If you are under 18, you aren’t reading this blog post. But if I texted it to you, you might. Texting is the single most popular way for teens to communicate. Earlier this week, a few Indy area teens helped me understand why.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my clients asked me to assemble a group of teens to learn more about the best ways to talk to teens, how they talk to one another and what gets their attention. Research shows that texting and other social media platforms are popular with the under 18 crowd. To see if that holds true in Indianapolis, we decided to conduct a survey on teens’ social media habits in addition to the focus group.
This survey was done with a very narrow target group of Youth as Resources participants. I do not mean to suggest it is representative of the entire Indianapolis population; however, I do think the results are interesting and worth sharing here.
As you can see, nearly 100% of teens reported using text messaging, with Facebook, instant messaging (IM) and YouTube also being popular. Our focus group of teens agreed wholeheartedly:
“If you text me, I have to text you back.”
“I text with my friends until we run out of things to say or one of us falls asleep.”
“Waiting is hard (when I text). I want to…I need to get a reply.”
For the teens we talked to, texting is absolutely a way of life. They text all day, every day. They text in school. They text in bed, after curfew. They fall asleep with the phone every night. And while they acknowledge that texting can give wrong impressions and many of them have said things they regret over text, they can’t imagine a life without text messaging.
Yes, they will text their parents. And grandparents. But teachers or businesses…that’s just a little, well, weird. They did agree that they’d be willing to GET texts from businesses, if it wasn’t too often.
Takeaway: If you want to reach teens, you should be texting.
Based on research, I anticipated this feedback about texting. What I didn’t expect was what they told me about their online habits, especially with Facebook.
The survey results only tell half the story about why teens use social media. They may use it to keep in touch with friends and keep up with the latest news (and I use the term loosely) but they don’t use Facebook status updates to keep in touch, that’s for sure. As one teen said, “I never post what I’m really doing.” Instead they use the Chat feature, much like they use texting on their phone. Other times, they use the e-mail feature. Especially if they are grounded from their phone and need to tell people how to get in touch.
They post TONS of photos and tag the people in them. Some of the teens did say they have asked friends to take down inappropriate photos but it is primarily the job-seeking teens that get how Facebook can define their personality. For the most part, the teens in our group either don’t think about what they post or they think what they post stays private.
They think it is private because they control their friends. And they NEVER would be friends with their parents. Not even younger siblings. They laughed at the suggestion. As teachers, coaches, the boss and other authority figures? No way. Plus, as one young man thought, it is illegal for some adults (teachers) to be Facebook friends with minors.
As for what teens “like” on Facebook? They are fans of the super-sarcastic pages like “You’re Ugly…ignore friend request” or “Stop being sexy. You’re distracting me.” Only one teen in our group could think of a business or cause that he “liked” on Facebook. (McDonald’s and Nike).
Our group said they also use Facebook for the games. You know – those annoying Farmville, Mafia Wars games – are great ways for kids without smart phones to pass the time. They utilize YouTube in much the same way. They search for favorite singers, bands or watch the videos suggested by friends. Several told me they just look for the “funny stuff.” The more memorable videos get posted to Facebook for everyone to share.
Takeaway: If you think you can create a Facebook page and the teens will come, think again.
Toward the end of the session, I asked the focus group to share their thoughts on the internet at large. Many in the group use the internet to watch TV, which I found interesting. This group also Googles. They Google a lot. In fact, if they have a research paper due, they are more likely to Google the subject than open a textbook. None of the teens could think of one site they access directly. They don’t bookmark sites. In fact they rarely go to sites more than once.
“If I need it again, I’ll just Google it.”
“It has to have a really cool introduction, a flash player or video.”
Here’s an interesting side note. The teens in my group check Facebook BEFORE Google if they want information about something. So while I said above that you can’t attract teens with Facebook, you must have a Facebook page for teens to stumble upon. It’s similar to how companies have to have a web site (i.e. online brochure) for credibility with my generation. You. Have. To. Have. One.
Takeaway: If you are building a website aimed at teens, you may have to be content with unique visitors who come to you via search engines.
As for e-mail? Yes, they all have e-mail accounts (100% in the survey) but think about it. They have to have an e-mail account to sign-up for Facebook, to get onto Twitter (for the miniscule few who get Twitter). Unless they are interacting with adults – parents, bosses, volunteer coordinators – who rely on e-mail, they are not checking their accounts.
E-mail is considered spam and junk. Several of the focus group teens said they only check their accounts if they are told someone sent them something. To my embarrassment, they used my e-mail as an example. I sent an e-mail reminder about the second focus group meeting. One teen told me attendance was down for the second meeting because I sent an e-mail, which no one checks.
If they do check e-mail, finding anything is like finding a needle in a haystack. Facebook updates notices, text messages that also go to e-mail, undeleted messages that just hang out in their in-boxes, and “real” spam make their in-boxes nearly impossible to manage. As one teen told me, “I just get frustrated checking my e-mail and end up deleting all of it.”
Takeaway: E-mail is a means to an end with teens. Don’t make a campaign out of it.
These kids are a smart group. They actively embrace technology as a means to create relationships and bring them closer to their peers. They know instinctively that text relationships are not always the strongest relationships. Wrong impressions, mistakenly sent messages, and rumors are easier on text or other social media platforms. But the teens I talked to also acknowledged they aren’t always comfortable with having face-to-face conversations.
What is the ultimate takeaway? If kids need something immediately, they will pick up the phone…and call. If they have something troubling them, they will talk to your face. But if you want to really know what is going on? You better send a text.
You can text me at 317-979-4424 with comments or feedback. Just don’t get impatient if I don’t text you back right away.