Teens Want Branded Online Social Experiences, Study Says

The majority of online teens are visiting social networking sites on a weekly basis and are willing to work with advertisers — if they approach them in the right way – according to a white paper commissioned by Alloy Media and Marketing.

The “Social Networking and Advertising” paper is based on research conducted by Grunwald Associates for its “Kids’ Social Networking” study, which found that 71 percent of tweens and teens between the ages of 9 and 17 visit social networking sites weekly.

It also showed 55 percent of teens in the past month have participated in some kind of advertiser-branded activity like visiting company profile pages, taking company-sponsored quizzes, and entering sponsored contests. Ninety percent of tweens and teens said they’d like to hear about one or more types of entertainment products on social networking sites, and 45 percent were willing to hear about special interest products, such as technology, sports, and automotive.

Nearly 70 percent of girls who participated in the study would be willing to hear about apparel and personal care products. However, along with entertainment and fashion brands, 31 percent of teens want to hear about more serious offerings such as college information or educational products.

“It’s a sleeper category that we think maybe a little bit more attention needs to be paid to,” said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, a research and consulting firm.

The study found that tweens and teens are creating their own content within social networks at an explosive rate, including songs, videos, pictures, stories and other materials. And while 20 percent of them said they were willing to add branded content to their own sites, but advertisers must use discretion when reaching out to teens in social Web environments. Teens are very restrictive about giving brands too much access to their profile pages or content, said Grunwald.

“Advertisers can’t come in willy-nilly and expect to slap traditional advertising on top of that content. There are going to have to be new forms created, and the placement of those forms is going to have to involve teenagers directly,” said Grunwald. “From a caution standpoint, kids are very sensitive to intercepts and having their personal virtual space violated. Meaning that advertising that gets between them and content that they want to access and information that they need is probably not a good idea,” he said.

And while teenagers often have the greatest word-of-mouth influence on their peers, parents play a large role in influencing teens’ online habits, according to the study, which found that 50 percent of online tweens and teens hear about new Web sites from their parents. Fourty-four percent use Web searches to find new sites. In addition, 66 percent of teens have been on the Internet together with their parents in the past month, and 71 percent discussed the Internet with their parents. Over 90 percent of teens have one or more rules or restrictions over their Internet use in the home.

According to the study, 96 percent of online teens/tweens have used a social networking technology such as instant messaging, chat, text messaging and e-mail. Teens are almost compulsive about creating and maintaining their online personal spaces; 60 percent have created profiles or personal sites and almost 20 percent update their sites or profiles at least once a day.

The study was underwritten by Microsoft, News Corporation, and Verizon. Using online forms, Grunwald Associates surveyed 1,277 teens and tweens and 1,039 parents in March.

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