I’ve seen the future of social media and her name is Hannah.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to host the first-ever conference for tween and teen bloggers and their families, the Digital Family Summit. However immodest this may seem, I truly feel this event was a watershed moment in social media. It was clear from listening to and meeting the 125 kids in attendance that content creation permeates every fiber of their being.
My conference co-organizer, Jennie Baird, said this in our conference program:
Gone are the days of kids being spoon-fed adult-created content like Saturday morning cartoons and “After School Specials.“ The idea of creating media is as natural to today’s tweens and teens as flipping on the radio or the television was to their parents. And today’s tweens and teens are creating new formats, new ideas, and a new breed of information and entertainment that is relevant and meaningful to them. Social media and mobile devices ensure that they (and us) are always connected and that the ideas and information shared spread like wildfire.
We created the conference because we know that we’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in the way media is created and consumed: 14% of teens are blogging and 27% record and upload video. The numbers grow rapidly each year. And for parents, educators and brands, listening to and learning from these digital creators is becoming increasingly important.
Hannah Alper is just one such creator. Within a few days of the Digital Family Summit, this smart and articulate 9-year-old re-platformed her blog to self-hosted WordPress based on a single morning’s workshop. At the Summit, she also honed her digital photography skills. She’s multi-platform, multi-talented, and doesn’t stop creating. She recently complained to her mom that she’s worried about missing things because she won’t be able to blog or check her comments from sleepaway camp.
Digital Family Summit teen speaker Xander Hansen has 740 subscribers and 3 million views on his YouTube channel and is an avid Twitter and Foursquare user. He’s putting money away for college from the revenue on his YouTube channel. He started creating videos when friends asked for his help with Minecraft, and now shares video on everything from mini skateboards to Legos. Just watch one of his videos: it’s clear the confidence he’s building through his on-screen endeavors will serve him well no matter what direction he takes in life.
Kids like Hannah and Xander are not just growing up digital, they are digital. They don’t know anything else but creating and sharing, because those tools are readily available and built-in to every device they own. Where are these digital kids headed and what should we know about them?
Facebook is So Last Year
While Facebook has a strong history of teen and college-age use, many teens are leaving Facebook or modifying their Facebook use as it’s become too public for them and they’re tired of sharing in the broad way that Facebook encourages. If their parents and aunts and friends’ parents are their friends, no amount of privacy settings will make them feel like they’re not being watched. And they’re realizing on their own that opening up their lives to every friend they’ve ever made might expose them to potential cyberbullying threats.
Twitter Comes on Strong
Many of the teens that are cutting down their Facebook use are finding refuge on Twitter, which offers a level of anonymity and privacy that Facebook does not. Now that one out of six teens uses Twitter, it’s become a serious platform for that demographic that marketers cannot afford to ignore. And since fewer parents are on Twitter than Facebook, Twitter is a refuge for many kids, even those younger than 13 (see next). The question is: How to reach them, if they’re anonymous and keeping their Twitter friends list small?
Those Kids Get Younger Every Year
Facebook is finding itself in a major dilemma as more and more parents allow kids younger than 13 (the age at which the COPPA act requires a parent’s permission in collecting data from a child) to set up a Facebook account (or the kids are doing it without their parents’ knowledge); in fact, studies show that 38% of kids on the network are under 13. Facebook is now considering allowing younger kids to have an official account, linked to their parents’ account, which would help to limit their increasing liability brought on by the growing number of underage users.
Kids are Hyper-Connected
With multiple devices, today’s teens and tweens have easy access to their social presences (and email and text) in a way that no generation has before. From waking up to lunchtime to lying in bed at night, many teens are online all the time and it’s completely natural for them. Even my own four-year-old will ask Siri the weather long before he’ll open the door to look outside. But with ubiquity comes clutter – kids are processing so much information, they may not respond well to marketing messages or just ignore them altogether.
Video is Natural
While our generation wanted to watch MTV videos, this generation wants to create them. A recent Pew Internet study found that 37% of 12-17 year olds used video chat, and 27% of them record and upload video – girls as well as boys. Video is fast- becoming a primary way that kids communicate with each other and with the world. And the more socially-connected the kids are, the more likely they are to create and share video.
Hannah and Xander are only two of the millions of kid content creators who will be challenging us, teaching us, and yes, buying from us now and in the future. They’re way ahead and thinking in ways most of us can’t (or don’t), so we’ve got a lot to figure out from them.
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