The lesson used to be “don’t talk to strangers,” then the Internet happened and the lesson became “don’t talk to strangers online.” But as social networks evolve, teens are talking strangers and becoming more comfortable with sharing personal information.
A new study released by the Pew Research Center looked into teen social network use, particularly the amount of information they’re sharing and why they’re on various websites. In short: teens are sharing more online, but are becoming more careful with whom they share information with.
From 2006 to 2012, teens became more comfortable sharing five main pieces of information: photos of themselves, the schools they attend, the cities or towns of residence, their email addresses and their cell phone numbers. In the past six years, the percentage of teens who feel comfortable sharing their cell phone numbers online went from 2% to 20%. Gender doesn’t matter with revealing different types of content, but age does: older teens feel more comfortable sharing personal information online than younger ones.
One of the hot-button topics of Facebook is the privacy settings. Users want to know what Facebook is doing with information and how they can prevent others from viewing content. Facebook has created anti-bullying pages to teach about privacy settings and has tried to make them easier to understand. Well, teens don’t have a problem with that, they get privacy settings. 60% keep their content private or feel that they know how to manage privacy. Furthermore, another 60% of teens say they’re not too concerned about websites having third-party access or using their information for advertisements. That’s good news for Instagram.
Teens don’t like Facebook. They’re on it, but they’re not happy with it. Other than parents signing up and lowering the “cool factor,” teens don’t like inane status updates, drama, and the constant need to manage their reputation. They feel chained to Facebook because everyone is on it and they don’t want to miss out. Teens use Facebook because they feel pressured to stay in the loop, but they use Twitter and Instagram because they want to.
This is all well and good if you’re a high school guidance counselor, but what can marketers glean from this study?
Marketers should listen to teens. They are the pulse of our society, what they think is cool now eventually catches the attention of the rest of us. The tech bloggers of the world aren’t early adopters, the high schoolers are. They may not be able to afford a Google Glass prototype, but they know that an app that deletes pictures 10 seconds after opening is awesome.
Also, social media strategy – geared towards teens or otherwise – shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. A picture on Instagram shouldn’t automatically be shared with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest. People are on multiple social media accounts and will either get burned out by seeing brands over and over again or know that they’re getting second string content when they see hashtags on Facebook.
The survey disproves several misconceptions about teens on the Internet: they’re not Facebook obsessed and they know privacy settings. Maybe, they’re not as dumb as we think.