Social Networking Reaches Near Full Penetration Among Teens and 'Tweens

Study Finds 71% of Them Connect to a Social Net at Least Weekly

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- While 96% of online tweens and teens have used social networking technologies, 71% of online tweens and teens connect to a social network at least once a week, according to a study and white paper being released today from Alloy Media & Marketing, a youth-oriented marketing firm. And nearly half engaged with a brand in the space in the past month.
According to research by Alloy Media, tweens and teens are, in many cases, connecting to their parents via a social network.
According to research by Alloy Media, tweens and teens are, in many cases, connecting to their parents via a social network.

The paper, commissioned from a recent national study conducted by Grunwald Associates, aimed to identify best practices for marketers trying to reach kids in social networks without annoying the infamously ad-averse generation. If there was a theme to their responses, said Samantha Skey, exec VP-strategic marketing at Alloy, it would be to meet teens and tweens on their terms.

'Do not interrupt me'
"The operative distinction they're making is: 'Do not interrupt me en route to a connection with one of my peers or in the midst of a conversation,'" she said. "They're saying: 'Enhance or facilitate my social-networking experience. Offer me utilities to enhance my production process or tools to help me better able to express or engage myself.'"

In other words, give them freebies: utilities, cool downloads, exclusive content and other items of value. "Mix their music or animate their backgrounds or offer a countdown to a special day," Ms. Skey said.

Certain categories had endemic interest among kids, not surprisingly entertainment and technology. But Alloy was surprised to see a large number of respondents -- mostly girls -- were also interested in hearing more about categories such as personal-care products.

Ms. Skey also suggested there were ways for marketers without natural youth interest to attach themselves to utilities and services that kids would be interested in. An insurance company could, for example, sponsor educational content or a company could launch a cause-related campaign or a campaign that involves points and rewards for things kids are interested in. "Straight forward old-school reward systems are attractive and enable choice," she said.

Parent perspective
The study also looked at the involvement of parents. Ms. Skey said she hadn't felt as though the parent perspective on social networking had been thoroughly analyzed -- that it was limited to an alarmist view, thanks to news reports of sexual predators on MySpace.

The study found that, in many cases, kids are actually connecting to their parents via a social network. "This generation of teens isn't embarrassed by it," Ms. Skey said. "And parents who are engaging online are more likely to be comfortable. ... Imagination is more daunting than the reality."

The study asked about traditional media habits and found social networking is approaching parity with TV time among 9- to 17-year-olds. And when kids are multitasking, they're four times more likely to pay closer attention to whatever they're doing online than to whatever they're watching on the tube.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported 96% of online tweens and teens connect to a social network at least once a week. In fact, 96% of online tweens and teens have reported using social networking technologies, while 71% connect weekly.
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