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What 8th Graders Taught Me About Where Social Strategy Needs to Go (Like 'Dark Social')

They're Abandoning Established Channels Like Facebook for Upstarts Like Snapchat

By Published on .

I taught some teens about content marketing last week. In return, they showed me the future.

My wife's teaching advertising to her eighth grade classes, and she asked me how she could describe content marketing to them. Realizing that it would take more than five minutes, I offered to lead students through a lesson partially about content, and more broadly about where digital advertising (and all advertising) was heading.

We started each class by pretending that we'd just created a new candy brand. ChocoMunch, the kids dubbed it in one class, describing it as chocolate candies shaped like tiny skulls. Once we'd dreamed up our product, I told them that market research had revealed our target audience to be eighth graders.

The obvious first question was, where can we reach eighth graders to tell them about ChocoMunch? Newspapers? Magazines? Radio? They laughed. When I asked how many watched TV regularly, about half of the kids raised their hands. We entertained the idea of TV ads for a few minutes, until somebody would invariably pipe up, "But we never watch commercials on TV." Other kids added that they fast-forwarded through commercials on their DVR, or more commonly just looked down at their second screen during the ads.

I then told them that we'd succeeded in wiping out almost all the major channels ChocoMunch could use for advertising. To which they always replied, "Except for the internet."

"So where do you hang out on the internet?" I asked. The results blew my mind: Total Kids: 120. Instagram: 115; Twitter: 85; Vine: 85; Snapchat: 80; Facebook: 2

The popularity that took MySpace and then Facebook years to accomplish was now happening in a matter of months. For so many of the eighth graders to be on Vine, a platform less than a year old, was astounding. Vine was also a platform that kids were very passionate about. It became clear that Vine was a constant topic of conversation among them.

The encroachment of "dark social" and ephemeral media, where sharing occurs beyond the reach of web analytics, also loomed large. Snapchat was widely used, and while the students didn't consider What's App Messenger and texting to be part of the internet, they brought them up constantly. Snapchat's refusal of a $3-billion acquisition by Facebook immediately seemed like that much smarter an idea. This wasn't a fad -- teens are beginning their mass migration from broadcast-social networks. And, as these results made apparent, it's starting with Facebook.

However, what I found most interesting about the students is that the words "social media" were never uttered. I might as well have asked them what Web 2.0 sites they admired; it felt like the same kind of vestigial jargon. The teens don't think about what we call "social media platforms" and don't consider these as stopping points between visiting websites. To them, social media is the internet.

We can't afford to get too comfortable with tried-and-true social channels like Facebook and Twitter in 2014. Invest in experiments with up-and-coming channels like Snapchat, Kik and Vine, and keep your ear to the ground for any promising new upstarts. Also, begin thinking past broadcast social networks, and start nailing down a strategy for one-to-one (or one-to-a-few) communications with your most ardent fans. Most of all, stop calling it "social media" -- that's a limiting concept. Your social strategy is your digital strategy.

Now to find some kindergartners to lend me their take on native advertising ...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victor Pineiro is strategy director, Big Spaceship.

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