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Facebook and YouTube Target ‘Generation Z’ Tweens

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Internet giants, from YouTube and Facebook to Netflix and Amazon, are targeting the tween market through new product launches and improvements to how they police their sites.

YouTube and Facebook recently unveiled a flurry of announcements, including changes to the way in which they handle undesirable content online and new products aimed at teenagers.

YouTube, owned by Google, has hired 10,000 new moderators to police the video-sharing site and remove hate content and child pornography.

In November, major brands, including Mondelez, Lidl, Mars and Diageo, pulled their advertising from YouTube after an investigation by the UK’s Times newspaper found that pornographic videos featuring children and comments from paedophiles were appearing alongside their adverts.

The site has been criticised for being slow to remove violent and extremist content.

“We are planning to apply stricter criteria, conduct more manual curation, while also significantly ramping up our team of ad reviewers to ensure ads are only running where they should,” said Susan Wojcicki, the site’s chief executive, on the official YouTube blog.

Facebook’s ‘Messenger Kids’ debuts

Facebook, meanwhile, has launched a new messaging service marketed at six to 13 year-olds. Parents can download the new chat app, Messenger Kids, onto their child’s phone or tablet and enable them to communicate with friends and family members they have pre-approved.

Specially designed safety software is meant to prevent children from sharing sexual or violent content and a support team aims to respond quickly to any suspicious content.

Children under the age of 13 still can’t open a Facebook account and users won’t be automatically moved onto the main Facebook site when they become teenagers. However, the new app is likely to make them more open to doing so.

Targeting Generation Z

But it’s not just about tackling the backlash from advertising and improving site security – these new changes and products are ultimately about targeting the consumers of the future.

Forget the Millennials. The new group of young customers that the internet giants, among other major corporations, are honing in on is Generation Z – the cohort born after the Millennials.

This marketeer-coveted group is expected to make up 40% of the US working population by 2020. The age of Generation Z consumers ranges from three to 21, but the key market for the major brands is currently those aged between 13 and 18.

‘Digital natives’

Generation Zers differ from Generation X and the Millennials in that they are considered to be ‘digital natives’. “Gen Z is the first generation born into a digital world,” says Ruth Bernstein, co-founder of Yard, in Ad Age. “They don’t know a world without PCs, mobile phones, gaming devices and MP3 players.

“They live online, sharing details of their lives across dozens of platforms and dictating what they like and dislike with a tweet, post or status. And Gen Zers expect to virtually engage with their favourite brands in doing so.”

These younger consumers value transparency, self-reliance and entrepreneurialism, says Bernstein, but reject products and brands that promote a ‘perfect life’, preferring to embrace reality.

They are also the most multicultural of any generation, notes Bernstein, with 55% of US Generation Zers being Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 14% African-American and 4% Asian.

Facebook and Google are not the only firms targeting Generation Zers. Last year Netflix announced that it was planning to ramp up the commissioning of original content aimed at a younger audience, increasing its stable of 15 original children’s programming to 35 shows.

Similarly, Amazon has launched a new service enabling 13 to 17 year-olds to buy products using a profile linked to their parents’ account.

Teens abandon Facebook

The problem for Facebook is that, despite now boasting 2bn users worldwide, it is being hit by a growing decline in younger users.

Last year the number of Facebook users aged 12 to 17 fell by 1.2% and, worryingly for Mark Zuckerberg, research firm eMarketer forecasts that this decline will accelerate to 3.4% in 2017.

“We see teens and tweens migrating to Snapchat and Instagram,” says Oscar Orozco, eMarketer’s senior forecasting analyst. “Both platforms have found success with this demographic since they are more aligned with how they communicate—that is, using visual content.

“Outside of those who have already left, teens and tweens remaining on Facebook seem to be less engaged—logging in less frequently and spending less time on the platform.

“At the same time, we now have ‘Facebook-nevers’—children aging into the tween demographic who appear to be overlooking Facebook altogether, yet still engaging with Facebook-owned Instagram.”

But will Messenger Kids solve Facebook’s ‘youth problem’? Garry White, chief markets commentator at Charles Stanley, isn’t optimistic. “I do think it’s going to be hard work for them [to get younger people on Facebook],” he says.

“I’ve heard young people say Facebook is for parents – they’re all on Instagram and Snapchat. But if I were a parent, I wouldn’t allow [my children] to use [Messenger Kids].”

Policing the internet

Meanwhile, although YouTube continues to dominate mobile video usage and now boasts 1.5bn monthly users worldwide, along with Facebook, its major headache remains stemming the proliferation of undesirable online content, such as violent extremist videos and child pornography.

Worryingly for parents, a recent phenomenon has been disturbing and/or violent videos bootlegging well-known children’s characters, such as Spiderman, Peppa Pig and Frozen’s Elsa.

As well as manually reviewing and removing questionable content themselves, YouTube’s new army of moderators are training its machine learning tools to be more effective at recognising undesirable content.

Plus the company has also acted by removing monetisation for violent and offensive videos.

But critics question how effective the internet giants are likely to be. The moderators are mostly contractors from third-party firms based in South America, where US labour laws don’t apply, and the sites’ own algorithms actually work against them, points out Brian Feldman, associate editor at New York Magazine.

“They’ve created algorithms that make it incredibly easy — too easy, in fact — to spread and share information, even without actively thinking about sharing it,” he writes. “A like, or a comment, and suddenly a video gets boosted for other people to see.

“But these same systems are somehow unequipped to take content out of the database. That’s a technical problem, a loftier strategic problem, or both. And throwing more people at the problem — even 10,000 — isn’t going to help.”

Regulation beckons

By hijacking popular children’s characters, for example, notes Feldman, rogue video makers were able to get their explicit content in YouTube’s autoplay and related content queue. The site’s machine learning tools were unable to distinguish between the child-friendly and inappropriate content.

However, White warns that the major corporations ultimately have no choice but to find a way to sift out undesirable content. “I think they’ve got to be realistic because they don’t want to be regulated and that what will happen if they don’t [police their content],” he said. “The whole tech sector is going to have to deal with this problem.”

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.