A Focus Group of Two Teens on Social Media

This weekend, my teenaged nieces … let’s call them “K” and “C” … came to visit me.

We had the absolute best time hanging out – talking about boys and music and art and college and their future careers. (I’m trying to get at least one of ’em to attend my alma mater and go into PR!)

Like most teens, they can’t wait to finish high school and enter the “real world.” Like most teens, they think their parents are too strict; they believe they discovered Pink Floyd; and they are fairly certain they already know everything they need to know including the fact that their Aunt Jenny is the coolest person in the world, which – of course – I am.

While spending these past few days together, I realized I had my own personal little focus group on teen behaviors. This is far from scientific…but here’s what I learned from “K” and “C” this weekend.

1. They like MySpace better than Facebook. While the girls are active on both sites (when they aren’t grounded from the computer, that is), they prefer MySpace because “that’s where our friends are” and they are less likely to “see their parents and teachers.”

2. They also use the trendy “FaceSpace” when talking about either site instead of being as brand-specific as Tom and Mark would surely prefer.

3. They change their names online. For example, “K” isn’t using “Jones” on her MySpace and Facebook profiles. Instead, she uses her middle name, “Taylor”. When I asked her about it, I was all prepared to defend our good name on behalf of my brother and father. I was all ready to tell her she should be proud to be a “Jones” – it’s a good name and part of who she is. Then, she looked at me with those big beautiful eyes of hers and said, “yeah but this way I don’t have to worry about what I put up there. I can be myself now and when I get a job, they won’t see what I said when I was 15.”

Did I mention how smart they are?

4. They think Twitter is “stupid” and don’t use the site at all especially when they “can do the same things and more on FaceSpace.”

5. They love YouTube. And, seriously, who doesn’t? But, I was surprised that in the three days they were here, we did not turn on the TV at all. Not one time. But, we did spend hours and hours showing each other videos on YouTube. Among the videos they showed me, two were straight-up ads and several more were brand-sponsored shows or virals.

6. They text. Oh. My. God. Do they ever text. Seriously. I average around thirty-five texts a day…and I thought that was a lot. Nope. “K” was the only one of the two who still had text minutes on her phone over the weekend and I swear she did not put that thing down…not once. I’m sure to any of you who have teens, this is nothing new. And, I’ve certainly read all the articles and studies and stats on how much teens text. But, I had never seen this phenomenon up close like this.

“K” is also a master at subterfuge in her texting. She’s so deft with one hand and only cursory glances at the phone, there were a lot of times I wouldn’t even know she was texting until she reacted to something she read. (She’s also developed a hilarious – and slightly disturbing – habit of suddenly saying random things in reference to a conversation she’s having via text. “C” and I were chatting away about the various careers she can have as an artist and suddenly “K” laughed said, “He thought it was a turtle.” Maybe it’s a had-to-be-there kind of thing, but it cracked us up every time!)

7. I asked them about text marketing. They participate in TXT2Win campaigns as well as TXTurVote and TXTurChoice campaigns on everything from what should top the Billboard Charts to LiveWire quizes and they don’t think of these things as advertising or marketing. Neither of them really use text coupons, but said they definitely would if the coupons were for something they want.

8. They don’t differentiate between Blogs and media. They do read Blogs and comment on them. And, they really don’t think of Blogs as something separate from traditional journalism. To them they are the same thing. They don’t currently Blog themselves; they said they would but “aren’t allowed on the computer enough.”

All in all, they have such a unique perspective on social media because it has been present for so much of their lives. They don’t see it as “social media” and even asked me what that was while we were discussing it. They certainly don’t see Web 2.0 as a marketing tool – but they also seem quite unaware – or at least unconcerned – that they are being marketed to. For them, the web just a part of their social life – their personal life – and with tricks like using aliases online, they are determined to keep it that way.

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