As I was sitting at Jason Falls’ SxSW party on a rainy night in Austin, waiting for a friend, I checked Twitter. I was wondering what was trending from SxSW.
The #1 trending topic on Friday night was this: #GetAustin2Philly.
What did this mean? Bring SxSW to Philadelphia? I was intrigued, so I checked out the tweets.
The #1 trending topic on the Friday night of SxSW Interactive was about … a bunch of teenagers trying to get Austin Mahone, a 15 year old YouTube singing sensation, to appear in Philadelphia.
Wow. That’s a lot of teenagers tweeting a lot of tweets.
But wait – wasn’t the common wisdom that teenagers aren’t tweeting? That they prefer texting and Facebook over everything else, and Twitter was never going to catch on with them?
Teens are increasingly turning to Twitter to follow artists and pop culture icons, take part in (or create) memes and trends, and express their innermost thoughts. More and more, teens are also using Twitter as a way to escape their parents’ prying eyes, as parents are far more likely to have a Facebook account than Twitter; it seems many parents don’t realize that their kids are even tweeting, and kids are keeping their accounts private, away from their parents and sometimes also from those who might bully them online. Twitter also allows for anonymity, so teens can take on new (or multiple) personalities, and further isolate themselves from parents or unwanted peers.
According to Pew, teen use of digital media is growing overall; 80% of teens use online social networks. An interesting Pew statistic which may have led to the #GetAustin2Philly trending topic is that more than 2x the number of girls use Twitter: 22% of girls vs. 10% of boys. For teenagers, Twitter is an outlet for fandom, gossip, and chatter; get @mentioned by a celebrity or teen idol and your popularity is sure to rise. Twitter is now a digital autograph book.
Along with the rise of teens on Twitter, marketers who need to reach teens must change their tactics. It’s no longer wise to assume this demographic is not on Twitter, so for brands who were hedging their bets against Twitter or only dipping their toe in the water, it’s time to go full-force.
Marketing to teens is always a delicate balance, as teens are turned off by overt marketing and notoriously brand fickle. Here are some thoughts on using Twitter to market to the 13-19 set.
- Have a voice. Increasingly, customers are looking for brands to be interesting, human and personable. Building a brand voice that is clever, creative and sustainable will appeal to teenagers as well as adults.
- Be real. Teens have their bullshit alert on high, and they’re becoming increasingly savvy consumers, so don’t assume you can pull anything over on them. Be honest, transparent and open with them and they’ll show you their power to rally friends (and frenemies) to your cause.
- Be conversational. Broadcasting never works well on Twitter, but even less so for teens. Go for a high ratio of @replies to regular tweets, jumping in to existing conversations and creating your own. Ask questions. Ask for advice and input. Look for questions to answer. And make it about everything but your product. If you do conversation well, you’ll get plenty of product love as a result.
- Learn what’s cool. But don’t overdo it. It’s hard for an adult marketer to admit that we really don’t know what’s cool anymore. But in order to win over this group, we have to figure it out. Enlist appropriately-aged kids, cousins and neighbors to throw concepts at and get feedback. Be careful not to go too far, or you could see a backlash.
- Make them feel special. Teens don’t want to just be another follower, they want to be followed and recognized. If you haven’t had a policy of following everyone who follows you, it may be time to rethink that strategy (avoid obvious webcam girls and spammers, of course). Tweet @ your teen followers when you can: thank them for following, RT them, mention them on #FollowFriday.
- Use promotions, but sparingly. Teens are quick to jump on demo-appropriate “tweet this to win” promos (they’ll do it even for a t-shirt, unlike jaded adults) but the potential for promo fatigue is high. Teens who have protected accounts or are tweeting anonymously are also less likely to ask followers to “please RT.”
I’ve been studying this demographic quite a bit lately, as I’m creating the first-of-its-kind conference for tween and teen bloggers and their families this summer, the Digital Family Summit (and it happens to be in Philly). If you’re someone who knows a lot about marketing to teens, raising digital kids, or you know tweens/teens who blog, I encourage you to consider applying, or ask them to apply, to speak at the conference. And if you’re the parent of a kid who blogs, vlogs or creates other forms of digital media, I hope to see you and your teen blogger there!