Last month, I went back to my hometown to spend time with my niece and nephew. My 12-year-old niece Maya is the kind of media smart, technology savvy subject that marketers dream about. She has a Facebook page. She knows the latest and greatest forwarded videos. And she can tell you who is dating who in the world of tween pop culture. We spent many mornings together on our respective laptops. I would bang my head on the keyboard trying to come up with content while she toured the Internet stopping at all the must-see must-read places on the web. Particularly interesting were her choices in social media and how she responded. I had test market gold sitting next to me – in pink pajamas and eating cereal, no less.
When it comes to social media, 12-year-olds like Maya are choosy. She didn’t read blogs other than the prerequisite daily visits to Fail Blog. She had no interest in Twitter. It was all about Facebook. Like the rest of us, Maya uses it to keep up with friends and post her feelings about current issues (like her ongoing quest to own a bunny). Yet the real draw at Facebook for Maya and others her age is the amount of free gaming. The sheer number of free games like FarmVille that are available online is a growing trend and the middle school set is eating it up with a spoon. She didn’t care if the games were loaded with advertisements or product placement. She liked being able to play and play along with her FB friends. Marketing and social media gaming are the next big avenue to be explored and Maya proved this much-touted theory.
Interactive appears to be the key with social media users of all ages; Maya responded enthusiastically to viral videos she could post on her friends walls like this anti-Justin Beiber vid, who by the way is persona non grata for most hip 12 year olds. She spent lots of time “liking” things popular in her crowd while making it clear what ads she didn’t like on her page. On the other hand, she didn’t bat an eye at following Facebook pages of products that she liked. Recent studies find that Maya isn’t alone when it comes to welcoming advertiser-branded content; nearly half of social media users ages 9 to 17 say that they regularly participate in advertiser-sponsored social media activity.
What Maya knows about social media marketing is simple – but it’s something that sometimes escapes the professionals. It’s not important if the content on sites like Facebook is at times nothing more than blatant advertising. If it’s interesting, fun and above all something cool that can be shared with friends, it’s getting a thumb’s up. 12-year-olds and now even senior citizens are using social media feverishly. From what I witnessed, social media users are simply responding to the marketing that speaks directly to them. Sounds simple, yet sometimes it takes a 12-year-old to help us see what’s been in front of us the whole time.