For teens, it’s cool to be connected—and connected a lot.
A study released in March by Wikia and Ipsos MediaCT found that 100 percent of teenagers say they are online for at least an hour per day and nearly half—46 percent—said they are connected to the Web a whopping 10 or more hours per day.
Marketers may want to keep their fingers on the pulse of where teens are choosing to spend those 10 hours a day online because the technology wave young people are riding today could soon become the stuff of everyday life for the rest of us. Plus, the teenage market itself is huge; in the U.S. alone, consumers ages 12 to 17 spent more than $200 billion on products in 2011, according to the consulting firm Packaged Facts.
“It’s important for marketers to understand what’s happening with this group because these are the future consumers,” said Joe Kessler, president of the Intelligence Group, in an interview with CMO.com. “The trends that emerge from what the youngest consumers are doing tend to spread to the broader population. We’ve got 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds who are the CTOs of their families. They are the influencers helping to educate their parents and grandparents about the use of social media, mobile devices, and other technology.”
So how are teens accessing the Internet and where are they hanging out online for those 10-plus hours a day?
Tethered To Mobile
While teens certainly access the Web on laptops and tablets, the mobile phone is the device used to hop online most often. A Teens and Technology report released by Pew Research Center in March found that 78 percent of teens have cell phones and almost half of those own smartphones. A quarter of them are now “mobile-mostly” Internet users.
“Teens are mobile monsters. They’re accessing apps, games, videos, TV, social media, all of it on mobile,” said Susan Wassel, director of social media for Sharpie, in an interview with CMO.com. “Their phone is the center of their universe, and they’re connected 24/7. Many teens are even sleeping with their phones. My own kids literally have the extension cords up through their headboards and into their beds.”
Teens are using their mobile phones to create their own content—with photos and videos ranking high among their interests. One mobile app, in particular, has found widespread acceptance among teens: Snapchat, which allows users to send photos and videos to other users that disappear within a matter of seconds.
“What you have is this intense orientation toward being able to live in the now,” Kessler said. “If you’re not there, you’re going to miss it. Snapchat is the ultimate interpretation of that. There’s importance in their ability to communicate in that moment. The fact that it’s not relevant an hour later or a week later doesn’t really matter.”
Tighter Social Media Circles
Teenagers are keeping the conversation going on social networks, but they are not always choosing to chat on Facebook.
Although Facebook remains the most popular social network, research shows many teens are experiencing Facebook fatigue, largely because their parents have settled there—which not only instantly knocks the site down in coolness points—but also allows Mom and Grandma to monitor their social interactions.
So teens are some of the first to explore uncharted social waters in places like Pheed and by using apps like Tinder, a dating app.
“For teens, bolting to a new place is a very easy thing to do,” said digital marketing and e-commerce consultant Tim Peter, in an interview with CMO.com. “And by moving away from Facebook, they’re going to places where they can start over and connect with the group they really want to connect with.”
A survey of teens released by Posterous co-founder Gary Tan in January found that Tumblr, the site best known for single-subject blogs and animated GIFs, dominated the social space with 61 percent of teenagers. Facebook drew 55 percent of the 13- to 18-year-old group, and Twitter captured 22 percent of teens. Blogging platforms like Tumblr and Reddit are embraced by teenagers as great tools for self-expression, Intelligence Group’s Kessler said.
Instagram—an image-based site—is also super popular with teens. According to Nielsen, Instagram is the top photography site among tech-savvy, smartphone-toting children ages 12 to 17, with 1 million of them visiting the site during July 2012 alone.
“Young people are the power users of social,” noted Daniel Brusilovsky, who started Teens In Tech, an organization that provides resources for young entrepreneurs. “They like content particularly from their friends. The sharing mechanisms [of sites like Instagram] attract young people because they want to see what their friends are doing, who’s in the coolest place, and who’s doing the coolest thing.”
Kessler said one trend that appears to be emerging among kids is the desire to create smaller, more intimate social subgroups. For example, Family Leaf is a G-rated space designed specifically to help kids keep in touch with their families through photos and status updates. And on Path, users can limit the number of people within their social circles, allowing them to create profiles that incorporate just their soccer team friends or Key Club pals, for instance.
It’s the kind of social segmenting that could catch on with adults who are looking to create online connections only with their neighbors or book club buddies.
“The tools, apps, and platforms that are the most meaningful to this generation are the ones that help them curate and filter in a way that’s special to them,” Kessler said. “All of these sites relate to the intense desire to share that young people have.”
YouTube Rules For Entertainment
Video viewing and sharing has exploded among teens. In the study by Wikia and IpsosMediaCT, YouTube beat Facebook in terms of frequent visits to the site among teenagers. While 65 percent said they went on Facebook once a week and 38 percent visited the social site multiple times daily, 93 percent said they went on YouTube once a week, and more than half—54 percent—checked out the video site multiple times a day.
YouTube is also big with younger kids. According to the Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report released this spring, 53 percent of tweens said YouTube was their favorite site, followed by Disney (31 percent), Google (26 percent), and Facebook (24 percent).
It’s a site that is less about sociability than it is about pure entertainment.
“For young people, YouTube is the best site for distraction,” Brusilovsky, 20, said. “You can really get lost there. I know I have spent hours viewing videos. If I have 15 minutes free, I’m going to YouTube.”
That said, although YouTube is the video site of choice for now, teens are not necessarily married to that particular site. New video sites, including Keek, are also gaining in popularity among young people.
Marketers Look To Pinpoint Tech Trends
The same could be said of many of the Web sites and apps teens frequent today. Teenagers trade tech choices easily, so they have no problem shedding an old online skin for something shiny and new. It’s that rapid pace of change that keeps marketers on their toes.
“The world is changing so fast around these young people, and they have an ability to adapt to that change quickly,” Kessler said. “But this means they will desert and abandon brands as quickly as they adapt to them. For brand marketers, the challenge comes in changing enough, staying enough steps ahead of it all.”
Sharpie’s Wassel said it can be head-spinning to attempt to keep up with where young people are congregating online.
“Standing still is the ultimate sin for teens. Their biggest enemies are boredom and unoriginality. So it’s challenging to stay on top of where teens are pooling and where things are heading,” Wassel said. “It feels like a new channel pops up every day. Which channels do you pick? Or should you be in all of them? If it explodes and goes away, is it worth it for marketers to show up?”
Sharpie’s target market is teens, so Wassel has learned to take chances and embrace change in a young tech world where moving quickly can be crucial to survival.
“Sharpie has been successful in the social space for its willingness to jump,” Wassel said. “We don’t always have the insight in place before entering a space, but sometimes we’ll go anyway. If we waited for all of the Ts to be crossed and Is to be dotted, our audience would be long gone.”
But for marketers who aren’t targeting teens, it can be tough to figure out which apps and sites will be embraced by a broader audience. In fact, some technology is not likely to see much life beyond the teen demographic, said Jordan Kretchmer, founder and CEO of Livefyre, which builds social media software.
“There is a lot of technology that teens adopted, and the vast majority of this technology did not move into larger-scale audiences,” Kretchmer told CMO.com. “Most of the technology teens use, they grow out of very quickly or new teens come in and use new technology, so the technology dies.”
It may be important for marketers to focus less on the specific sites and apps teens are using now—since many are bound to come and go—and instead consider the bigger picture of how teens spend time online since those habits could reveal future trends.
One trend is clear: Kids are getting online more often in larger numbers at increasingly younger ages. Donna Sabino, senior vice president in MediaCT at IpsosMediaCT, said recent research found that among 11- and 12-year-olds, 51 percent already had their own social media profile and 50 percent owned their own cell phones.
“It’s not just about the snapshot of right now, but it’s about the implication for media habits forming early and carrying over to when these kids become young adults. This is the future, they are the future,” Sabino told CMO.com. “The consumer behaviors and information-gathering behaviors that [young people] are learning now will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”