Marketing to teens on social media

Marketing to kids is big business and often causes ethical debates,  but in the ever changing online world this is not going away.  A new Forrester Research study on youth interaction with brands on Facebook and other social media  rivals like Twitter, finds that teens who engage with brands on social media are more likely to have made a purchase from those brands and to consider and recommend them than their peers who don't.

The report, “The Facebook Factor: U.S. Online Youth,” found that in the U.S., almost six in 10 young adults ages 12 to 17 engage with a brand on a social networking site and have high expectations of companies. Nearly half expect brands to be responsive and interact with customers (48%), provide discounts or incentives (47%), and ask for their feedback (45%).

People in this age group on average “like” 15 brands on Facebook and follow 16 brands on Twitter, compared with 14 and 13 brands, respectively, for online adults. They also have high levels of engagement, with almost half (48%) looking at something a company has posted, and a quarter regularly commenting on these updates.

(While the minimum required age on Facebook is 13, the Forrester data indicated that just under half of online 12-year-olds visit the social network at least monthly.)

Buying and purchase consideration

To better understand the relationship between social media interaction and purchase-related behavior, Forrester analyzed activity in relation to four popular youth brands: Converse, Disney, iTunes and Starbucks.

Those who engaged with each brand in social media had a higher probability of having made a past purchase, of considering a future purchase and of recommending a brand. Fans of Disney on Facebook, for example, had a 47% likelihood of having made a purchase in the last year compared to 18% for those who don’t interact with the entertainment brand in social media (all else being equal).

Young iTunes followers on Twitter, meanwhile, have a 69% probability of considering a future purchase through the Apple service compared to 53% for those who don’t engage with iTunes on social platforms. And for Starbucks, a teen Facebook fan had a 79% probability of recommending the coffee brand versus 29% who don't like or follow Starbucks.

A key point here is that the findings suggest a correlation between youth interaction with companies’ social presence and brand metrics like purchases and consideration, but not causation. “These social media brand fans may have brand enthusiasts who are already avid customers,” noted the report authored by Forrester analyst Gina Sverdlov.

In other words, their social media activity didn’t necessarily lead to them making purchases. In any case, Sverdlov argues social media fans are brand advocates, “and it’s important to understand what drives these valuable consumers.”

Youth consumers are also dependent on their parents when it comes to purchases. Only 14% bought consumer electronics and clothes with their own money, according to Forrester data. “This means that youth marketing may prove futile when it comes to their purchase decisions,” stated the report. But it also suggests teens influence parents’ decisions, with four out of 10 saying they’re asked for advice on buying tech products.

Because they mostly aren’t spending their own money, the study recommended marketers focus not so much on discounts or deals aimed at the youth market as providing information about their latest offerings.

It also advised marketers to make their social media initiatives part of their broader youth marketing efforts. The research, for example, also showed a strong correlation between activities outside social media -- like visiting a retail location or a brand Web site -- with purchases and brand recommendations.

The Forrester study was based in part on a survey of 4,517 people ages 12 to 17 in April. It also included data from a benchmark survey of 61,167 U.S. and 5,800 Canadian adults ages 18 to 80 in April.

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