The secret social life of tweens

James Layfield, managing director, The Lounge, reveals what tweens are really doing online and suggests ways brands can engage with this highly influential audience in the world of social media.

James Layfield
James Layfield

Brand-fickle but also highly brand-savvy, engaging with ’tweens’ often proves something of a challenge to brands.

Unsurprisingly, social media is at the heart of this age group’s social lives – our research found 11 to 16-year-olds are typically spending anything from half an hour to five hours a day on social networking sites alone. But asking them how they are interacting online and what motivates them in this space reveals some insights for brands who want to reach out to this audience.

The desire to forge a social identity is the same for today’s 11 to 16-year-olds as it has been since the term ’teenagers’ was coined. Social media provides yet another way, together with the customary fashion faux pas, experimental hairstyles and obscure band preferences (we’ve all been there!), for them to express themselves.

Facebook is therefore at the centre of their social universe, acting as a hub and an outlet for them to push the boundaries of their identity. While this age group is also beginning to embrace Twitter ¬- driven in a large part by the success of pop sensation Justin Bieber – we found that Facebook remains their core social media activity because “everybody is there”.

’Liking’, joining pages and signing up to Facebook groups allows tweens to stay in touch with their favourite brands, products and bands. It also contributes to their image, demonstrating to their peers that they are in touch and in the know. Their Facebook activity is a badge of identity, signifying their allegiance to a social group. One 13-year-old girl told us: “I’m addicted to joining groups, it’s how I stay in touch”. Another 12-year-old boy added “I’ll try to be first to like something. Do I care what the pages give me? Yeah I do. It’s nice to have new stuff appearing on your profile page.”

So what does this mean for brands? There are easy ways to boost your influence on Facebook and take advantage of the site’s popularity among tweens. But don’t just have a master profile, have a number of Facebook pages and groups for your brands and sub-brands, nurture your profiles and keep them up to date – as tweens have a voracious appetite for new content. And, be sure to include Facebook’s plug-in apps and functionality to your microsites, for example, by adding the ’like’ button.

Our tweens pointed to Coca-Cola, Adidas, Topshop, Red Bull and Pringles as having a Facebook presence that really worked. Coca-Cola’s page is the epitome of user-generated content, while Adidas uses the tools on its pages to promote ad campaigns and other social media activity as well as including competitions. Topshop, meanwhile, uploads instructional videos and Pringles has created short low-budget funny videos.

What these sites have in common is sharable things. And it is tweens’ appetite for these that drives their online social activity – content is clearly king.

But not just any content. According to tweens, content which is entertaining, informative or better still both, is content they seek out and want to share. Moreover, brands which can trigger one of the four Es – emotions, experiences, engagement and exclusivity – are more likely to be successful. Sharing good content boosts a tween’s online social standing, arguably to a greater degree than ’liking ’or joining pages and groups and sharing content in this way stimulates chatter and word of mouth both on and offline.

The most trusted sources of content, however, were our tweens’ friends – they have faith that if a friend shares something, it is worth sharing and this leads to that all-important asset, credibility.

Our research found that tweens can be divided into four categories based on their social media usage. ’DIY Directors’ are the most active, creating and posting their own content, while ’Buzz Hunters’ actively surf the web for good content to pass on. ’Passive Publishers’ view and forward content but rarely seek out content, while ’School Yard Sharers’ are the least active but still chat about content that has captured their imagination. The key for brands is to identify and engage the most active sharers as it is these who often have the greatest degree of influence over their peers.

It was clear from our study that tweens have developed into excellent multi-taskers, adept at quickly viewing and filtering the vast quantities of information they face as a result of having huge numbers of online friends. This means it is more important than ever for brands to produce content that is fresh and engaging. It is also important for brands to deliver something extra.

Tweens may be fickle, but this is in a large part down to them being at a point in their lives when they are working out what’s ’cool’ and what’s not. It is therefore a crucial time for brands to make the right impression to engender longstanding loyalty.

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