Are Teens Getting Bored with Facebook – and Whatever Will Marketers Do?

Posted by: on Jul 6, 2010 | No Comments

A research report from Roiworld (which, oddly, has nothing to do with ‘return on investment’) making the rounds today talks up the statistic that “one in five teens (19 percent) with a Facebook profile has either abandoned the site or visits it less than they did a year ago. The exodus looks to be a recent trend, with 68 per cent of teens who have shifted away saying that’s happened in the last six months.” (Montreal Gazette).

Why? The reasons many would suspect actually all polled under 20% each - privacy issues, the multitude of Facebook UI changes, or even too many adults (or event parents) on the site. These were all trumped by something that should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever raised, met, or been a teenager: boredom (45%).

The fact teens are perhaps getting bored with Facebook isn’t all that shocking – teen trends come and go, and what holds true for fashion and entertainment may reasonably hold true for online social networking sites.

Also, it’s important to recall that Facebook wasn’t originally designed for (most) teens, but rather was set up as a tool for offline communities of college students to take those conversations and connections online. Over time the site evolved to include the 13-18 year old set, and then large companies, before inviting the rest of us old farts in. It started as a niche network for the college crowd, and evolved into a generic social platform designed to appeal to the masses.

As Facebook got more generic, perhaps it simply started to lose its uniqueness and appeal to the teen crowd.

Assuming this trend continues, and Facebook’s demographics continue to skew older while teens find other places to hang out online, this has downstream ramifications for both Facebook and the agencies and brands who currently pour hundreds of millions of ad and marketing dollars into it. If tweens and teens develop real affinity (and deep investment) in other social networks, they may be less inclined to make the switch to Facebook when they hit college. They may carry over their affinity for other networks to college and beyond, eventually eating into Facebook’s growth and relevance, rendering the current social media megalith nothing more than a 10-year wonder.

Whatever that “next Facebook” is – or, more likely in my view, whatever collection of less-dominate networks arise – that’s where the ad and engagement dollars currently targeted youth on Facebook will start to flow, and where marketers and agencies will need to develop new expertise in order to reach them.

Or…Facebook will adapt, tweak its features and find new appeal among the teen and tween set to retain its claim as the de facto social platform for 75%+ of us, sucking up the social media marketing dollars at an even greater rate than today.

The uncertainty all this highlights is pretty daunting for marketers: Will Facebook adapt and stay the hot online community to be for all ages, or will a new generation flock to other as-yet-unknown social networks and turn Facebook into a giant echo box for big brands and their 30+ year old followers?

This simply reinforces a critical point for anyone involved in social media marketing: don’t bet it all on a single platform or site. Watch the trends and don’t get sucked into the false belief that because “everyone” is hanging out at Facebook now, they always will be. Facebook has only been around since 2004, and open to all for just the past three and a half years, which in Internet terms places it firmly in middle age. It’s replacement could arise in less time than that.

(Inspired by a tweet from @TobyDiva)

Those Damn Marketers…

Posted by: on May 21, 2010 | One Comment

Marketing as a profession is both idealized (think Mad Men) and despised in our society. Mitch Joel has a provocative post up on his Twist Image blog that laments a bit of the latter sentiment with a fantastically linkable headline “Kill All Marketers” (his blog in general is a must read).

Good marketers tell effective, believable, compelling, and *true* stories about their products and brands. They help shape the world around them through truly powerful stories blended with the underlying science that makes up the day to day execution of marketing tactics (social, direct, advertising, etc.). Seth Godin famously nailed this idea, and hinted at the downside of it, in his bestselling book “All Marketers Are Liars” – which he has tellingly renamed “All Marketers Tell Stories.”

Where marketers, and marketing as a profession earn our sometimes poor reputation, is when:

  • The stories are false
  • The means used to tell them are deceptive or abusive

As Seth notes, the marketer’s job is on one level to help people come to understand and believe a particular worldview through the use of storytelling. When the stories turn out to be false, and worldviews get shattered, people tend to – quite rightly – take that personally. Their offense at being lied to turns into anger and disgust at the ones who tried to make them believe. The marketers.

The same holds for the means used to tell the story, another place where the marketing profession gets tripped up. Bad actors out there who employ deceptive or abusive marketing tactics – everything from black hat web techniques to bait-and-switch discounts, false advertising to spam (in email, comments, tweets, and so on) – constantly remind people that those trying to tell them stories, trying to sell them on something, very often cannot be trusted.

Marketing, when done honestly, intelligently, and with directness and passion is an honorable profession that helps drive the engine of our of society in a positive direction. It’s why I’m proud to call myself a marketer.

Unfortunately, people tend to remember the failures and scandals, the stories born out as false, and the profession the bad actors claimed as their own. All of marketing gets tarred in the process, and the good guys like Mitch have to toil twice as hard as an evangelist for the profession to fight against that negative perception.

In any profession you’re going to have the charlatans and snake oil salesmen who sully the profession, but it’s the nature of what marketers do – try to tell grand stories on a vast stage – that makes the actions of those few loom so large.

Trey Pennington at PRSA Tar Heel, and some passionate bandana fans

Posted by: on Apr 20, 2010 | 6 Comments

Last week I had the privilege of attending the monthly networking luncheon for the local (Greensboro) chapter of the PRSA. Aside from a general desire to get out and start meeting some local practitioners from my adopted new home town, I was very interested in seeing what the guest speaker, Trey Pennington, had to say about social media.

Now, in general it’s easy to rapidly tire of the same rehashed social media tips presentations, typically with recycled titles like “7 CRAZY ideas for TAKING OVER THE WORLD using social media! YEAAAH!”

What matters are the real world examples. I don’t really care to hear about general concepts anymore, but I absolutely love hearing about interesting ways companies are seeing real value in their use of social media as part of the marketing and communications mix.

Which brings us back to Trey. Fortunately, he spent little time on the general stuff and lots of time telling a couple great stories about companies I’d never heard of and how they use (or, in one case, deliberately decided not to) social tools. The one that stuck for me is Carolina Manufacturing, the Greenville, SC manufacturer of…bandanas.

Though bandanas might not be in everyone’s wardrobe, at least since the early ’90s (unless you’re Bret Michaels, of course), they really are a perfect product to build a social media marketing effort around.

Why?

Because they all have a story, and there are small pockets of deeply passionate people who love telling them. You’ll have to see Trey talk to get the full story, but the marketing director for Carolina Manufacturing, @MaddenKim, discovered micro-communities of passionate fans of the company’s distinctive bandanas.

Dog lovers, cyclists, not-quite-retired ex-rockers, celebrity tycoons…even while bandanas generally faded from pop culture over the years, these small groups of hard core fans kept up their love, found each other online, and created their own conversation and communities around the iconic head gear.

The really cool part of the story is how Kim and team found these micro-communities, embraced them, and made their personal passions part of the brand’s story. A small but wonderful real world example of how a company can tap into practical social media marketing.

Activation is the Last Mile of Social Media Marketing

Activation is the Last Mile of Social Media Marketing

Posted by: on Mar 9, 2010 | No Comments

In the world of telecommunications, the “last mile” refers to that last bit of connectivity – be it fibre, wire, wireless – that connects customers to the network. It’s also an apt term for one of the biggest challenges in social media marketing.