Teenagers: What we really, really want our mobiles for…

Teenagers are more connected than older groups and proficient at multi-tasking across devices, but brand trust is a stumbling block for young teens.

Content remains key to the young but it must be interactive, mobile and offer social experiences, says MTV

Teenagers are often portrayed as sulky and uncommunicative but, as they are some of the most prolific users of digital technology, that image may be due a rethink.

Alongside email, phone and face-to-face interactions, today’s under-18s are using social networking sites, instant chat and text to communicate – connecting with family and friends more than 50 times each day.

But although this generation is more familiar than its elders with digital technology, it is also more wary about the potential dangers, particularly regarding online privacy.

Under-18s trust companies online far less than those aged 18 to 24 and are also more skilled at keeping their personal information safe, according to Intersperience Research’s Digital Futures study.

A quarter of under-18s are confident in their ability to protect their personal information online, compared to 16 per cent of those aged 18 to 24, and 43 per cent are aware of how their privacy can be broken online compared to 32 per cent of the older category.

This is because under-18s are very adept at using digital devices and are better informed about online behaviour, says Maria Twigge, insight manager at Intersperience Research.

“They’ve grown up using the internet and have access to much more information so they’re better informed generally, which transfers into their awareness of online privacy,” she adds.

As a result, if teenagers are concerned about the integrity of a website or if businesses are not open about how they intend to use personal data, many have no qualms about supplying fake details to protect their privacy: 22 per cent of under-18s and 23 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds would consider giving out false information.

Youthful appeal: using different methods to connect with teenagers

“The businesses that are transparent about what they are doing will be the ones that are able to establish relationships with young people. There is a real need for brands to be open and upfront about their terms and conditions because this age group is so savvy about privacy,” says Twigge.

The research explores the views of more than 1,000 eight- to 17-year olds, and is complemented by diaries looking at how teenagers use digital devices, alongside face-to-face focus groups and one-on-one, or family interviews with eight- to 12-year-olds. Similar research was carried out among older age groups for comparison.

One key finding is that teenagers are becoming sophisticated multitaskers. Under-18s are 23 per cent more likely than those older to use multiple devices and divide their attention between many internet tasks.


Over 55 per cent say they can concentrate on what they are doing on one device while still being aware of what is happening on other gadgets.

This rises to 64 per cent for 14- to 17-year-olds, buy only 39 per cent for 18 to 24 year olds.

This has implications for marketers, because although there might be more opportunity for brands to interact with young people as they are operating in wider networks and are used to processing lots of different sources of information, it also affects their loyalty.

“It is more difficult to have an enduring relationship with young people today because they are used to talking with lots of people and have looser connections,” says Twigge. “So while it might be easier to get them to switch brands, at the same time it will be more difficult to establish long-term relationships.”

Dorota Rewinska, insight manager at Intersperience Research, believes the rise in multitasking impacts on content delivery.

She explains: “Because young people use so many different devices at the same time, they expect a service that is either the same or similar across all channels. They might start something on their laptop but complete it on their mobile, so they want [the process] to be seamless across all devices. At the moment it can be quite disjointed, especially on mobile.”

Since under-18s switch between devices frequently, content also needs to be instantly engaging to grab their attention, adds Rewinska.


Teenagers’ desire to be connected to the internet at all times has accelerated the popularity of mobile phones, which is also more personal than some other connected devices. While an iPad might be shared by the whole family, a phone is normally used by an individual.

Just under two-thirds (65 per cent) of under-18s say mobile internet is designed for people like them who are always on the go and want immediate access, compared to 48 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds who say the same. Meanwhile, 59 per cent of teenagers believe a mobile phone is an appropriate device to access the internet compared to 46 per cent of young adults.

The nature of use also differs between the two age groups, with under-18s using mobile internet predominantly as a communication and entertainment tool (69 per cent compared to 57 per cent of 18 to 24s), while 18 to 24 year olds use mobile internet primarily for information (73 per cent compared to 59 per cent of under 18s), which is more in line with adults generally.

Again, it comes back to the fact that today’s teenagers have grown up connected, with heavy use of the internet and mobile devices starting between ages eight to 10, according to the research. Because they are life-long users Twigge says they take it for granted that everyone, including businesses, will use mobile internet as a method of communication.


“Teenagers are heavy users of technology so they expect businesses to have the same skills and deliver the same services they get from their friends, but that’s not necessarily the case and many companies are struggling to keep up.

“Businesses need to do a lot more to understand the reasons teenagers are using all these communication channels,” she adds.

This constant connectivity has created a more impatient consumer group that expects an instant response. One area where this is particularly important is customer service. While teenagers might email initially, if they don’t get a response they will then try calling and, if they still don’t get a reply, they may tweet the company.

Brands need to understand teenagers’ motivation for using different channels in order to understand which channels they need to respond to quickly and how they should do it.

Twigge says: “Even though a brand might not be able to resolve a query quickly via Twitter, if they just acknowledge the tweet the young person feels that they are being listened to. Brands can still get back to them on the phone or via email at a later time to resolve the issue but it’s about understanding that on Twitter they expect that immediacy.”

As a result, Twigge predicts that service expectations will change in the future.

“Young people are much more demanding. They are more impatient. They expect a personalised service and they expect it to be responsive and proactive.”

Both the under-18s and 18 to 24 age groups use all customer service channels and while email and phone are now the two strongest methods of communication, the rise of social networking and instant chat are set to increase rapidly, although they are unlikely to replace email and phone completely.

Under-18s are the most frequent users of social networking and instant messenger on mobile devices. Almost half (46 per cent) say they access social sites on their mobile phone, with 61 per cent of under-18s using social networking sites everyday, and 64 per cent using instant messenger, which steadily decreases the older the category.

Consumer habits are changing, which is particularly clear among teenagers. Brands need to understand the way today’s under-18s communicate and replicate that to remain relevant if they are to have any hope of building relationships with this fickle group. As the age group grows older and becomes the target customer, knowing how to communicate with them effectively across multiple devices will only become more important.

The frontline

We ask marketers whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground


Rory O’Neill
Vice-president of product and channel marketing, EMEA

Multitasking has become a way of life for people in the 21st century. Not only are there pressures to balance different aspects of your life, but with the abundance of information that’s now accessible, people are challenged to manage their time in the most effective way. This isn’t a new thing for today’s teenager – it’s natural to be managing many conversations and activities at the same time.

BlackBerry 10’s features are specifically made for hyper-connected multi-taskers. For example, customers no longer need to dip in and out of apps; rather, they can naturally flow from one app or feature to the next. The ‘flow’ in the user experience is a differentiator for BlackBerry and something that really appeals to teenagers.

Our marketing is focused on what makes us different, and the benefits our products and services offer customers. This research confirms that one of our key audiences, teenagers, gravitates to what makes BlackBerry 10 unique.

We are committed to building our brand across various channels in an appealing and authentic way. Our focus is to ensure people see and understand the differentiated experience BlackBerry can offer – an example of how we’re doing this can be seen in the BlackBerry Keep Moving Projects.

It’s very important for us to have a consistent message in the way we talk about BlackBerry. With the launch of BlackBerry 10, we make it easier for customers to talk about BlackBerry by moving from a ‘house of brands’ (Bold, Torch, Curve, etc) to a ‘branded house’. Our new product naming structure means customers will simply say they “have BlackBerry”.

Social networking is built into the DNA of BlackBerry not only in the apps and features on our smartphones (look at the popularity of BlackBerry Messenger), but also in terms of the brand’s presence on third-party social networking forums. We have more than 30 million social fans across the world. We will continue to invest in this area to offer our fans interesting and engaging information and opportunities.


Claire Stewart
Head of marketing
MTV UK, Australia, Russia and Central and Eastern Europe

MTV’s largest audience survey, The Next Normal, involving 15,000 respondents, has added to our unrivalled insight into the ‘millennial generation’ and the changing ways teenagers and young adults are engaging with media.

Great content remains key to capturing the attention of young consumers, for both media owners and marketers. But that content needs to be produced, distributed and marketed in a way that recognises that media consumption for teenagers is an intensely interactive, mobile and social experience.

Social media infuses all our marketing strategies. We set out to build large communities around our key properties, such as Geordie Shore and The Valleys, which between them have more than 9 million followers. We target significant marketing spend across social networks, with each creative execution designed to allow our audience to develop individual, instant-response relationships with cast members.

We’ve invested heavily in developing apps – such as MTV News and the Geordie Shore Tweet Tracker – that add an extra dimension to our brand properties, and we have been quick to trial the new promotional capacities of social media platforms, from Facebook mobile ads to showcasing short-form video content on Vine and adding social buttons to our promotional content on YouTube.

We’ve also used our on-air inventory – such as continuity announcements, or bespoke hashtags in promos on MTV – to encourage audiences to engage socially with our shows.

In the hands of today’s and tomorrow’s teenagers, media is only going to become more social; a billion connected devices are being sold globally each year – a huge number to under-18s.

The easy facility that young audiences display with social TV is only going to deepen engagement for brands who know how to channel it.