All The Kids Are Doing It 3While it\’s true that many adults use text messaging and hang out on MySpace, for the most part, evolutionary leaps in digital communications tend to be driven by the youth market. A global joint study by MTV, Nickelodeon, and Microsoft said that more than half of the young people surveyed used social networking sites, and 35 percent said they did so because \”all their friends\” did.

Such research illustrates the importance of using digital marketing with this coveted demographic, but doing it successfully is another matter. Youths hanging out on social sites might not want to leave them even if they see an enticing ad luring them to click onto their favorite brands. And both the law and best practices regulate the use of minors\’ personal information given to online sites.

Digital marketing to teens is far from child\’s play. This series, \”All The Kids Are Doing It,\” tells marketers what to keep in mind if they want to reach young consumers digitally and effectively. In preceding installments, we talked about mobile marketing and email campaigns (the latter of which also addressed online privacy regulations and minors). Today we\’ll talk about social networks.

Part 3: Social Networks

Social networks – whether a giant like Facebook or MySpace or an up-and-comer like PerfSpot – are now an entrenched part of teen life. The firm Nielsen/Netratings said the 12-17 demographic increased its use of social networks by more than 120 percent in August, while the firm Alloy Media and Marketing says 96 percent of teens and tweens participate on these kinds of networks at least once a week. Plus the more that young people use these sites, the more likely they\’ll increase their usage. According to Nielsen/Netratings, users ages 12 to 17 who visited both the major networking sites spent 20 percent more time on MySpace, and 26 percent more time on Facebook, than they would have if they used one site exclusively.

Like games, social networks are a great part of a comprehensive multi-channel campaign, particularly if aimed at youths. Online ads on these sites can be used to tout short codes or email addresses, to which a user can send messages and receive more information about the brand – marketing tactics which engage the consumer much more than a regular online advertisement. And brands could also boost their databases with information provided by all-too-willing youths.

Teens are especially receptive to such marketing: A report by Alloy Media and Marketing, using research by Grunwald Associates, says 55 percent of social-networking tweens and teens surveyed took part in some kind of branding activity, like taking quizzes or entering contests. Furthermore, 20 percent of them said they were willing to add branded content to their own sites – as long as marketers were relevant and non-intrusive to these users.

\”Kids are very sensitive to intercepts and having their personal virtual space violated,\” Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, told ClickZ last summer. \”Meaning that advertising that gets between them and content that they want to access and information that they need is probably not a good idea.\”

Social networking sites also boost other digital platforms, such as email marketing. Facebook, for example, uses email to impact core branding and marketing efforts. If someone visits Facebook and then goes elsewhere online, that person will get an email about someone writing a note on the user\’s \”wall,\” which can\’t be read until the person returns to Facebook. Meanwhile, the Orange County Business Journal last month interviewed marketing firm Juxt Interactive about its clients\’ increasing use of social networks in campaigns. Juxt said its clients target very specific audiences and don\’t have to spend \”a ton of money\” on ads to drive youths to brands\’ sites. \”Kids don\’t want to leave a site they\’re on to have an experience with a brand,\” said Juxt CMO Josh Mooney.

Technological advances are making social networks even more accessible for brands wanting to court the youth market:

Mobility. MySpace a couple of weeks ago announced its free, ad-supported mobile service that lets people send and receive messages, as well as do all the other things to their site that they would in front of a computer. \”An ad-supported MySpace offering is a major component of our mobile monetization strategy,\” Amit Kapur, MySpace\’s VP of business development, told MediaPost last week. Such ads would reach teens right at their phones – making a promotion for, say, a short code and branded keyword even more relevant to the user.

Behaviorally-targeted advertising. MySpace plans to use data-mining technology to gather personal information from its users\’ profiles and blogs, then apply the information to targeted ads. DMNews reports that this could help MySpace grow its monthly revenue by 75 percent, from $40 million to $70 million. This could make mobile MySpace ads (see above) even more relevant as they reach young consumers immediately in their pockets.

Virtual worlds. Experts say virtual worlds are becoming the new social sites for youngsters. Think less Second Life and more Club Penguin, bought buy The Walt Disney Company for $350 million. According to eMarketer, 24 percent of youthful U.S. Internet users will go on virtual worlds at least once a month in 2007; by 2011, that figure will rise to 53 percent. \”They are growing up not only with social networking but also with the ability to interact with people, shop, learn, and play in a graphic environment,\” eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said last week.

Social networks are the obvious choice for brands that want to reach minors and young adults. Despite the buzz, though, ads on such sites are best coupled with campaigns, such as permission-based messaging. That way, marketers can cast both a wide net – they know teens are somewhere on that social site – as well as a narrow one that helps them hone in on a targeted demographic.

Eydie Cubarrubia,
Marketing Communications Manager