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The Defensive Teen in the Social Sphere



JWT Atlanta's Kiera Wiatrak on how to market to gen z

The Defensive Teen in the Social Sphere

Marketers are scratching their heads wondering what happened to the teens who liked and shared everything “cool.” Where are the overeager adolescents who publicly attach themselves to everything cutting edge?

When it comes to social media, the 2017 teens are on the defensive, and really, who could blame them?

· Run-ins with trolls and bullies have left teens quivering.

· Years of warnings from elders scared the digitally-minded youth into submission.

· Gen Z is hiding from a well-justified fear of a public footprint that can’t be erased. It’s no wonder sharing on Facebook dropped 21 percent in just one year.

Social engagements are no longer simple asks. Teens balk at requests to “like” or “share” content, which was once the hallmark of marketer’s engagement efforts. In focus groups, teens told us they hesitate because they expect to be judged by their friends and parents for every social action.

The divide between social persona and reality has grown to the extent that some teens are opting to have two Instagram accounts – the one that represents the life they “should” be living, and a “Finsta,” short for “Fake Instagram.” These “Finsta” accounts, which are typically only shared with close friends, have evolved into an outlet where teens actually feel they can be themselves, and brands are most definitely not welcome here.

The opportunity for marketers is still there, albeit shifted

Despite their newfound cynicism, Gen Z still relies on social channels more than ever before. For marketers to succeed, we need to re-examine the value they’re obtaining from social and, in turn, reframe our approach to match their expectations.

In our mobile tracking study, we’ve found teens are consuming large amounts of content digitally for hours every day. According to data from GlobalWebIndex, more than 44 percent of people aged 16-24 say one of their main reasons for using social media is to find funny or entertaining content, while 49 percent say it’s a way to fill up spare time.

Marketers are talking to 2017’s defensive teen as if they’re still yesterday’s cool-hunting adolescent. By doing so, not only will they miss the mark in terms of ROI, but they risk shoving the brand under a negative light. When messaging speaks to an audience that no longer exists, people aren’t just annoyed—they’re offended.

Private sharing replaces public displays on social

Teens are rebelling against impossible expectations by creating online personas that don’t reflect their real life. A recent New York Times article outlines the “rules” teens have created for themselves on Instagram—including when it is and isn’t OK to post a photo of yourself in a bikini, and how to be sexy but not too sexy.

The rise of private sharing and one-to-one channels like Snapchat and Facebook Messenger—which many youths consider a separate channel from Facebook—is a manifestation of the fear adults have instilled in them and the pressure they put on each other. They’re still a digital generation craving access to the digital world—they’ve just opted to take the publicity out of it.

Snapchat and other emerging platforms offer advantages to marketers that too often go untapped. These technologies provide innovative ways to share content on channels where teens and young adults are paying very close attention.  While parents are busy worrying their teens are only on Snapchat to send sexual or inappropriate messages to their peers, many marketers are missing the real opportunity.

Adolescents haven’t grown jaded by Snapchat in the way they have with Facebook and other channels. This gives brands the advantage of aligning their messaging on a platform that isn’t stressing Gen Zers out all the time. Private sharing channels don’t allow for public comments and feedback, offering teens the outlet without the anxiety.


Moving your message forward in a difficult landscape

Successful marketing to this digital generation may look different than it did just a few years ago, but adolescents are still the angst-ridden, attention-seeking almost-adults we all once were. Somewhere amidst the entanglement of our shiny new gadgets and wires, we just lost sight of how to talk to them.

Marketers must not only understand the defensive attitudes of today’s teen, but also adapt to and empathize with them. Those that do will have the best shot at winning the trust of a highly skeptical generation.

Kiera Wiatrak is a Digital Strategist at J. Walter Thompson Atlanta

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Categories: Online, Media and Entertainment

Wunderman Thompson Atlanta, Fri, 24 Feb 2017 16:36:25 GMT