Parents with growing children are barely amazed how well their offspring handle technology. They can no longer imagine an era without mobile phone, mobile Internet, recording or pausing programmes or a Facebook profile. However, this does not mean that these youngsters simply embrace brands in their social networks.
In 2010, about 70 percent of Belgian youngsters aged 16 to 25 were active on one or several social networks online, according to Eurostat statistics. Many people in the world of marketing and advertising therefore believe that these social networks are the key communication channel for brands to get in touch with the young ones. But research shows this is not the case.
A recent report amongst American youngsters aged 12 to 17, organised by research agency Forrester, reveals a remarkable contradiction between the success of social media amongst youngsters and the role they attribute to brands. American teenagers have an intensive online life: 32% goes online on a daily basis, 1 of 2 even do so several times a day. The high level of Internet usage is in strong contrast, however, with the attitude towards brands on social networks. Almost 1 youngster out of 2 feels that brands should not be present on their social networks. And barely 6 percent wants to be ‘friends’ with a brand on a social network site.
This clearly shows that 12 to 17 year olds consider social networks in the first place as a channel to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances, a circle of which brands so far are barely or not at all a part. A brand’s Facebook page is considered to be an artificial way of infiltrating a social network. The trust in brands’ marketing via these channels is therefore very low. Barely 1 out of 4 trusts social network sites of companies, leaving these far behind on search engines such as Google, television, company websites, friends’ social network sites, magazines, portals or Wikipedia.
It shows again that more than ever these young consumers want to be the directors themselves and that they want to determine for themselves when a brand might be useful or relevant to them. Furthermore, they mainly trust real friends’ opinions. Glamourblog.tk on Facebook is a Belgian example of a popular blog by a young local fashionista who shares tips & tricks on fashion and lifestyle with some 1,000 visitors per week. Once in a while the latest collections at H&M or Zara are ‘shared’ with her network. It’s a type of ambassadorship, which looks authentic and sympathetic. This is where brands fulfil the role of middleman in friendships, without claiming the main lead amongst friends.
Youngsters are not waiting for a dialogue with a brand on their social network, they do expect an engagement when they ask for it. Only 16% of American youngsters expect companies to use social networks for interaction, but on the other hand 28% does expect them to listen or to answer questions.
However, the Forrester conclusions by no means mean that brands can simply ignore social networks, since youngsters use them extensively as a platform to give their opinion on brands. 3 out of 4 tell their friends about products and brands they are interested in and online this is usually spread via social networks. These comments are often a stepping-stone to the influential mass media. Not listening and not reacting to them could be fatal for your brand or company.