Buzz Marketing to Chatty Tween (& Teen) Texters

phonetalk.jpgShaping Youth is all about using media’s magic as a counter-marketing tool, so when I find a new angle to reach kids I get downright giddy.

Internet fodder may be spam to adults, but it’s entertainment to preteens who use ‘forward to a friend’ relentlessly to share silly jokes, ‘awww’-sweet animal poses, lucky chains, urban legends, and e-card blasts.

Marketers are well aware of this tween phenom and leverage it for their own purposes, but parents rarely consider ‘click-n-send’ viral tactics to embed their own ‘aha’ moments…

Example? We ‘repurposed’ a piece of cyber-safety spam to forward among preteen peers who ALREADY KNOW the basics about not giving out personal information online.

This one involved mentioning team names in online chat. (original text at the end if you haven’t seen it)

We dialed down the lingo to be very subtle, so the piece wouldn’t lose credibility and receive a tweenspeak ‘duh,’ as in, “Like I’d really say anything personal? How stupid is that?”

Preteens in pushback mode may tune out any whiff of a warning from adults with a roll of the eyes, but they’ll listen to each other in a ‘heads-up’ way with texting tips. So we used kids’ own spam to position 2smrt4u in the hope they’d forward it…

Positive propaganda? Sure beats a heavy-handed lecture. We see it as a way to create awareness using the media itself as a shared language.

Heard of the grey goo attack in SecondLife? New mobile virtual worlds? Teen “tag exchanges” that mash brands into the social media mix? How ’bout how to handle MySpace fraud, malware, or teen reputation issues? It’s being talked about in forums, along with plenty of cyberbullying and social mashups.

Call it shared knowledge, “WOMM”, or peer to peer…buzz works.

Just ask Proctor & Gamble…

Firms like P & G’s Tremor recruit teens to be their marketing mouthpiece spreading product information about what’s ‘hot,’ since ‘buzz’ accounts for 92% of all consumer purchases.

They tap into a few key kids that they’ve deemed to be ‘peer influencers’ or “connectors,” then they launch their campaigns through peer to peer viral marketing.

Shaping Youth is using similar tactics to sell media savvy.

We work with virtually ANY media to spin a POSITIVE message, then step back and watch it work. Media’s power becomes just another delivery channel, rather than the big bad wolf.

Shaping Youth promotes Dove’s body image self-esteem videos heavily to kids with viral marketing, using tools and technology familiar to ‘generation M’ to get them chatting.

But this online texting story was our first ever use of internet spam as a persuasion tool. Amazingly, even urban myths have merit when believable enough to make kids pause, consider the message, or shift their own media behaviors.

Nevertheless, online predator hype gets WAY over-played in media.

New research on online victimization of youth shows solicitations of kids has actually DECREASED. In fact, this pbs Teacher Source article shows kids are more apt to be victims of unwanted ‘porn pop-ups’ or cyber-bullying than stalkers.

Stranger danger has been drilled into kids brains from the get-go with scare tactics galore, so kids are either petrified of online media altogether, or shrug off ANY adult input as hysteria in drama queen proportions. Both extremes are misguided.

As BlogSafety founders and co-authors of MySpace Unraveled conveyed at the CyberSafety Summit this fall, media has milked the fear-fueled angle of online chat to the point of parental paranoia which has damaged credibility by skewing the reality of the situation.

All too often kids are mind-numbingly resistant to ANYthing that smacks of a ‘teaching moment,’ especially involving social networking concerns. That’s a big mistake with mobile phones being the NEXT “monster app” for social media, complete with mega-marketing, “m-commerce,” and GPS search for hangout opportunities.

The last thing you want is for your child to take on a “what’s the big deal” demeanor blowing off your input as adult-driven hooey.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening.

We’ve created a ‘perfect storm’ of kids tuning out parents and parents over-protecting kids right when we need to ditch the adversarial media wedges and be talking openly and often.

The under 13 crowd needs handled with kid gloves on this since “I already know this stuff” is a common reply.

Those with older siblings already feel relegated to excessive media monitoring, and may be eager to get onboard the ‘friends’ hype and ‘decorate my space’ side of the social networking arena, if they’re not already there.

Most preteens LOVE text-messaging, and some are experimenting with new ‘tween’ social sites like Imbee, Zoey’s Room, or Call4Ally.

Some simulate ‘adding friends’ in ‘safe-chat’ sites like Club Penguin, or chat in-game on teams. Others pick up the middle-school MySpace buzz and are already on that site or a similar one elsewhere, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Whoa. Not MY kid. Right?
Trust me, this is not the time for ‘ostrich’ behavior on the parental front. Emerging technologies continue to arrive on the scene daily.

One peek at hot new sites like Loopt, Dodgeball, Jaiku, and you’ll instantly see the need for media savvy training on these tools pronto.

Buzz is, MicroSoft’s getting into the mix with SLAM too…Mobile social software and GPS and IM mashups are powerfully fun and incredibly useful in well-trained hands.

So open a dialogue. Find out where your kids are. Tune into the buzz.

Like the peer to peer Teenangels reinforced at the CyberSafety Summit this fall, kids talk to kids…

No technological filtering product will keep out the media. The best filter kids have is between their ears.

And it’s our job to show them how to use it.


Here’s the original spam storyline before editing it for buzzability. Excerpt or rework as you see fit…before ‘forwarding to a friend.’


“After tossing her books on the sofa, Shannon decided to grab a snack and get on-line . She logged on under herscreen name ByAngel213. She checked her Buddy List and saw GoTo123 was on. She sent him an instant message:

ByAngel213: Hi. I’m glad you are on! I thought someone was
following me home today. It was really weird!

LOL You watch too much TV. Why would someone be
following you?
Don’t you live in a safe neighborhood?ByAngel213:
Of course I do. LOL I guess it was my imagination cuz’
I didn’t see anybody when I looked out.

Unless you gave your name out on-line. You haven’t
done that have you?

Of course not. I’m not stupid you know.

Did you have a softball game after school today?

Yes and we won!!

That’s great! Who did you play?

We played the Hornets. LOL. Their uniforms are so
gross! They look like bees. LOL

What’s your team called?

We’re the Canton Cats. We have tiger paws on our
uniforms. They are really cool.

Did you pitch?

No I play second base. I got to go. My homework has to
be done before my parents get home. I don’t want them
mad at me. Bye!

Catch you later. Bye

Meanwhile……GoTo123 went to the member menu and
began to search for her profile. When it came up, he
highlighted it and printed it out. He took out a pen
and began to write down what he knew about Angel so

Her name: Shannon
Birthday: Jan. 3, 1985
Age: 13
State where she lived: North Carolina

Hobbies: softball, chorus, skating and going to the
mall. Besides this information, he knew she lived in
Canton because she had just told him. He knew she
stayed by herself until 6:30 p.m. every afternoon
until her parents came home from work. He knew she
played softball on Thursday afternoons on the school
team, and the team was named the Canton Cats. Her
favorite number 7 was printed on her jersey. He knew
she was in the eighth grade at the Canton Junior High
School . She had told him all this in the
conversations they had online. He had enough
information to find her now.

Shannon didn’t tell her parents about the incident on
the way home from the ballpark that day. She didn’t
want them to make a scene and stop her from walking
home from the softball games. Parents were always
overreacting and hers were the worst. It made her wish
she was not an only child. Maybe if she had brothers
and sisters, her parents wouldn’t be so overprotective.

By Thursday, Shannon had forgotten about the footsteps
following her.

Her game was in full swing when suddenly she felt
someone staring at her. It was then that the memory
came back. She glanced up from her second base
position to see a man watching her closely.

He was leaning against the fence behind first base and
he smiled when she looked at him. He didn’t look scary
and she quickly dismissed the sudden fear she had

After the game, he sat on a bleacher while she talked
to the coach. She noticed his smile once again as she
walked past him. He nodded and she smiled back. He
noticed her name on the back of her shirt. He knew he
had found her.

Quietly, he walked a safe distance behind her. It was
only a few blocks to Shannon’s home, and once he saw
where she lived he quickly returned to the park to get
his car.

Now he had to wait. He decided to get a bite to eat
until the time came to go to Shannon’s house. He
drove to a fast food restaurant and sat there until
time to make his move.

Shannon was in her room later that evening when she
heard voices in the living room.

“Shannon, come here,” her father called. He sounded
upset and she couldn’t imagine why. She went into the
room to see the man from the ballpark sitting on the

“Sit down,” her father began, “this man has just told
us a most interesting story about you.”

Shannon sat back. How could he tell her parents
anything? She had never seen him before today!

“Do you know who I am, Shannon?” the man asked.

“No,” Shannon answered.

“I am a police officer and your online friend,

Shannon was stunned. “That’s impossible! GoTo is a kid
my age! He’s 14. And he lives in Michigan!”

(Note–This spam hereafter gets even MORE hokey and sappy and needs CONSIDERABLE editing for ANY child to swallow it whole)

The man smiled. “I know I told you all that, but it
wasn’t true. You see, Shannon, there are people
on-line who pretend to be kids; I was one of them. But
while others do it to injure kids and hurt them, I
belong to a group of parents who do it to protect kids
from predators. I came here to find you to teach you
how dangerous it is to talk to people on-line. You
told me enough about yourself to make it easy for me
to find you. You named the school you went to, the
name of your ball team and the position you played.
The number and name on your jersey just made finding
you a breeze.”

Shannon was stunned. “You mean you don’t live in

He laughed. “No, I live in Raleigh. It made you feel
safe to think I was so far away, didn’t it?”

She nodded.

“I had a friend whose daughter was like you. Only she
wasn’t as lucky. The guy found her and murdered her
while she was home alone. Kids are taught not to tell
anyone when they are alone, yet they do it all the
time online. The wrong people trick you into giving
out information a little here and there online.
Before you know it, you have told them enough for them
to find you without even realizing you have done it. I
hope you’ve learned a lesson from this and won’t do it
again. Tell others about this so they will be safe

“It’s a promise!”

Ugh. That strained dialogue at the end needs SERIOUS editorial tweaking but you get the drift on the team uniform and shirts bit. We only sent the early excerpts along with the 2smrt4u tips. But like any good buzz marketing…you must “know your audience,” and adapt accordingly.

Here are some good ‘urban legend’ hoax page/spam resources for internet fodder:

Hoaxbusters: the official CIAC (Computer Incident Advisory Capability) site of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Office of Cyber Security

Snopes: the rumor mill site, using visual icons and top 25 lists to spot the spam

And here’s a roundup of resources to kick your internet media literacy into high gear.





Teenangels (and Tweenangels coming soon)

WiredSafety and WiredKids


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