Learning social media from school-aged users | Social media agency London | FreshNetworks blog

As part of work we are doing at FreshNetworks in the education sector, I recently ran a brainstorming session with a group of 11-15 year old students and their teachers. We were exploring and testing some ideas we have been working on, but also looking at their use of social media and social networks. These kind of sessions are critical when planning any use of social media as a brand. You need to think not as yourselves but through the eyes of the people we are trying to engage in social media otherwise there is a danger that you will develop a solution for the people planning it and not the people you want to use it.

With these 11-15 year olds this is particularly important. We cannot, and must not, translate our own use of social media and the ways we would like to be engaged online to the young people we are trying to target. They use social media very differently and will react very differently to brands online. The same is, of course, true of any consumer base – it is most likely the case that your target audience is not fairly reflected by the people you have working for you. So thinking about your audience and considering your social media strategy through their eyes is critical. You can, of course, also always learn a lot by spending time with users.

I certainly learned a lot from my time with these 11-15 year olds and thought I’d share some of these observations here. I should make a huge caveat that these observations are certainly not representative of all students of that age, and shouldn’t be taken as such. But they shine a light on how this age range is using social media and prompts further questions and reflections for us all about these social media tools and how we all use them.

1. Facebook is a personal organiser and a bragging tool

For the group we talked to, Facebook was the ultimate personal organiser. It is here that they collected the friends they met at school, at clubs outside school, on holiday or people from their family. They used Facebook as a way to keep in touch with these people, to find out what they were doing and, for many, as the main way they communicated with them. Facebook chat was used by them much more than the likes of MSN or text messages, and Facebook messages were used much more than email. Facebook was described as the place where they kept their friends and a means of talking to them.

But once they had these groups of friends, they liked to use Facebook as a bragging tool and a way of showing the affinity they had with these friends. They talked about creating groups for something they were interested in and then aiming to get all their friends to join – not to interact with each other in the group, but so that their group would get more ‘Likes’ than similar ones. They were using Facebook to amass and to showcase their social status. And their was a symbiotic nature to this – the friends who were Liking these groups were doing so with the aim of getting more pages and groups on their profile than their friends. This social status (or ‘bragging’) works both ways for these young people – those who create groups want lots of people to ‘Like’ them, and those who ‘Like’ groups want to get more things they like as badges on their profile.

These observations offer important learnings for brands looking to engage young people in Facebook. They may have lots of friends but they may not be ‘Liking’ your brand page because they want to interact with you but because they want to show their friends just how many things they ‘Like’. The key is not jut to create pages they can passively ‘Like’ but to work with their desire to gain more friends and to show their social status online as a way to engage them.

2. YouTube is for music

YouTube is, for many, their second most used search engine after Google. They use it to find content and to share content with people they know, and people they don’t know but with whom they share interests. It is a vibrant social media tool and a growing community.

There are a lot of video creators and video bloggers out there, and a lot of them are young, as a quick search of videos will show you, but for the 11-15 year olds we had in a room, YouTube was for one thing. Music. And particularly to view, and to share music videos with their friends at a time that suited them, rather than waiting for the video to be shown on MTV or another music channel. They used it as a way for them to control their own access to professional content, rather than as a way to find and connect with others online though user-generated content.

For brands the message here is clear – these young people are looking for quality content on YouTube and using as a way for them to control and manage their own viewing of it. They will share this content with all their friends on Facebook in a way that will benefit your own brand but are less likely to create content themselves or to use the videos themselves as a mechanism to talk to and to interact with peers.

3. They are not looking for reward

The final observation came when we talked about motivation and reward for engaging online. We were looking particularly at ways in which we could motivate them to take part in ongoing engagement with an issue we were working on. And one finding came through very clearly. These young people were not looking to be rewarded. At least not in the way some brands thought they might be. They didn’t want prizes, they didn’t want ‘goodie bags’ and in many cases they would not be interested in product from the brand themselves. Their needs were simple, and at the same time complex. They wanted reward that played to their existing networks and use of social media.

They were interested in recognition and things that they could use to increase their social status on sites such as Facebook. They wanted things to take away their – badges, content and other things that they could post to their wall to show what they were involved in. They wanted activities that encouraged them to create content or groups that could be ‘Liked’ on Facebook, or they wanted points that they could use to compare themselves against other people and show their friends.

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I like this because it’s real research – although admittedly I don’t know how many people they spoke to – and shows awareness of how “You need to think not as yourselves but through the eyes of the people we are trying to engage in social media otherwise there is a danger that you will develop a solution for the people planning it and not the people you want to use it.”.

I keep saying this to people. I’ve lost count of the number of time I’ve heard comms professionals saying “I don’t know why people would do this” or “I wouldn’t use X to do Y” or “No one will be talking about Z.”

I find these attitudes astonishing. It’s akin to saying “I don’t read the Sun, therefore it’s irrelevant.” People who work in comms and marketing should never, ever make assumptions about what people want, or how they’re behaving. You just don’t know until you develop tools that help, or find research, or conduct your own.

So that’s why I like this post. I like it enough to share it in fact. I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the way Posterous is encouraging me to share *the entire post*, but I guess I’m endorsing freshnetworks and giving them link love etc etc

Still, I’m learning. That’s got to count for something.

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