Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Teens' New Sharing Options Should Concern Parents and Marketers

As we explored in yesterday's blog post, despite the loud and frequent claims to the contrary, all evidence thus far suggests teens are still using Facebook. There is, however, a new teen trend that will be of interest to marketers and parents alike: Kids are broadening the services and applications they use to communicate. If you thought sharing on Facebook might be dangerous for kids, then you really will not like some of the reports about this new breed of mobile sharing and communication tools.

To see the potential marketing issues with these new and untested platforms, let's first start with some information that may raise a few alarms with parents. I keep hearing from people who think their kids are abandoning Facebook for Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. This may be true to some extent, but kids are also spending time with newer sharing services of which, I suspect, many parents are unaware. Last weekend, I saw a series of unsettling news reports involving platforms such as Whatsapp, Snapchat, ask.fm, Kik, Voxer and Pheed. If most of these applications are new to you, read on (but be prepared for some disturbing information). 

Source: Radio Free Europe
The first news item, while not specifically related to teens, demonstrates just how much sharing is happening away from the big social networks. A video is being circulated on Whatsapp of a gay Russian man being brutally sexually assaulted, and Radio Free Europe reports, "Viewers on WhatsApp overwhelmingly praised the violence as a well-deserved punishment." If you assume WhatsApp is some tiny, niche service, you will be surprised to learn it has more users than Twitter. WhatsApp already has 300 million monthly active users who send 11 billion messages and receive 20 billion messages per day. Although it is most popular in Latin America and Asia, WhatsApp is approaching Facebook Messenger in popularity here in the US--Onavo Insights reports the reach of WhatsApp among iPhone users in the US is 9% compared to Facebook Messenger's 12%.

The second sad news report this past weekend was about a beating that occurred over explicit photos shared with a teen girl via Snapchat. Chances are most parents know about Snapchat, which has gained infamy in recent years for sexting. The service allows users to share photos and videos which (theoretically) can be permanently deleted from recipients' phones and Snapchat servers after a predetermined period of time. In the latest of a series of disturbing news stories about Snapchat, a 15-year-old boy was beaten confronting a fellow 15-year-old boy who sent an explicit photo to his 13-year-old sister.

Source: Brian Blanco for The New York Times
The most heartbreaking news report I saw last weekend was about a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being cyberbullied. The bullying started at Rebecca Ann Sedwick's school and on Facebook, but when her mother shut down Rebecca's Facebook page, the girl gravitated to new social and mobile apps such as ask.fm, Kik and Voxer. It is there she received messages such as “Why are you still alive?,” “You’re ugly,” and “Can u die please?” Rebecca's mother thought she had taken the steps necessary to monitor and protect her daughter, but the girl jumped to her death from an abandoned cement plant near her home in Florida.

Rebecca is tragically not an isolated case--cyberbullying on Ask.fm has been associated with the suicides of at least four other teens. Meanwhile, children's use of Kik has become so common and troublesome that the Indianapolis Metro Police has issued a warning about the application and school districts are banning Kik from kids' iPads

Many parents may feel secure that they can monitor their children on Facebook, but it is possible kids are interacting with others on applications that have far fewer controls and safeguards. I am a social business professional, not a parenting expert, so I will not offer advice; instead, I will caution parents about the growth of teen sharing using new apps and furnish some helpful links with guidance for parents on monitoring and talking with your kids about their digital and social behaviors:
As for marketers, there is good reason to proceed into these new platforms with great caution. Some brands have launched marketing campaigns on Ask.fm, but several, including Vodafone, Laura Ashley and Save the Children, pulled ads from the service in response to the suicides and cyberbullying. Snapchat has also seen some marketing experiments, although Adweek recently noted, "It’s too soon to tell if the pitches are working." Early adopters include Taco Bell, which is using the platform to launch new products, and clothing company Karmaloop, which is embracing Snapchat's reputation with risque photos of its own.

Time will tell if Ask.fm, Snapchat and other similar services are appropriate and successful channels for marketing, but most brands ought to stay on the sideline for the time being. It will be very easy for parents, educators and child advocates to associate brands on these services with bullying, sexting and predators, and I predict more calls for boycotts and brand shaming will occur in the coming year or two.

While the anything-goes nature of these new services is part of their appeal, watch for these companies to start cleaning up their act to attract more brand dollars. Ask.fm has already committed to taking steps to increase safety on the service and recently launched a button to report bullying. In time, Ask.fm and other mobile apps could prove themselves a reliable and safe place for reputable brands, but that time is not now.

Safe socializing, everyone! 


Norah said...

Thanks for this post, Augie - I'll be sharing it w/ my other friends with kids.

The caution to brands is a good one - I don't think I (as a parent) would be enamored with a brand that was helping these more... dangerous(?) platforms increase their visibility and popularity.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Norah. I know marketers are always eager to follow consumers into the "next big thing," but sometimes they can do so without due caution. And even more to the point, maybe brands should work harder at getting the "last big thing" right!

I'm glad you found this post worthwhile! Thanks for the comment!

Unknown said...

Why not school use the Mobile apps for parents which help parents to get real time access on their ward, thus school admin also reduces workload from school and teachers.