You’ve got to be kidding. The rise of kidfluencers and social apps for the under 18s
PR & advertising have always been ‘young’ industries, where it’s not unusual for anyone over 30 to feel like a bit of a grandma in an office full of fresh-faced 20-somethings (speaking from experience.)
But the latest industry trend will make even bright-eyed grads feel old, as a new wave of ‘kidfluencers’ and social media networks dominated by kids and teens are taking over.
In fact we now live in a world where a pair of 4 & 5 year old siblings have over 10.9M YouTube followers (fewer than 1 million behind Zoella) and one baby’s Instagram account had amassed 112k followers before they were even born.
With the numbers stacking up, it’s becoming hard for marketers to ignore the potential opportunities kidfluencers and kid-first social media apps could represent, but how can we ensure our activity protects the interests of the young people involved?
Opportunity or exploitation?
Any PR or advertising professional whose brand appeals to the younger demographic needs to be highly aware of the potential risks their marketing strategies could involve, and how to avoid them.
Firstly, some social networks have been criticised for not doing enough to protect young people and have been linked to cases of grooming, identity theft and encouraging anorexia. Even if the networks themselves have no direct involvement, by creating a way for strangers to reach out to vulnerable minors and for harmful content to spread rapidly, they may be inadvertently causing harm. Take the Momo challenge for example – though reports of a bulging-eyed Whatsapp profile urging children to commit suicide have now been labelled a hoax, the Samaritans & NSPCC warn that the resulting social media posts from panicked parents and the press may still lead young people to consider self-harm.
Likewise, where child influencers are concerned, it can be difficult to ascertain whether parents are simply supporting their extrovert child’s dreams or exploiting them for financial gain (or worse, as with the tragic case of family YouTube channel Fantastic Adventures). Liaising via an experienced and vetted child talent agency is a good first step, but it’s also up to marketers to take extra care when choosing who to work with.
Finally, since young people are less able to apply a healthy dose of cynicism to advertising than adults, brands have a duty to question whether the messages they send could encourage negative behaviour. When it comes to marketing to minors, there’s a fine line between innocent engagement and inadvertent manipulation.
Ultimately, for both kid-first networks and kidfluencer brand partnerships, it’s up to brands to do their research very carefully before proceeding to ensure they aren’t unknowingly causing harm. So with that very real warning in mind, here’s what marketers need to know about the social media apps the next generation can’t get enough of.
YouTube & PopJam
YouTube is now used by 71% of 5-7 year olds and 90% of 12-15s, with both groups preferring to consume content via YouTube than TV. Children using the network have led to some surprising video trends, with 20% watching unboxing videos and 39% watching others play video games. There are concerns however as to the protection the channel offers its young users, as one report found kids had a 45% chance of stumbling across inappropriate content within the first 10 clicks. Making sure YouTube is policing responsibly is paramount and big brands have a duty of care to keep applying pressure to the channel to ensure it is operating in the most responsible way.
Parents do have another option without completely denying their kids access to their favourite kidfluencer channels, as child-first network PopJam vets YouTube channels to allow those suitable for under 13s to share their content through the app. Alongside other child-safe features, like quizzes, games and drawing challenges, this has enabled PopJam to amass over 1M downloads, with 30% of UK 8-12 year olds using the app, for 45 minutes per day on average.
If you work in PR or digital marketing, you’ve probably already heard a lot of hype around TikTok lately. Formerly called Musical.ly, the shortform video app focuses primarily on lipsyncs, audio-dubs, memes and original music, including the option to ‘duet’ with other users’ content. What sets the app apart from other over-hyped emerging networks is the fact it has quietly amassed over 1 billion downloads, partly thanks to a huge Chinese market, outpacing even Instagram’s user growth in 2018.
50% of the app’s iOS users and 60% of Android users are aged between 13-24, but this statistic could be concealing a much larger underage audience. In fact, though the app’s minimum age is set at 13, TikTok was made to pay a $5.7million FTC settlement for breaching the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act after ‘thousands of complaints’ from parents with children under 13 using the app.
Rather than pushing TikTok to follow PopJam’s heavily-regulated kid-safe approach, this case is likely to encourage TikTok to strive for growth in the lucrative 18-30 market. Notably, the app is already testing branded ads from the likes of Grubhub, and highlighting growth amongst over 18s in its press updates.
Branded as a way for teens to make new friends, Yubo has been labelled ‘Tinder for Teens’ as it follows the dating app’s swipe left/right format for adding new contacts. The app’s functions include instant messaging, group chat and live-streaming, with the option to limit visibility by country or allow access worldwide. With a minimum user age of 13, the app has gained popularity with school-aged teens and now counts over 20 million worldwide users.
Discord was set up as a place for gamers to chat online, and its popularity with the younger audience has risen rapidly to 150 milllion users, tied to the growth of games like Pokemon Go and Fortnite. Users can interact via text or voice chat inside public or invite-only groups themed around different games, and game developers can also now sell games directly through the network. Discord has a minimum age of 13 and verification checks for ‘NSFW’ channels featuring inappropriate content, though critics point out these can easily be bypassed.
70% of Kik’s 15 million monthly active users are aged 13-24, making it a major alternative to more widespread instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger amongst the next generation. This rapid growth has attracted investment from Shopify, which created a GiftGuru gift recommendation bot alongside Kik to tap into the network’s younger audience.
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