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How Teens Use Social and What Your Brand Can Do About It

A recent WIRED article entitled “LIKE. FLIRT. GHOST: A JOURNEY INTO THE SOCIAL MEDIA LIVES OF TEENS” hit the Internet and generated a lot of conversation about the ever-evolving social media habits of this mysterious age group. Now, I could keep up with most of it because I am clinging to my youth like the edge of a rapidly eroding cliff, but some of reporter Helen H.K. Choi’s findings were beyond even me. For instance, did you know that many teens frequently go through their Instagram photos and delete the ones which aren’t generating enough engagement? Weird, right? No? You do that, too? Oh yeah, me too.

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Anyway, this got the social marketing wheels in my brain turning. If you have the teen demographic on your wish list, how can you tailor your content and strategies to fit their needs, desires, and behaviors? How can you get the notoriously elusive teen demographic to actively engage with your brand? I have some ideas.

1. Instagram Is Who You Are

The teens Choi embedded herself with see Instagram as the social network where you “put your best foot forward” and curate your profile accordingly. This is the place where teens post content that shows them in the best light. It’s their social identity center, if you will. Because teen identities are constantly shifting and evolving, Instagram content often gets deleted when it is no longer relevant or doesn’t receive as much positive feedback as anticipated.

Instagram Delete


For teens, Instagram is somewhere between Facebook (a formal, less frequently used network for teens) and Snapchat (a frequently used, but deleted-every-24-hours, source of content for teens). More on that later.

How your brand can think about this: Think like your customer. Use Instagram as your content “hub,” if you will. Think of it as the face of your brand, just as you probably think of your website now. And don’t be afraid to delete content after a campaign or even during a campaign, to lend a sense of urgency to witnessing that content.

As you’re conducting your social analysis on Instagram, consider the content, opinions, and behavior of teens on Instagram that follow you especially carefully, and use these lessons in your own Instagram campaigns and strategies.

2. Sometimes, There Are Two Instagrams

The one I was talking about in the previous section, where you put that “best foot forward,” and the private one, where you “have pictures of you doing drugs or going to parties,” according to one teen interviewed in the article.


How your brand can think about this: There is a sense of exclusivity and privacy inherent to these private Instagram accounts. The cache created by this exclusivity and privacy is attractive to teens. Consider replicating this experience. For instance, you could start a “private” Instagram account for your own brand, with rewards for those who are able to “unlock” the account with actions taken on social.

3. There ARE Instagram Rules

According to two teens interviewed in the article, friends must Like their friends’ photos on Instagram. If it’s a close friend, you should comment. The emoji with heart eyes is a popular choice for a comment of this nature.

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 1.49.17 PM

There are unspoken rules which teens adhere to on the network.

How your brand can think about this: Spend time running audience analysis to understand the kind of emojis and comments that teens are using on non-branded posts. This will help you create content that is more likely to resonate with teens.

If you’re looking for engagement-driving CTA’s to use in your Instagram posts, ask for engagement in the language that teens speak: emoji with heart eyes for general approval, not, say, the smiley face, which one teen in the article, Ahmad, explained meant “Thank you, but I’m not interested.”

4. Snapchat Is Interacted With Most

Let’s move away from Instagram for a moment. Most of the teens followed in this article seem to use Snapchat the most to communicate, from locating each other to indulging in “streaks.”

The fire symbols indicate Snapchat users I am on a "streak" with.
The fire symbols indicate Snapchat users I am on a “streak” with.

A streak is when you and your friend have snapped each other within 24 hours for more than one consecutive day. These streaks don’t have to be particularly creative or amazing, either — the point is more to keep the lines of communication moving and grooving. (See? I am officially old.)

How your brand can think about this: If you don’t have a Snapchat presence yet, and the multitude of posts we’ve published about it haven’t convinced you, it’s time. Set a goal, such as average daily view count, and experiment with daily posting. Then, after a month, check out your overall results and optimize content and strategy accordingly. If you have a larger budget, consider investing in a geofilter or other Snapchat advertising product. Great infographic with your options right this way, btw. 

5. Their Phones Are Their Gaming Devices

This shouldn’t be surprising: many teens use their phones to play games (one recent report found that 60% of female teens play mobile games), whether within separate apps or within social platforms themselves. Even Snapchat is getting in on the gaming action, with the first video game ever on the platform debuting recently.

How your brand can think about this: Game-ify your content. Challenge yourself to craft a digital campaign — social, web, and email — which brings a playful, game-like experience to your teen audience, and still stays brand-centric.

6. Facebook Is Formal

Teens in this article see Facebook almost as an online CV: a place where they post content that will last and that is appropriate for families and schools to see. They don’t actively engage with the network as much as other networks.

How your brand can think about this: Facebook is here to stay, but it’s not “edgy” or “exciting” for teens. Post accordingly, in a straightforward way which highlights events and deals, as opposed to putting together a more ambience-laden strategy like you might on Instagram or Snapchat.

Want to learn more about the state of social marketing in 2016? Download our comprehensive guide to what’s happening on the major social networks below.

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The 2016 State of Social Marketing


Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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