Want to reach teens with your marketing?  You better be prepared to be nimble.

We all know tastes change quickly with teenagers.  What’s hot one day is ice cold the next.  It’s the same with social media.  Just about the time you figure out where they are on-line, they move.  So when you’re building the marketing plan to target teens make sure you build a process and not just rely on the platform.

In the past five years, teens have shifted their views on the most important social network five times, according to a 2016 survey from the folks at Piper Jaffray.  Current champ?  Snapchat.  Do you even have a presence there?

I guess that explains why Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion dollars, which left all of us older folks scratching our heads.

In 2013, teens surveyed cited Facebook as their preference.  That was about the time Mom and Grandma discovered Facebook and a whole new way to embarrass their teenagers.  A 2014 Pew Research study showed 83% of parents are friends with their teens on Facebook, but only 17% of parents had connected with their children on any other social platform.  That’s why by late 2013, teens had made the move to Twitter as their preference, according to the Piper Jaffray study.

Just about the time TV commercials started featuring hashtags, the shift to Instagram began.  From 2014-2016, Instagram was the favored platform, but now that’s changed again to Snapchat.

How quickly can things change?  Look at this chart from just the past 12 months.

teen social presence

With teens, it’s Snapchat, closely followed by Instagram, Twitter and then Facebook.  In fact, with those under the age of 24, the three top platforms dominated by younger users are Snapchat (46.8%), Tumblr (26.9%) and Vine (28.1%).  Facebook rates just 16.5% of its users under age 24 according to comScore.

What’s a marketer to do?  Here are 5 actions steps.

Be nimble.

You have to be able to move with the audience.  When they shift social platforms, you have to be able to do so as well.  That means you need two things:  a way to monitor the shifts and a pathway to shift.

Understand what works

You also need to understand each platform – what works on one doesn’t always work on the other.  On Facebook, for example, no matter how good your efforts, people may never see your post.  If they do, they’re likely to scan it quickly and move on.  On Snapchat, the content’s there… and then gone forever.  So you’re more likely to get their attention and since they know it won’t be there next time they check-in, they are more likely to act right now if they’re interested.

You can use that sense of urgency to your advantage, but be prepared to handle the response when it works.  Don’t post something that is asking for a response in the evening if you’re not staff to respond to their response right then.  There’s a built-in expectation of immediate response and if you’re not prepared, it can kill you.

It means experimentation and willing to move past ideas that don’t work.

“We learned we needed to adjust the way we talk to Snapchat’s audience, because they detect when it’s advertising,” Coca-Cola ‘s Emmanuel Seuge told Fast Company.   Coke found that repurposing its TV and other social video ads didn’t work on Snapchat.  They got less than a 3 second view.  But a back to school campaign asking high schoolers to share their first day showed a completed view rate of better than 50% for a 10-second ad created specifically for Snapchat.  The “ad” didn’t even show a Coke logo, just the teen wearing a Coke T-shirt for his first day back.


Be authentic

If you’re talking down to them, or your marketing even gives off a scent of marketing, it will likely fail.  Politics aside, here’s one great example.  Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has the largest base of support among young adults.  But let’s face it, the guy’s 74.  So expecting him to be up on social media seems a little inauthentic.  So here’s what his campaign posted.

sanders snapchat

Start a Conversation.

Always – you know the folks that make feminine pads – started a conversation on social media about gender norms and stereotypes in what it means to be like a girl.  I’ll bet you saw it.  Procter & Gamble says it’s the most watched video in its history with more than 70 million views.  Leo Burnett designed the campaign and says intent-to-purchase among teens rose by 50% (from 40% to 60%).


Burger King’s latest campaign focuses on the difficulty for people with disabilities to navigate.  In this case, the confusion hearing impaired people may experience in trying to talk to people that don’t know sign language.  They highlighted this by posting creating signage… in sign language… including store names and entire menus, which made it impossible for those that don’t know sign language to read.

burger king sign language

Monitor what teens are doing and how they respond.

Start with your own teens.  Can your employees take a survey for you or pull together a group of teens to help guide you?  Teenagers know what’s hot and what’s not and they’ll tell you if you ask.

Spend some time with the platform and see how teens are using it, not how you think they are using it.  Remember, when you’re marketing to them, they’re not looking for marketing.  They’re sharing content with their friends and you’re intruding on their world.  Bad marketing attempts can lead to a negative perception and do more harm than good.

The shoe company TOMS tapped into the philanthropic urges by announcing they would donate a pair of shoes for anyone sharing a picture of their bare feet in its #withoutshoes campaign.


Don’t forget to market to Mom

Depending on what your marketing goals are, you may be targeting the wrong person. Mom still controls the vast majority of spending for teens by a margin of 3 to 1, especially in the early teen years.

Email, really?

Don’t think it’s only about social media.  When asked how they prefer to get messages from marketers, 68% of teens age 14-18 said they prefer email, according to a survey done by Adestra Limited.  But be careful, 60% also said they received too many marketing emails.  Also, make sure it’s mobile-friendly.  79% of teens in the same study said they just delete emails if they don’t look good on mobile – and that’s where they spend the overwhelming majority of time on line.