What Can Teens Teach Us About The Future of Social? (Video)

There were numerous Social Media Week Chicago panels with technology experts telling us about the future. For the most part, the panels and panelists offered an interesting point of view. Knowing that perspective was covered, I set out to see what I could learn by asking a younger generation of internet users how technology has changed – and will change – their lives.

Below is the full video of the session I moderated with these six Chicago teenagers.

Here’s what I have identified as the most valuable insights:

  1. Direct Engagement by Brands is Welcomed… to a Point
    Panelists reacted very positively when a brand engaged with them after being mentioned on Twitter. You can even see it on their faces, they really enjoyed being noticed by someone big. However, panelists agreed they would feel uncomfortable if a brand responded to a tweet that DIDN’T mention the brand name directly. The takeaway here… engage with your brand’s online community, but do it on their terms. Allocate additional resources to engage with as many people as possible if necessary.
  1. Snapchat > Facebook Messenger
    None of the teenagers had installed Facebook’s Messenger app, but all regularly use Snapchat in a similar way. I was also taken by how important the functionality of “Our Stories” was to them. Our Stories lets you view public collections around live events and many found it just as important as communication with friends. The takeaway here… download Snapchat and begin experimenting with Our Stories to see how the platform is aggregating content around events. But, don’t dismiss Facebook yet. I’m betting that as these teens get older (and their networks change) Facebook become more valuable to them.
  1. Vine is a Lurker Platform
    The feeling in the room was that Vine is a very voyeuristic platform where teens enjoy consuming entertaining content. Those who actively created Vines are in the minority. But, teenagers know who the cool Vine creators are at their school and it can even lead to popularity. The takeaway here… download Vine and explore the “Popular Now” and “On The Rise” sections of the app to understand the medium.
  1. #Brands #Need #To #Stop #Hashtags
    The panel expressed hashtag fatigue by both brands and their own peer groups. Teens are especially weary of adding multiple hashtags to a single post. They did note that they’re important when organizing a topic, but that they should not to be overused. The takeaway here… be conservative with your hashtags. If it’s not cool or useful, don’t use them.
  1. Privacy Is Paramount
    The teens are watching what permissions an app asks for and are extremely concerned about which ones access your personal information. On a related note, the panelists reacted positively (and felt safer) engaging with brands that had verified accounts. The takeaway here… trust is the name of the game here. Be authentic and clear in your language if you require personal information. Let your customer know why you need it and why it’s beneficial for them to provide it.

On the ride home, my wife said, “You know, I’m less nervous about our kids growing up to be teenagers now.” I couldn’t agree more. The panelists were better speakers than many “professionals” I’ve seen at conferences. The future is bright.

Thank you to the participating schools (Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences/Regina Dominican High School/Lincoln Way East High School/St. Patrick High School/St. Ignatius College Prep) and an extra special thanks to these fantastic young adults for spending some time socializing with me.

I was inspired to do this panel after watching a session moderated by Safa Rashtchy in 2009. It’s really fun to compare these two and see how much has changed in five years.

Does your brand understand how to engage with teens and millennials? Contact Sarah Unger with questions.

About Ben Foster

Ben Foster is SVP Digital Strategist in Chicago and an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University. He loves surfacing technology news and geek culture on Twitter @benphoster. He has seen 67 Phish shows, caught three foul balls at baseball games, and plays a frost mage named Killosaurus in World of Warcraft.