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Social media and teenagers – where to be?

When it comes to teenagers, one thing is for sure: each generation has its own way of doing things! And their ways inevitably set trends, influencing our culture through entertainment, fashion, and as of the last couple of decades, technology. Another constant is the effort of older generations to understand and keep up with the young ones. As marketers, reaching and influencing the coveted teen market has always been crucial and often challenging. After all, youth can become life-long brand loyalists and consumers so they’re a prime target! To capture and retain their interest, campaigns must be fresh, fun and creative. Nowadays, that means maximizing mobile.

According to eMarketer, 66 percent of 14 to 17-year-olds had their own smartphone last year. At the same time, teenagers spend an average of 4.9 hours a day with mobile devices, including laptops, smartphones and tablets, where they watch the latest video parodies, play games, message friends, and update social profiles on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

So, where should I focus my marketing?

Teens’ preferences change rapidly, and social networking platforms are no exception. According to a survey from PiperJaffray, Instagram has surpassed both Twitter and Facebook to become the favorite social network for teenagers. Facebook decreased from being the most important social network for 42% of teens in the fall of 2012 to just 23% according to the most recent edition of the survey. On the other hand, the percentage of teens citing Instagram as their most active social platform has increased from 12% to 30% in the same time period. Twitter, meanwhile, has hovered in the 26-30% range for the past four surveys, and was in the lead in the fall 2013 study.

Basically, the study shows that Facebook is not cool anymore, and everybody knows that – even Mark Zuckerberg, who said last year “Coolness is done for us.” The obvious reason is that parents are on Facebook. For teens, parents are the least cool people imaginable. Couple this with the fact that teachers are also on Facebook, and kids are flocking from this social network.

Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a professor at Harvard Business School, believes Facebook’s “uncoolness” factor goes deeper. In his book A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media, Piskorski notes that Facebook makes it too easy to suddenly be someone’s “friend.” In high school, you know who your friends are, they’re right there, and you see them every day. Thus, teenagers find Facebook useless.

But wait! Marketers shouldn’t give up on Facebook yet!

While these and similar reports may lead you to declare “Instagram is clearly the winner, I’m ditching Facebook from my planning!” our advice is not so fast! Young people might be utilizing other social media platforms but that doesn’t mean they’re leaving Facebook entirely behind. The fact that Instagram is listed as teens’ most important social network doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the platform with the widest reach from a marketing perspective. Brand marketing opportunities on social platforms do not always directly parallel the rankings of their popularity.

The fact that different reports and surveys yield differing results shows there’s hope for Facebook. For example, the Cassandra Report found 66 percent of 14 to 34 year-olds are frequent users of Facebook. Additionally, it’s their preferred platform to hear from brands, just behind YouTube. The study also reflects that 55 percent of “mainstream” users and 66 percent of “trendsetters” prefer to hear from brands on Facebook over YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat. The difference between mainstream users and trendsetters is that the latter are using more social media platforms overall.

Another reason Facebook will not go away entirely is that millions of people have built up their networks to a point where it would take too much work to replicate it on another platform. No other site comes close to allowing individuals to stay connected with everyone they know. This is why Facebook still is a go-to platform to reach the widest and most relevant audience for brand marketing.

Finally, the secret for brands on any and every social network – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. – is to set themselves apart. Teenagers love originality, they respond to things that stand out and are fresh. So be different and remember: You’re born an original, don’t die a copy!