It’s Time To Engage Teens In More Positive Ways

I recently attended an event at MIT, “Coming of Age in Dystopia: The Darkness of Young Adult Fiction,” that looked at the dark world of teen fiction. It was a panel discussion that featured moderator Marah Gubar, a professor of literature at MIT; Kenneth Kidd, a University of Florida professor who focuses on children’s literature and Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue. It was an interesting talk that highlighted the impact media can have on teens; as well as the responsibility of those who engage teens, through media or otherwise.

The discussion started with a reference to “Darkness Too Visible,” a 2011Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon on the nature of young adult fiction. Almost four years after it appeared, it still evoked a strong response from Cashore. She and Kidd touched on the issue of censorship by parents, teachers and librarians, with Cashore saying such attempts demonstrated adults’ desire to avoid difficult issues.

What troubled me most about the event was an apparent double standard at play. Cashore seemed happy to recount the positive messages she receives from young readers who can identify and find strength through her characters, but spoke with derision of letters she receives from adults chastising her for the sex in her novels.

Frankly, I have no issue with sex but there are parts of young adult literature that I find problematic. These are around destructive behaviors that are either glorified or glossed over. For example, the book Willow came up during the event. It’s about a teen girl who becomes involved with self-harm and tells only her boyfriend. They don’t seek any adult support and it seemed irresponsible to leave kids with the message they can cope with this type of thing on their own.

While none of the panelists were familiar with the book, Cashore offered two defenses. The first was that different readers will take different things from a book and the second was that she believes this writing is not necessarily meant to be instructive. That second point is the one that bears consideration.

Those who create content for teens must be aware that their audience is constantly seeking direction and validation. Whether intentional or not, teens will take lessons from content they’re exposed to. Some will find positive messages and meaning in media and others will gravitate toward darker signals.

As new content and distribution channels have become available, the ability to curate content aimed at young people has diminished. Teenage boys no longer need to face the judgmental gaze of a convenience store clerk if they want pornography. Young girls, via the Internet, can be exposed to more information on a range of diseases and disorders than ever before. The MIT panel, for example, brought up Wintergirls on the topic of anorexia, which some critics described as “an instruction book for how to be anorexic.”

The new reality of unfiltered exposure to content can have serious consequences for teens; whether it’s a dramatic increase in eating disordersor kids deciding to leave home to join ISIS. The media genie is not something that can be put back into the bottle. So what can be done to engage teens in more positive ways?

  • Recognize that the media influences teens. To pretend otherwise is to play a dangerous game. If you are developing digital experiences for kids — even if fun and frothy — your audience may latch onto things in unintended ways.
  • Create opportunities for positive experiences. Digital media has teens and kids in its thrall, and that affinity can be used to expose these audiences to their potential and big ideas. It may not be easy but it is worth considering. John and Hank Green — and the whole “nerd fighter” movement — do this really effectively.
  • Cynicism is part of teen life but there should also be room for affirmation. Always’ “Like a Girl” Super Bowl spot is a great example of this being done well.

The teenage years may well be dark and difficult ones for most kids. Dwelling on the dystopian aspects of life does little to alleviate the challenges teens face and, in some cases, exacerbates those challenges. Marketers are not going to solve the problems of the still nascent world of digital media but if they are more mindful they can avoid making a difficult situation worse.

Originally published at www.mediapost.com.

Anonymity And Privacy

When it comes to connecting and communicating, there’s no shortage of choices available to teenagers (and the rest of us). How these different options work and impact the way teens communicate is worth exploring. There are three camps when it comes to social and messaging apps: private, semi-private and anonymous.

Anonymous apps, like Whisper or Yik Yak, offer consequence-free communication for posters. Names aren’t used and many of these apps don’t collect phone number, email addresses or other personal information. Of course, just because the sender’s name isn’t used doesn’t mean names are missing all together. You can frequently find people named in posts and rarely in a positive way.

This has had consequences on the perception of these apps. Yik Yak, for example, detects when someone is near a middle school or high school (it’s intended for 17+) and won’t display posts or allow them to be made. This is likely due to some of the concerns around bullying and threats of violence.

Private social/messaging apps like Facebook and iMessage are easier to understand. Even if they don’t use real names, these apps are all about individuals and groups connecting with each other. These treat identity and privacy in different ways. Some use real names, others use user names. Some store messages on servers, others do not. Some keep content indefinitely while others let it evaporate after a time.

Finally, there are semi-private apps like Instagram, Kik and Tango where posts and profiles may be public but conversations are not. These apps can also allow information to be viewed and shared in ways the poster might not have originally anticipated.

All three types of apps have their place but one interesting issue affecting all of them is the conflation of anonymity and privacy. I decided to get some other perspectives on this issue so asked people involved with app development, marketing and advertising for their thoughts:

“Open and productive communications are impossible when one party is hiding behind the armor of anonymity. Consider the difference between driving and walking. No one swears at strangers as they pass on the sidewalk, but it’s rampant when we’re behind the wheel. In digital communications anonymity can be harmful to brands and individuals alike whereas private, or even semi-private communications, offer a nice alternative to the wide exposure of public comments. Think Angie’s List reviews as opposed to anonymous blog comments from Internet trolls.” — Beth Monaghan, principal, InkHouse Media

“Teens have flocked to apps like Snapchat and Yik Yak; but as we know, their claims of security and privacy are not exactly watertight. This is because messages sent using those services are stored on servers, meaning they can be — and have been — compromised. This can be a problem for teens since they are notorious for acting before they think — so their need for assured privacy is almost a safety net — as is the ability to delete a regrettable text message after the fact.” — Greg Parker, founder of Raketu, creator of the RakEM app

“Teens are an expressive crowd and they crave public gratification, whether its favorites/likes, comments or just having a photo added to a stream. We’ve discovered it’s best to offer multiple communications layers — anonymous when needed, private when they want to share with a friend, and public when they can get larger feedback.” — William Agush, founder of Shuttersong

“Anonymity means not being accountable for what you say — and usually not controlling who hears or reads it. Privacy, on the other hand, not only gives you control over who hears what you say but also makes you accountable for it. Young people should consider whether they are willing to be accountable for what they share on anonymous apps — sometimes posting is the brave thing to do, and sometimes it’s just the opposite.” — Jenny Mirken, founder of Jet

“Effective communication often comes down to truth and honesty. If you want the public to view your comments as truth, then be honest about who you are. If the truth is not appropriate for public consumption, keep it private. And, in those instances when anonymity can help uncover the truth (market research, for instance), only share it with those who need to know.” — Jeff Freedman, CEO, Small Army

The points about accountability and honesty ring true. For teens — or anyone — to communicate there needs to be some knowledge of who is on the other side of the screen. Sure, it can be liberating to say whatever is on your mind without worrying about the consequences but can it be the basis for a two-way conversation?

For brands that want to establish meaningful connections with teenage customers, it’s hard to imagine the anonymous route being at all effective since anonymity by its very nature negates the benefit of the brand. Private or semi-private channels make more sense and there are great examples appearing every day. To be successful, keep the channels of communication clear, open and honest — and for goodness sake, don’t confuse privacy with anonymity.

Originally published at www.mediapost.com.

Engaging Teens Through Music

Think back to your own teen years. Maybe it was not long ago. Maybe it was decades ago. What did you love when you were young? Cars? Video games? Movies? Dancing? Sports? Some of you probably liked some of those things but there is one thing pretty much every teen loves and that’s music. Music holds a special place in everyone’s heart and memory. A song from a long ago summer can bring back memories in a way few other things can match. Listening to and loving music is part and parcel of being a teen.

For some kids, music is about more than listening though. They want to play. That’s where there are opportunities for you to engage with teens. Now this might be a little self-serving (but probably not) but here goes.

I have two teenagers. My daughter, whom I’ll call Z, loves playing rock and roll. She listens to a lot of punk rock (classic and modern), hard rock, metal, screamo, emo and more. Finding an opportunity to play was a challenge. A few of her friends are musicians but not into rock, and while there were some kids at school, actually coordinating things was easier said than done. It was a problem.

That changed a few years ago when someone introduced her to PluggedIn, a band program aimed at teens. PluggedIn organizes kids into bands based on the music they’re into, has a building that is chuck full of practice spaces, has adults who mentor the kids and maintains a weekly rehearsal schedule. It’s all pretty turnkey.

Every week my wife or I drive Z to her practice and pick her up when it’s over. Sometimes this is inconvenient. Sometimes there are things she’d rather be doing on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, when she recounts her practice sessions, I wonder what they’re actually doing. Any doubts, though, are erased at their concerts.

A few weekends ago was their show. Z played in two bands, one on Saturday night and the other on Sunday afternoon. I’m not going to lie; there was some tragically terrible musicianship on display. But that didn’t matter, because there was plenty of good music too. What was also on display was a whole lot of teens doing something they really loved. When Z went up on stage and sang three songs with one of her bands I was blown away. It literally brought tears to my eyes.

As I looked at the audience and at the kids on stage and at the ones waiting in the wings, I saw people transported by the opportunity to make and enjoy music. There are programs like PluggedIn all over the country. There’s Camp Jam, School of Rock, Girls Rock and Seattle Teen Music to name just a few.

As budgets for the arts in public schools tighten, teens and their parents are turning to these programs as an outlet for expression and community. What I didn’t see at the PluggedIn concert — and here is where there’s an opportunity for marketers — was anyone sponsoring the program. It seemed crazy to me that there could be a group of 200 kids in one program in one community that was demonstrating loud and clear a really strong and specific interest without a business recognizing the opportunity to connect. It seems a shame that more marketers aren’t recognizing the potential of supporting kids in exploring a passion, especially one as strong as rock and roll.

Originally published at www.mediapost.com.

Balancing Your Media Diet

When I was a kid we had the food pyramid. It was designed to help people think about the right mix of foods for a healthy diet. The plate has replaced the pyramid but the idea is the same — you need to be mindful about what you put into your body in order to stay healthy.

The same thing is true for what you put into your head. The more varied the information you consume, the more connections you’ll be able to make between issues and ideas. The more diverse your information diet, the more likely you’ll be able to discover insights that can prompt new ideas and ways of solving problems.

Here’s one example. A few weeks ago, for reasons I can’t explain, I watchedNuclear 101: How Nuclear Bombs Work, Part 1, on YouTube. It was a lecture by Matthew Bunn, associate professor of public policy at Harvard. For years nuclear history has been an interest but the science is tough. Bunn made it very accessible.

He described the problem of achieving fission in a sub-critical mass. He explained that there are three solutions: add more material, reflect neutrons back in to the material, or compress the material. It made sense to me and it apparently lodged someplace in my head.

A few days later I was talking with a client. She was describing the challenge of more effectively using her global communication teams. Simply adding more money wasn’t the answer, she said. And then I remembered the lecture. Her teams, I said, were like the atoms in a sub-critical mass. Money was akin to neutrons. Adding more could help, but so would using consistent messages and materials (similar to reflection) and better coordination with the regions (similar to compression). It was an apt analogy and led to a more focused discussion on how to implement the approach.

With that example in mind, here is a way to think about media consumption in a way that can help broaden your mind when it comes to the events and issues of the day. In the world of MyPlate, there are five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. Applying this notion to media consumption, we could also think of five categories: foundation, expansion, practical, inspirational and indulgent.

Here’s what they mean:

  • Foundation is the basic information needed to put things into context. It’s the news, history, literature and anything else that provides a fundamental view of the world.
  • Expansion is information or ideas that you aren’t familiar with or don’t agree with. The news falls into this category, so can a lot of other things, such as vides (like the one mentioned above), topic-specific publications or partisan Web sites. Consuming this content can take discipline.
  • Practical is information that helps you do what needs to be done. Understanding a clients business or what a particular reporter is writing about are examples.
  • Inspirational is media that makes you feel good and gives you space to recharge and reflect. It can be music, art or anything else that works for you.
  • Indulgent is information that is more a guilty pleasure than anything else. For some it might be reality TV, for others talk radio, for me, it’s video games.

Too much of anything isn’t healthy so it’s important to come up with a mix that’s right for you. For most people it’s easy to spend time with practical and indulgent media. It’s easy to justify it — the practical stuff can help you get your job done and the indulgent stuff is a necessary respite if you’ve been over-taxing the old grey matter.

Media isn’t like food though. You can’t measure it consistently in terms of calories. Does a copy of US Magazine equal two episodes of Parks & Rec? Is binge watching Breaking Bad the same as plowing through three weeks worth of the Sunday Styles section? And what should you do about that stack of ten unread New Yorkers? It’s pretty hard to say.

The important thing is to mix things up. It’s easy to get into media ruts and fall back to familiar formats or content. It’s also easy to stick with popular media. This gives you plenty of fodder for water cooler conversations but if everyone is consuming the same content they’ll also likely come up with the same ideas and observations.

It’s also important to recognize that the right media mix will vary from person-to-person and over a lifetime. A middle schooler will have a far different media profile than a veterinarian, who will likely be consuming different content than an airline pilot. While different people need to engage with different media, it’s important that they don’t isolate themselves in their own media universe.

This has been a big concern when it comes to political media. There has been an assumption that many people only consumed media that supported their point of view. Thankfully, according to a recent story in the New York Times, that isn’t the case. According to the story, what people are actually observed consuming differs — and if far more diverse — from what they report consuming. This is a hopeful sign.

Achieving a healthy media mix isn’t something that should be left to chance. As a first step, why not begin tracking what you read, watch, listen to and play? Do it for a week and assess your media diet. Are you watching way more TV than you meant to? Have you whiled away untold hours playing FIFA 15? Be honest with yourself. Then push yourself the find more balance.

As a communications professional, not only will this give you a glimpse into the actual media you consume, but it will also help broaden that mix, which will expose you to new ideas, help you make new connections and allow you to deliver new insights to colleagues and clients.


Originally published at www.inkhouse.net.

Make Time For Game Time

A new class of media channels is creating vast new audiences of deeply engaged young viewers. They are also blurring the line between creators and consumers. While some marketers recognize the potential of these platforms, there is more that can be done.

Twitch, Major League Gaming and Steam have made it possible for gamers to share their skills and connect with other gamers. These services have made gaming a spectator activity that has become wildly popular. While teen engagement through traditional media channels may have advertisers and marketers reaching for their Maalox, participation in these new platforms is going through the roof. Consider these facts:

  • Twitch has 100 million monthly viewers and over one million gamers streaming their sessions live
  • In 2013, MLG compared viewership for its Pro Circuit Championship with the NCAA March Madness Tournament Video Live viewership: MLG had 54 million hours of video consumed vs. just 14 million for the NCAA
  • On Jan. 4 of this year, steam saw its highest number of concurrent users:8.5 million; NBC was the highest rated network for the week ending Jan. 4– with 7.3 million viewers

These are big, big numbers and they point to a level of engagement between streamers and viewers that other media channels can’t approach or replicate. But what does this engagement look like? What are these millions of streamers and viewers doing for all of these millions of monthly hours? These are the basic activities:

  • Play — there’s got to be someone streaming their gameplay for this to work and so it starts with the gamer. Their game screen is the core of the experience. As they play the gamer is visible, either in a small pop-out box or green-screened in one of the corners.
  • Narrate — as they play, most streamers are talking — mostly about the game they are playing, the opponents they are facing, the system they are using, etc.
  • Interact — viewers can talk to each other via chat and with the streamer. Sometimes there may be a Twitter feed on the screen, sometimes a chat box. Either way, there is a lot of flow across the screen.

It can be a pretty busy experience for the uninitiated. What is missing from this cacophonous space is any meaningful marketing. What there is typically takes the form of video before a stream launches or a site takeover (“The Lazarus Effect” owned the MLG screen when I wrote this). There are also brands that sponsor specific teams or players. Little evidence of that appears in the actual stream experience though and that’s where the action is.

Figuring out how to connect with the audience is a tricky business and one that needs to be handled with some sensitivity. As was the case with social media when it first appeared on the scene, brands need to learn the rules and norms of these channels before barging in. Here are a few ideas for getting a handle on the world of streaming gaming:

  • Watch — have someone spend time simply observing what is happening, learning the language that is used, understanding how interactions take place in the environment.
  • Play — this is a tough job, but if you want to connect with this audience, someone is going to have to be a gamer. Why?
  • Stream — This is why you need a gamer. Ideally, you want people to want to watch you. Your brand can become a destination for this audience if you can present a personality that they want to connect with. A funny, affable, skilled player and voice is key.

Obviously, this type of thing isn’t appropriate for every brand; but for technology companies, game publishers, snacks and soft drinks, and entertainment properties this approach could make sense. Yet as was the case with the early days of social, brands wanting to participate in this channel need to be authentic, committed and thick-skinned (there’s no shortage of trash talking, trolling and inappropriate banter here).

A brand that is able to create a strong personality and following within the new realm of streaming gaming will have a direct channel to a large and growing audience in a way that no other channel currently offers. Seriously, make time for game time.

Originally published at www.mediapost.com.

Pssst, it’s almost time for WebInno44 . . .

A new year and a host of new companies hoping to make it big at WebInno. Things kick off on January 12th with WebInno44. As usual, the festivities will begin at 6:30 at the Royal Sonnesta in comfortable Kendall Square. Here’s my preview of the companies that will be on hand.

Main Dishes

Flyp – Get Multiple Numbers on your Smartphone – There’s not much to see on the Flyp site yet, just the ability to request an invite and a link to a video about the service—which I watched. Basically, Flyp lets you set up multiple phone numbers on a single device, just like their tag line says. They offer a number of reasons you might want to do this – separate numbers for friends or work or creeps you don’t really want to hear from. I guess that makes sense. It does seem like this is something you could do on your own, with Google Voice or Skype. Of course that means having multiple accounts to manage, with different passwords, prompts, etc.

Speaking of which, it is really annoying that every phone I use – home (yeah, I still have one, much to my chagrin), cell and office – uses different keys to skip or delete or save a message; and every company I call uses some different variation of # or * or 0 to bypass voice prompts. Can’t there be a standard? What’s the value or benefit of every carrier or company using their own proprietary approach. Annoying. If Flyp helps deal with that I’m a believer.

Rocketboard – On its face Rocketboard seems like something that’s been done. Essentially it allows you to broadcast (or record) the contents of a whiteboard in real time. One might imagine being able to do this with a Webcam or smartphone and the truth is you can. In fact, Rocketboard uses your smartphone to capture the content on your whiteboard.

If you’re wondering, “why would I need this if I have a phone,” Rocketboard appears to have a couple of nice bells and whistles that take it beyond those more rudimentary approaches. Here are a few of them:

  • By drawing triangles on the corners of the board, Rocketboard is able to recognize the dimensions of the board and correct for the angle and aspect ratio. That means a viewer, instead of seeing a skewed view gets a nice clean rectangle.
  • Rocketboard is smart enough to omit the person working on the whiteboard from the video. It does this by recommending that the person step away from the board from time-to-time to allow the system to capture the changes.
  • It is able to capture still images of the board. Again, this may seem basic but Rocketboard appears to make it really easy. By blocking the camera on your phone for a moment it takes a photo.

All of the files can be made available to those participating in the meeting in real time or as a video to be watched after the fact. It is kind of cool but I’m not sure if it’s the sine qua non of cool office stuff. Maybe Monday will prove me wrong.

Upward Labs – Upward Labs makes it “easy for brands to create and manage their own brand ambassador programs.” I don’t think anyone would argue with the premise here. Brands clearly love it when customers are willing to give them positive word of mouth or social media buzz. In fact, brands have been working with partners like BzzAgent since 2001. I’m not 100 percent sure how what Upward does differs from BzzAgent. Perhaps it’s less expensive, easier to use, fundamentally better? That would be my first question to the folks at Upward Labs and hopefully I’ll have a chance to ask it on Monday night.

 

Side Dishes

Allclasses – Find the best online classes, or search locally – People are mad about MOOCs these days, and with good reason. You can learn so much from so many sources. Whether you’re just curious about something or are actively studying, there’s content or courseware out there somewhere. Allclasses is a terrific clearinghouse of pretty much any online course you can imagine from MIT Open Courseware to Udemy to Linda Online to a million others.

What’s even cooler is that you can find local in-person classes as well. I searched for photography and got a list of more than 3,000 classes. Overwhelming, right? It would be if Allclasses didn’t have some great filtering tools. You can sort results by online or in-person only, price, provide, category, start time and more. It’s all pretty slick and makes Allclasses feel like the top of the class for WebInno44.

BriefMe – What the World is Reading Now – I’m going to be a little snide here, but it’s because I like the idea of BriefMe. First of all, BriefMe is a news aggregator. There are plenty of them out there but this one is based on what people are posting or tweeting about all over the world. Now a bone – BriefMe claims to be the first news-ranking app “powered by people. Instead of relying on the judgment of an editorial team, our editor is an algorithm . . .” Let me just clear something up for everyone: editorial teams are made up of people, algorithms are not.

A news service that delivers “the most popular news articles” is going to miss out on less popular, but possibly more important news. The fact that Kim Kardashian’s butt broke the Internet was a popular story but not necessarily a very important one. Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria is important news but not necessarily popular. This is why there are editorial teams in the first place, to help identify and ensure coverage of important topics rather than just fun and popular ones.

Of course I am saying this without actually having tried the BriefMe app. I have signed up for it though and hope to have a chance to check it out.

Connections – Craft Reliable Relationships – That’s a pretty expansive claim for an app to make. What exactly is a reliable relationship? A friend that keeps their word; one that shows up on time? It seems like that’s something the other person is responsible for, how is an app meant to alter someone else’s behavior to make them more reliable? Connections isn’t that ambitious. It basically allows you to annotate and tag your contacts. That’s cool. But not that cool.

HomeBinder – A Homeowner’s Best Friend – Now this is something I can get my head around. I am a homeowner and if there’s one thing my wife and I have learned it that it’s a pain in the butt. Just the other day, it was 9 degrees out and we woke up to a furnace that wasn’t working. Nice. Fortunately, when we opened it up to figure out what was wrong there was a big red “reset” button. I pushed it and the problem was solved. Not everything is so simple and HomeBinder seems like a solid way to manage all of the headaches of homeownership.

The site allows you to set up binders for each home you own (or presumably manage I guess). Binders can include all kinds of useful information – the contractors you use, the rooms in your house, the paints on your walls, your appliances and more. That’s pretty cool. My wife is really good about keeping records of everything but sometimes finding this or that receipt or document is a challenge. HomeBinder would make the process much easier.

HomeBinder features both a free (intended for renters) and paid version ($49 per year and targeted at homeowners). The paid version has a number of additional features, including the ability to upload photos, receive recall notifications and tax reports. Pretty neat. The one thing I don’t see on the site is any mention of an app but the mobile site seems pretty nice. A big thumbs up for HomeBinder.

Legal Hero – Law Done Better – Not only am I a homeowner, but I am also someone who has had to employ the services of a lawyer on a somewhat regular basis. Years ago Wendy and I needed to write our wills and we used some software or Website that I can’t even recall anymore. Years later, when kids, special needs and more serious death planning (not that it will happen any time soon I hope) our legal needs became more complex. Legal Hero seems sit somewhere between DIY and going all in.

Basically, Legal Hero is a marketplace to connect people with legal needs with a network of lawyers. The site says participating attorneys have an average of 15 years experience and that almost all of them have attended at top 100 law school. Lawyers are able to register on the site by applying to be a part of the network. Once accepted, a lawyer will opt into the types of projects they want to work on. At that point, people like me will reach out looking for help solving a legal issue.

Now Legal Hero isn’t actually designed to help write wills or stuff like that. The site has a number of projects you can select from, most of which are related to business needs. The projects include things like starting a business, managing a team and protecting your brand. The site walks you though some simple steps to understand exactly what you need. For example, if you say you’re looking for help protecting your brand, you get additional options: trademark registration, copyright registration and confidentiality agreements. Selecting one of these branches you further to get to the specific service you’re looking for. In the case of confidentiality agreements, to have one prepared will cost you $375, which includes a consultation and customized agreement.

At this point it’s time to select your lawyer, which is done based on your location. I decided not to take this step because I don’t want to get emails but it made sense to me. As with almost any industry, the marketplace model here makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how Legal Hero evolves.

JessMeetKen – Meet Great Guys Other Women Have Recommended – Hmmmm. Maybe there are situations where marketplaces don’t work. JMK is targeted to women. The idea is that if you know a guy but you’re attached or he’s not right in some way you can add him to the site and women can check him out and ask you for the skinny. I can see how this might be a good idea, you get the lowdown on someone that looks like they might be a fit, but I wonder how guys will feel about being on the site?

Skit! – My kids love making absurd videos with and about their friends, fandoms and interests. They spend a fair amount of time looking for tools to use, gathering their content and editing things together. I love it. Most of what they make makes zero sense but they’re having fun and learning skills. Skit! is an attempt to make that process easier. I guess that’s cool but part of me likes it that what they’re doing isn’t easy. I like it that it takes time and effort to come up with something. Like I said, most of it makes no sense but they made it. Skit seems to take some of the effort out of the equation and that might not be a good thing. If I had more time today I’d make a skit, sadly I don’t. Maybe tomorrow.

SplitNGo – Benefits for Restaurants – This is a neat little payment system for restaurants. When the meal is over, people pull out their phone to view their bill. They can either settle up via the phone or with a card or cash. If they pay with SplitNGo their account is cleared and the waiter notified so they can swing by to say “thanks.” The app promises to solve “guests #1 problem,” and the site explains that waiting can turn an excellent experience into a poor one. That’s true, but to be honest, the wait that’s really annoying is long before the bill comes: waiting for drinks, waiting for orders to be taken and food to be delivered are all more annoying than waiting to pay. But that’s just me.

Weft – Tracking and Control System – For the second time in recent WebInno history we have a hardware product. This one is pretty cool. Weft devices are small and are meant to be affixed to cargo so it can be tracked and monitored. Not only does Weft let you see where an item is but it also lets you know the conditions it is traveling though by monitoring things like temperature, humidity, etc. Cool.

Weft integrates with all your favorite ERP and CRM systems, which means all the data collected by Weft is automatically at your fingertips when and where you need it. That’s also pretty cool. Finally (as if everything else wasn’t enough!), Weft is able to look at real time and historical data for all shipments being tracked by the platform. Magically, Weft can use this information to identify problems and bottlenecks so shippers can update their planned routes and schedules to keep performance in tip-top shape. Weft actually makes me wish I had a few containers to ship.

Whovoo – When you want to be absolutely, positively private and secret – OK, let me just say that there is NOTHING in this digital world of ours that is positively private and secret. That being said, Whovoo is trying to make sharing a little safer. I’m not really clear on who this is intended for. If I want to send a picture of my dog I’m not that worried about who sees it. The cute look and feel of the app (which I have not tried since I am on Android) makes it seem kind of for kids, but the FAQ make it clear it’s only for people over 13.

Once I started looking at the FAQ I got a little more confused. For example, one question asks: “Does Whovoo store my private photos and messages on its servers?” The answer is “no.” A few questions later we see, “Where are Whoots [their term for an encrypted photo and message inside a Whovoo envelope] physically stored?” As it turns out, these are stored on Whoot’s servers until they expire. That seems to contradict the first answer. There’s a bit of nuance in that your stuff isn’t stored “unencrypted” but it is nevertheless stored on their servers.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff happening in the messaging space these days and Whovoo might be a neat addition to the mix. I’ll wait to see but won’t hold my breath.

 

So that’s it from me. There’s a ton of neat looking companies lined up for this edition of WebInno and I’m looking forward to checking them out. Hope to see you there!

Avoiding “Jackie Paper” Syndrome

As the app space has matured, marketers have become savvier about the cost of acquiring loyal customers. There’s one notable exception: those marketers who are targeting tweens and teens. This group is apparently happy to be in constant customer acquisition mode, forever welcoming new customers through the front door while watching them exit through the back. This is Jackie Paper syndrome.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jackie Paper, I suggest you listen to Puff the Magic Dragon. In the song, “painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.” That’s what happens every day as hard-won customers age out of services and move on. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem to make sense. Sure, there are some products that are designed for people of certain ages (baby food, Depends, etc.) but apps and social platforms don’t need to be among them, do they?

While COPPA does draw a bright line between teens and not quite teens, it seems silly for companies catering to young people not to have a plan for carrying those customers forward into their teen years and beyond. This is a classic example of Jackie Paper syndrome. Once good money has been invested in attracting young consumers, why not create a path forward to maintain those relationships?

This seems to be a sensible approach but one rarely taken. As digital platforms and services become ubiquitous for young and old alike, creating services that comply with COPPA and are open to everyone seems like a pretty obvious idea. What stands in the way of this happening? It isn’t the technology or the ways the technology is used. In the end, it seems to boil down to the odd belief that experiences designed for tweens and teens have no place in the adult world.

How absurd.

While not many adults or older teens are going to sign up for sites or services that are clearly designed for young teens, kids who want to get involved with social are in a quandary. They can either a) stick to kids-only services or b) lie about their ages. If they take the first approach they’re going to find themselves segregated in the magical land of Honah Lee (another Puff the Magic Dragon reference FYI) that they’ll soon outgrow. If they choose the second approach they’ll find themselves trying to reconcile reality with the fiction the created when they were underage.

Is there a problem with finding yourself in an age-specific realm? Not necessarily. The biggest issue is attempting to transpose that persona once the post-COPPA world becomes a reality. All of the content and connections crafted as a tween fall by the wayside once the COPPA barrier is breached. The result is inconvenience as a new service needs to be identified and a new identity established.

Perhaps this isn’t that big a deal. Perhaps kids under 13 welcome the opportunity to reinvent themselves when they cross the magical threshold into their teen years. Perhaps all of the content and all of those connections lose their meaning overnight. Perhaps, but probably not. Marketers need to rethink their relationships with the tween and early teen set.

There’s nothing to prevent the creation of a social app that’s open to everyone. Such an app – one that provided all of the capabilities that consumers have come to expect from a social platform – could be crafted in a way that is age-agnostic. Taking this approach would allow marketers to treat their relationships with tweens and teens as extensible rather than temporary.

This approach would also allow young people to preserve and expand their online identities from the present into the future. Does this mean all members should be treated identically regardless of their age? Not at all. The fact is people of different ages have different expectations around privacy and the social experience, but those differences can be expressed in a single app rather than discreet ones based on age.

Given the cost of acquiring a customer, and the growing focus on customer lifetime value, falling prey to Jackie Paper syndrome seems a shame. It will also lead to marketers’ tears – like Puff’s green scales – falling like rain.

This post originally appeared on MediaPost Engage:Teens.