April 23, 2007

During Mother's Day, the kids all went into the family room. The PC was driven by two 17-year-old girls and overlooked by two 12-year-old boys. Of course the girls kept telling the boys to go outside and play. They wanted to be together and "check people out" on MySpace. Talk about social anthropology. They get together in person and talk and talk. Inevitably they end up sharing a chair in front of a computer with a broadband connection. The bulk of the conversation is showing each other their friend's postings, musings, cynicism and wacky photos on MySpace.

They both tell me that they are on MySpace but nervous of it. (I trained them well.) They have their network set as private and their intro pictures, screen names, age and locations nondescript. They both agree they prefer Facebook because it's safer and they don't get "freaks" asking to be their friends. However, they spend a lot of time on both.

For those of you who have read my work, you know I am a big fan of Pew and often cite its Internet & American Life project. I know it bugs my non-U.S.-based friends and colleagues. However, I find the findings spot-on. For instance, a new study, "Social Networking Websites and Teens," noted that older teen girls tend to reinforce friendships online whereas boys tend to make new friends and flirt.

My two resident teens reinforced these findings. I looked at their pages to see their pictures and the comments that followed. They had 4 - 8 comments per picture. The girls made comments like, "You are so beautiful... I love your hair... That prom dress was gorgeous on you... I love you...You are my BFF..." The boys were rather coy and flirty and said things like, "Who's the cute girl in the pic...How can I meet her...Hey, now, remember when we danced..."

Not only did I feel like the oldest woman in the world, I was amazed. Sure, these teens are part of the digital revolution. They all feel as if they have something to say and they know the world is there to hear it. But social networking has brought teen online usage to a new level. It's like me with my BlackBerry.

According to the study, more than half (55%) of all online American youths aged 12-17 use social networking sites.

Other key findings include:

-- 55% of teens on social networking sites have created profiles.

-- 66% of those who created profiles say they limit access to their profiles.

-- 48% of teens say they visit social networking sites at least daily.

-- 91% of social networking teens say they use the site to communicate with friends they see frequently, and 82% say they stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person.

-- 72% use social networking to make plans with friends.

-- Older girls (15-17) are the most avid users of social networking sites (70%).

-- 85% of social networking teens say they use MySpace to update their profiles most often.

So what do social networking sites have that other sites don't? What's the appeal? To these teens, MySpace is an actual place -- like the mall is to us on Saturdays. It's where teens go to hang out. Listen to them: They don't give out their email addresses; they give out their MySpace page. Ask any of them, and they'll tell you your MySpace page has to reflect you -- from the background pattern and colors to icons and fonts, to the content and pictures -- and be updated all the time. I guess we could take some of this info and apply it to the sites we represent.

By Seana Mulcahy
Courtesy of http://www.mediapost.com

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