Decoding digital friends

Toronto-based youth research and innovation firm DECODE has partnered with strategy to unveil findings from its DECODING Digital Friends study.

Toronto-based youth research and innovation firm DECODE has partnered with strategy to unveil some of the findings of its DECODING Digital Friends study. They surveyed 1,049 young people aged 15 to 35 and had 50 keep online diaries. They also had four online dialogues with groups of 10 youths. Here, we pulled some key findings from the 15-to-19 age group and asked Scott Beffort, lead strategist and head of innovation at DECODE, what the information means to brands.

It’s a social world

Social networking has overtaken all other forms of communication among teens. Here’s a breakdown:

Percentage of teens using the following forms of communication on a regular weekly basis:
68% Social networks • 46% SMS • 48% Email • 8% Twitter

Facebook is it
We all know how prominent Facebook has become, but did you know that most of the conversations teens are having in the hallways at school originate on Facebook?
“We call it ‘social media,’ they call it ‘life,’” says Beffort.
“There’s lots of options right now for organizations to build for different platforms, but Facebook is clearly the most dominant, the most engaging platform that there is. If you target the right people on Facebook, they will take your message to other platforms for you. So if you’re only building for one platform, especially for young people, Facebook is it.”

Why no tweets?
“If you were dropped from another planet onto Earth today, or at least in North America, and you just started listening to radio and watching TV, you’d think that Twitter was used much more than it is. We think one of the reasons for this is, in general, social media is not always social. Meaning that when you think of the word ‘social’ you think about interactions between individuals, one person and another. When we actually dig into social media, we see that there are clear core behaviours – sharing, using, commenting, rating, creating. When you look at Twitter, two of the major components of that are creating and/or sharing. Twitter requires you to have a more active participation in that form of social media, and by nature, most of us aren’t…it’s actually used as a way to stalk information, looking for new ideas. I think the more utility Twitter offers, the more popular it may become among teenagers.”

It’s not the size of the network, but the size of the core
Average total network for teens: 380
(Average total for people 15 to 35 = 283)
The core teen network: 43
Average number of best friends: 6
Average number of close friends: 22
Average number of family members: 15

“Your core network is really where you get your indicators from, where you get your most trusted recommendations from, it’s where influence comes from, it’s where opinions that matter come from.”
The parent factor: “One of the things we do know definitively is that parents are incredibly influential and oftentimes much more influential than brands think that they are.”

What are teens using social media for?

How teens behave online:
88% Using (listen/read/look) • 79% Creating
63% Commenting • 48% Sharing • 36% Multi

“Ultimately, brands need to understand that [teens are] not interacting with social media equally. Forty-eight percent of them share but don’t share all things, 79% might create but don’t create all things. Just because they’re creators or sharers doesn’t mean that they’re both. So ultimately understanding the most value is really trying to find the people in your network who are most influential.”

A rateable world
67% of high school students rate things through social media.

“They’re growing up in a world where everything is rateable – their teachers, clothes, parents. My provocation to brands is, how easy are you to rate, and where does that take place? If 67% of high school students or teenagers are rating today and you haven’t provided a way for them to interact with your brand through rating, then you’re probably leaving an opportunity for them to engage with you off the table. The other reality is that if they’re not rating you in your environment, they are rating you somewhere else.”

What qualities must an organization have for you to do something with a recommendation from them?

“What happens if you send more relevant, respectful recommendations? 51% of the time that converts or translates into a purchase. Trusted, known brands have a privileged place in social media. Social media is not an environment, I think, where brands are going to be built, it’s where good brands can become better or stronger.”

What are the top three favourite types of information you like getting most from any organization digitally?
65% Free stuff • 35% Promotions • 33% Contests

Teens respond “I like this brand and have communicated with it digitally”:


“Across the board, look at the percentage of young people that engage
with brands they like digitally. So they’re growing up digitally in an environment that’s synonymous with social media, yet [the majority] of the audience isn’t engaging with brands in a digital way. The [brand’s] mobilization should be coming through social media. The story is what’s left on the table.”

The importance of Buzzfluencers
Buzzfluence (a term trademarked by DECODE) is an index made up of qualitative measurements (attitudinal, behavioural) and quantitative elements (size of networks, size of core network).
“We didn’t set out to develop the index, we saw consistencies, common behaviours among groups of people. We realized there’s a small percentage of the population across all life stages that are highly influential. So we developed an algorithm to help our clients find this valuable segment.”

35% of teens are Buzzfluencers
average network size of a Buzzfluencer: 482

What to do with your Buzzfluencers?
Emulate them: “Brands might start having to act more like them – not just on their own website, going out and creating more, using social media more, being active within it themselves and even rating more.”
Work with them: “Bring them in to help shape a social media strategy in a way that you probably wouldn’t have done in the past, but will probably be much more disruptive than any other strategy you’re going to build because of who they are.”

DECODE is a global strategic consultancy that merges research and innovation to solve clients’ biggest challenges related to young people. Since 1994, DECODE has completed over 500 projects for the world’s leading businesses and governments. www.decode.net

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