The Medium is The Message (why teenagers are going to Instagram and Snapchat) …

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Where are all the teenagers going? Instagram and Snapchat it would seem …

A recent Pew Internet study, was followed by aFacebook announcement, that teenagers have largely lost interest in their network. Those of us in the business have been observing this trend for some time. And for brands, this could be  a problem. Just as they are starting to see some ROI from Facebook ads or promoted Tweets, this hard-to-reach audience has left the building.

Of course, this is nothing new, and if you understand teenage behaviour, it should come as no surprise. Like most users, teenagers are driven by need, and not technology. As a teenager you want to communicate (not with your parents of course) and find your place amongst your  peers. That communication has always been  done in school break-time, or by passing notes in class. As mobile phones took off, SMS became the communication tool, and MSN online (fast and almost free). Then it switched to BBM. For a short while it was Facebook and then Twitter. And now, it’s Instagram and Snapchat. The latter is seeing 350m photos uploaded per day, which is equal to that of Facebook.

In many ways, these Instagram and Snapchat are perfect for teenage users. The key drivers are cost, speed and where their peers are. Teenagers aren’t looking to write long prose, whatever they do needs to be done as cheaply as possible and they will tend to drift to the channels that don’t include their parents (and they have no channel loyalty). Instagram and Snapchat also come with the added bonus of pictures. For many, a picture expresses far more than a few words. For some observers though, perhaps there is a little too much expressing. Whilst Instagram is more public, Snapchat has been accused of being a place where teenagers are ‘sexting’ each other. We have no evidence if this is true or not, but it is important to keep in mind that whenever younger people adopt a new comms channel, there is always some kind of moral backlash. BBM was blamed for triggering the UK riots in 2011. Facebook was a corrupting influence, SMS was seen as ruining our language. Whatever the choice, the medium will usually be blamed. The reality is that it is purely a communication channel and they are essentially neutral – they can either be a force for good or bad. It depends on who/how it is used.

Perhaps the best way to understand the teenage engagement with Snapchat is this article by Rory Murdock. Whilst adults view photographs as permanent, or even nostalgic records, teenagers think of most photos as temporary, ethereal and worthless. Think of Snapchat like the notes passed around at school.  Short comments that are instantly disposable.

One thing is certain about all this. The teenage channels are constantly changing. Don’t expect Snapchat or Instagram to dominate a few years from now and advertisers will probably still be chasing their audience. But largely speaking the behaviour stays the same, but the channel in which it’s done will change.

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