PonDering "screenagers"

Her au pair asks, “Ready to go?” She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.

screenagersThus begins 13, right now, a fascinating story from Jessica Contrera in May 25’s Washington Post, focusing on one 13-year-old girl’s relationship with the Internet. Much of what she learns and experiences comes from a supercharged combination of mediated messages, entertainment content and online peer relationships.

This topic is also explored in a recent documentary titled Screenagers, about teen addiction to smart phones. “Only three percent of teens’ screen time involves creating stuff, according to Common Sense Media. The rest of it is devoted to consuming video and music content, playing games and using social media,” notes a February article in Forbes’ by Keith Wagstaff.

How our relationships with screens affects communication today in terms of marketing, advertising, public relations, news, entertainment, etc. is speedily evolving. For those in the industry, the challenge of reaching people with our messages is daunting. If this 13-year-old engaged with a half a dozen platforms and saw scores of images in just 12 minutes, how will our messages reach her and her demographic? Can we penetrate the harmonies and cacophonies of the Internet and its maddening number of entertainment and information options? What skills do PR professional now need in a communication environment of total immersion? Your thoughts?

One thought on “PonDering "screenagers"

  1. Stephanie Adomavicius

    The Washington Post article really struck me. Thinking back to when I was 13, one of the “cool” things to do was to go to a local pizza place and socialize with your friends, having quality time face to face and actually speaking to one another instead of being buried in a phone. The internet, posting pictures, using filters to make yourself look better and waiting for likes/comments was the last thing on our minds. Personally, I think it’s sad how smart phones and social media are forcing kids to grow up faster. Relationships aren’t the same, genuine conversation has taken a backseat, person touch doesn’t exist and making time for someone seems to be more of an effort.

    Nowadays, I think messages need to be even more personal and have an emotional connection, following the general principle of quality storytelling, since consumers have little patience and low tolerance for marketing/advertising. For example, Uber and Periscope recently brought ‘storytellers’ on board in order to better communicate their data to consumers and investors. If there’s no emotional connection, people aren’t going to bother since they are initiated with all types of communication. I also think messages need to be truthful, transparent, simple, engaging and creative. Quality over quantity is key and the concept of adding value is essential. According to a recent Huffington Post article, “Striking a Balance: How Brands Should Communicate in a Crisis,” “very often the key to successful communication in difficult times, lies in the strategy you have developed a long time before. A strategy that is built on empathy and not taking your customers for granted.” I believe this approach, no matter the situation, coupled with adding that humanistic element/characteristic to a brand is what helps some companies break through the clutter.

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