Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Next Generation?

My little brother and baby cousin are on Facebook. They are both barely teenagers, and now they are on these social networks that I still see as "mine."

I wasn't sure how I felt when Little Bro sent me a friend request. He and a couple of his friends post quizzes about World of Warcraft and chat about gaming. They don't really post pictures, and I think they are still getting used to the novelty of the site.

He's also on, where he is a reporter. One of his articles has already been published, and two more are in the queue for next month. It's like...he's a person online.

It's really weird.

I mentioned earlier that for the past few months, I have been back on Kiwibox myself. Kiwibox is one of the earliest "social networks" for teens and preteens. Along with Bolt, Habbo and Alloy, Kiwibox was one of the first online communities to really appeal and cater to teens. It is a by teens, for teens magazine that actually publishes user content as articles. I signed up when I was 13, and I stuck with the site for years, ending up as an editor. As a result, I cite the site on my resume, and I get to talk about it. A lot.

One of the questions I receive most is about connecting with teens. How do you get them to stay interested? How do you get them to submit articles? How do you get them to be responsible?

I can't take full credit for that--KB was doing it long before I came on board--but I'll try to answer from my experience.

I'm only 23, and already my little brother seems like an alien to me sometimes. A decade can make a world of difference when you're so young, and he puzzles me. Sometimes, I sound like a grandma when I talk to him about when I was your age...

So, I try to listen to him instead. It's hard not to want to interject--really hard--and give him the "correct" answer, but I do my best to let him figure things out. At KB, I try to do the same thing. As I edit, I listen to what the reporter is trying to say, and I try to keep their voice in the article. A thirteen-year-old is not going to write like Maya Angelou, but she has a voice and ideas of her own, and it is my job to make her voice sing.

I listen to what they are talking about, too. Beyond High School Musical and Twilight, teens are almost-adults. They are worried about things in the news, they stress over classes and they think about sex and relationships--a lot of the stuff I thought about when I was a young teen. It's easy to forget what it was like, but it is not too hard to remember.

Most importantly, I encourage them. Sometimes, we have to decline articles. Sometimes, we have to decline articles that I can tell the reporter put a lot of work into. I let them know that I think they are doing alright (and I really do--the current batch of reports have really impressed me!). I try to reach out personally to offer them a different direction and to let them know that while that article was declined, they have a great idea (and they often do!). When they ask questions, I answer them as best I can. I try to never talk down to them--these kids deserve my respect.

I don't know if that can be a bible on how to attract and keep the next generation's attention, but I do think it is a good method for connecting with any demographic, not just teens. Actually, it still freaks me out that my little brother and cousin are online, but I'm warming to the idea. These kids are kinda awesome, and they have great ideas to share.

If you're interested in reading more about Kiwibox, Harbinger Research put up a really interesting report on the site last January. You can find it here.

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