Create online communities to reach youth, says expert

Canadian marketers targeting the lucrative teen market must start creating the kind of online communities young people are seeking, or risk losing their audiences to U.S. sites. According to Patrick Thoburn, director of research and Internet strategy at Toronto-based Youth Culture,...

Canadian marketers targeting the lucrative teen market must start creating the kind of online communities young people are seeking, or risk losing their audiences to U.S. sites.

According to Patrick Thoburn, director of research and Internet strategy at Toronto-based Youth Culture, a youth media and research company, online features like message forums, chat lines, music, merchandise, information and, often, peer education, are building compelling online relationships with teens.

At a recent breakfast seminar organized by DoubleClick Canada, Thoburn unveiled some of the findings of Youth Culture’s teen study, to be released in April and discussed at Strategy’s Understanding Youth conference, May 8 and 9.

According to Thoburn, the number one Canadian site among Canadian teens is Muchmusic.com. Other sites that register with teens are primarily U.S.-based, including Zap.com, Comics.com, Spank.com, Billboard online, Delias.com and Bolt.com.

The latter, a New York-based site for high school and college students, with two million registered users, is, according to Thoburn, the most popular U.S. online community among Canadian teens – 10% of its visitors are Canadian, despite the fact that it has done no marketing in Canada.

The users of Bolt.com create 95% of the content, chat rooms are unsupervised and unedited, and every member gets a free local phone number, where they can receive voice-mail, and send and receive e-mail and faxes, says Thoburn. The Bolt online store constantly drops unwanted products and picks up stuff teens want – based on regular teen polls.

‘By turning over power to the teens, Bolt is trying to change franchising into a franchise itself,’ he says. ‘These online communities really go beyond the more passive relationships of traditional media – it’s the social and interactive aspects of these sites that make them most fulfilling for teens.’

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