send and receive 80 messages per day.

  • A substantial minority are not heavy texters—22% of teen texters send and receive just one to 10 texts a day or 30 to 300 a month.

In addition to messaging, they were busy with the mobile Internet, social networking, email, app downloads, and app usage. The older crowd, which only understands the three-minute phone call, finally understands what Ripley meant in Alien when she said, “Well, I don’t care how, but we better think of something. We better think of a way.”

The most popular activities are taking and sharing pictures and playing music:

  • 83% use their phones to take pictures
  • 64% share pictures with others
  • 60% play music on their phones
  • 46% play games on their phones
  • 32% exchange videos on their phones
  • 31% exchange instant messages on their phones
  • 27% go online for general purposes on their phones
  • 23% access social network sites on their phones
  • 21% use email on their phones
  • 11% purchase things via their phones
(Source: Jessica Lewis Creative, Pexels)

The Alien character Bishop saw all the things teens could do with their smartphones and said, “Not bad for a human.”

OK, since teens were almost born online and they’re constantly available, it’s pretty easy for marketing folks to believe it’s a great/easy way for them to reach, influence teens. Heck, having an exciting, “fun” social media location is an easy (and inexpensive) way to sell them. You know, an exciting place for them to gather and convince them with great games, music, videos, closed communities. Sorry folks, they’re smarter than they look.

Instead of being able to quickly, easily influence them, it turns out that friends and peers are a vital part of their research/ buying experience. As a matter of fact, teens get and give advice at high rates, so they wield a large influence over their peer groups. That means all you have to do is find those teens out there who have a strong online presence. You know, those who regularly post TikTok and YouTube videos (the second-biggest social site, according to a Ketchum Global Research Network study), develop a relationship, and create offerings to help them share information/news and shop together online.

Sounds easy… like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. Oh, we forgot to tell you to avoid the hot buttons that annoy teens: pushing marketing and treating them like children.

Approach/work with teens professionally and you’ll probably hear them repeat Ripley’s observation, “We’re not leaving!”

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