Kids Connect on Social Networks

Over school breaks I work in childcare at my local YMCA. I love the kids and their endless imaginations, especially when they’re younger and mostly unhindered by the fads of technology. The older kids (and by this I mean 8 to 12ish)  have a tendency of bringing in their Gameboys and Cell Phones. They want to show off, especially the ones with phones (why on earth an 8-year-old needs a cell phone is beyond me, and I will not get into that discussion right now). Growing up primarily in the 90s, my older brother and I coveted our video games, but there’s no doubt that as the years pass, the craze of technology is targeting younger and younger audiences.

Because of what I’ve seen, I really shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that there are social networking sites for children (13 and under)…but I was.

I first heard about this phenomenon when I read a headline that I thought indicated that Disney was starting a social networking site for children. Well, this was too much for me, and I couldn’t help but click the link to the article. Upon reading the full story, I realized that Disney was not starting a network, they were purchasing one that was already in existence. Worse yet, this site, known as “Togetherville,” is just one of many such networks!

According to an article (from last year, no less) off of Mashable.com, the Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) prohibits social sites to collect personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental permission. And yet, as a tech-saavy generation, many kids have learned to bypass this law…by simply lying.

A recent study revealed that 75% of kids, ranging from seventh to twelfth grade, have a profile on a social media site– and the numbers are only growing. Keeping this in mind, markets have opened up for ‘fun and safe’ networks for younger children. Five of the most thriving sites are:

1. Togetherville


The key to this site is the role a parent plays– they help sign their child up, create a profile for their child, and  are even responsible for picking out the child’s friends by sending email invite. Information on the site is limited to child-friendly material– YouTube videos, games, and projects. In many ways, this site is a Facebook Jr. Instead of ‘liking’ something, a child can ‘heart it.’ They can also buy and sell items using virtual money that their parents, free of cost, can give to them; this is called an allowance.

To safeguard their audience, which is primarily made up of children under the age of 10, Togetherville stresses the importance of a parental figure. Children must also agree to a code of conduct: “I agree to not say anything mean or hurtful, not say embarrassing things about myself, my friends, or my family, and take responsibility for what I say on Togetherville.” By involving children in the application process such as this, one of the best lessons to come out of this site will certainly be the message it sends about appropriate internet conduct, especially in terms of internet bullying and safety.

2. What’s What


Lauded as the “most secure social network for kids,” parents are once again a key factor in registering their child. The main difference here, however, is that parents must submit their credit card information  as well as three “mug shots” (taken with a webcam) to verify their identity. The intended market for this site is children ages 8 through 14. Drawing a slightly older audience than Togetherville, What’s What also gives the kids more freedom– they can interact with people they may not know in real life, but they can’t make friends outside of their age group (or grade year in school) without parental permission. In other ways, this site is again similar to Facebook– liking, making friends, joining groups, creating profiles. And, of course, parents have the control to edit or delete any information they may wish on their child’s profile.

3. ScuttlePad


Of course, this site also asks for parental permission, but kids also get to play a part in the process of registration. The site asks for their birthday, favorite color, and first name. After joining, they are free to use the site much as we use Facebook, but with one MAJOR catch. The site is programmed so that only a given set of words are allowed to be used in a specific format.

The site seems relatively secure, but possibly characterless due to its strict regulation. While the site may be fun for younger kids, older kids would quickly outgrow their stay.

4.giantHello


Per usual, parents help their children sign up, this time by either supplying the last 4 digits of their social security number, or by charging their credit card a grand total of one cent. Reviews say that the experiences on this site are most similar to those on mainstream social media sites. This means that a larger portion of older children prefer giantHello.

Once again, the site mimics Facebook in several respects: the kids have “walls,” friends can comment, statuses can be updated, photos can be uploaded, and fan pages can be joined. Friends must be asked via email, or given an actual invitations– yes, I’m talking about on paper– featuring a code to enter to connect. Certain celebrities, including the ever exciting Jonas Brothers (or is that so one year ago of me?) have fan pages that are updated through their Twitter accounts. This is an interesting feature since it actually does connect them to a real social networking site, albeit a filtered one.

5. Skid-e kids


Rather than asking for the constant approval and permission of parents, Skid-e kids relies primarily on staff moderators to keep the site secure. Photos are checked, messages are filtered, and stories are edited to make the site kid friendly. But the parental element is not completely eliminated– parents and kids alike are invited to create profiles.

The site features plenty of free games, although many are introduced with ads. Kids can also upload videos, comment, message, and updated statuses. Skid-e kids tends to draw an older crowd due to the rebellious nature of 10 year olds who don’t always want to have to get their mom’s permission to make any move.

 

While skeptical at first, on completion of reading the article, I have to admit my mind had been changed a bit. Perhaps these sites are beneficial, if only because they keep children off networks such as Facebook and Myspace, where the material is certainly not always G-rated. The sites also seem to strive to connect with parents, as well as children. I also really the concept of teaching children, at a young age, about proper online etiquette. Hopefully such an early introduction can help cut back on cyber-bullying by instilling a sense of respect and understanding.

We live in a world of computers, and it’s only natural that this upcoming generation take to it from an even younger age. But still– sometimes it disturbs me to see the 6-year-old who refuses to go outside and play because he prefers his gameboy, or the 10-year-old texting some buddies from school.

What do you think? I’m not trying to make social commentary, nor is this some guide to raising children– I’m honestly interesting in other people’s opinions. Perhaps someone has a first-hand experience? So…tell me about it?

Fortune 100 and Social Media

During my internship I was assigned to log onto a clients’ twitter page and follow all of the Fortune 500 companies. Our client worked as a business to business counselor, so any connections we could make for her with big name companies were greatly appreciated. And so I set to work, searching company by company according to the list. Needless to say, the process became a bit tedious, but I was interested to discover the number of these large corporations that enlisted the use of social media.

An article from Ragan’s PR Daily has revealed to me further social media trends of the Fortune 100 companies. The information comes from Burson-Marsteller’s social media study released yesterday. So what do you think? Any surprises?

1. Twitter is the most popular social media platform.

77% of companies have a twitter page.

2. Companies are interacting more on Twitter.

67% use “@” to communicate with consumers.

3. Fortune 100 companies have more Twitter followers.

4. More people are talking about companies on Twitter.

5. Facebook use increased by 13 percent.

The number of ‘likes’ have increased 115%.

6. Companies are giving their stakeholders a voice on Facebook.

75% let customers post on their walls; 72% respond to wall comments.

7. The number of YouTube accounts increased.

57% have a YouTube page.

8. More companies are using “all four” social media platforms.

25% have a Twitter, Facebook, Blog, and YouTube page.

9. Asian companies are helping fuel the increase in social media.

10. Companies are embracing the blog.

The average number of blogs per company increased 63%.

 

Social media gives animals a voice

I’m the person that has to change the channel when the ASPCA commercials come on. You know the ones–  heartbreaking photos of downcast animals pass across the screen as you find yourself being serenaded by a sad Faith Hill song. The few times I’m managed to get through these ads, I’ve found myself with wet cheeks and a sniffly nose. The humane treatment of animals, as well as shelter-adoption are two issues I feel particularly strong about. Both of my own dogs came from the local shelter, and for the past few years I’ve been volunteering at an animal shelter near my school.

I came across an article today regarding the impact social media is having on pet adoption. In particular, two Nevada animal shelters have taken to the web in an effort to give their animals a voice (of sorts).

At the Nevada Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Doug Duke has instituted an interesting use of online communities. Despite a small staff, limited budget, and overflow of animals, Duke has taken to posting about the  adoptees on the organizations blog, tweeting about/from the animals, and even posting biographies to Facebook. Duke notes that every animals at the shelter has a history, and it’s important for potential pet owners to learn this back story:

“The posts require disclosing the animals’ flaws, such as not being good with children or other pets, but that information helps potential adopters find an animal with the right personality so it can join what Duke calls a ‘forever home.'”

Perhaps Duke’s most unique use of social media is features heartbreaking and adorable messages from the ‘pets’ themselves.

A cat named Princess Ashlyn took to Facebook to post some of her latest pictures alongside the caption: “I will be sure to let you know how much I love you every day.”

2-year-old Chihuahua, Donna asked: “What is it like to sleep in a bed and have toys to play with?”

And 4-year-old Chachito, also a Chihuahua, got more personal when he mentioned how his previous abandoned him in a crate on the side of the road: “I trusted and loved them, but they threw me away.”

Duke’s creative use of first-person(/animal?) messaging stems from his firm belief that “The last thing anyone wants from an animal charity is to hear a person.” Adopting a pet is a very personal experience. Everything is dependent upon the relationship you forge with your potential new pet. This Nevada shelter is eliminating the middle man, or just the man/woman in general. Duke’s plans seem to be working, with a 5% increase in pet adoption seen over the past year, as well as a dramatic increase in twitter followers and Facebook friends.

Another Nevada shelter has also engaged in social media for their adoption campaign. The Animal Foundation at Lied Animal Shelter has focused on educating people as well as contributing to adoption rates. Once a week, their Facebook page features “Furry Friday”– posting the pet of the week. The organization reports that on average, by the end of the day, that animal has found a home.

The Animal Foundation has also taken to creating profiles for their pets, including Maximus the cat, who needed money for surgery. Through Facebook, the Foundation was able to raise the funds necessary.

The support of the online community for animal shelter adoption is overwhelming. It raises awareness on a whole new platform. Says Duke of the use of social media and its benefits:

“Before, people could donate, volunteer, adopt, foster; now, they can help spread the word…It initially didn’t occur to us that all these people could become warriors for the animals.”

As a sign off for this post, I just want to remind everyone to please think adoption first when looking for a new pet. You could be saving the life of your new best friend.

 

 

 

Will Tumblr get Tossed?

My first thought was that Tumblr must be some distant cousin of Flickr. Social media sites ignoring the use of the letter ‘e’ (still looking for a scientific explanation behind that).  This was more than a year ago, when the site was still getting off its feet and riding on the road of uncertainty. Even after its success, it took me a while to hop on board. Finally, I took the plunge, using my Communications major as a justification signing up for yet another social networking platform. It’s been about a month now, and I must self-consciously admit– I’m hooked.

The Tumblr site to me seems like a more visual, less organized Twitter. While your posts don’t need to be fewer than 140 characters, I personally tend to ignore the longer passages. The greatest benefit is the visual aspect– no need to click away to another page to view pictures and, more importantly, gifs. While my experiences on Tumblr are still relatively limited, I’ve found the community to be littered with positively every imaginable gif known to man. Than again, I say ‘littered’ like  bad thing. In fact, Tumblr has brought out in me the absolute geek and fan-fanatic. Unlike my twitter and blog, where I try to maintain a certain level of professional posts and demeanor, Tumblr has quickly become my guilty pleasure. Not that the material is inappropriate, but it certainly is without educational benefits. Instead, my favorite posts (is that even the correct lingo?) include gifs from my numerous favorite television shows.

But enough about me and my utter television/film nerdiness. Back to my initial point in writing this post. During my own use of Tumblr, I couldn’t help but wonder how often the platform was used at a professional level. I have one friend who uses Tumblr for the local publication she writes for– that seems like a reasonable and intelligent use of the site. However, unlike Twitter or Facebook pages for companies and brands, I feel like Tumblr isn’t nearly as professional. Once again, this is simply my opinion on the matter, one I’ve gained from only a limited introduction to Tumblr.

I decided to look into the overall use of Tumblr, and found a some interesting facts. For instance, it was only in early 2010 that Tumblr really hit its stride. Within 6 months, Tumblr doubled its page views. People were starting to catch on to this new fad, with nearly 25,000 people a day signing up for profiles.

I discovered that some of the most popular professional users of Tumblr are mainstream media. Tumblr was another medium through which they could publicize their stories. Everyday bloggers (like myself) also caught on, enjoying the ease the platform provided for posting pictures as well as words.

While the businesses that use Tumblr come from various fields, there remains a high presence of media outlets and personal bloggers. Especially in comparison to the rise of Twitter use among big name corporations (i.e. Fortune 500 companies), Tumblr remains a more personal and  social platform. That’s not to say that a company wouldn’t have any success with the website. I think one of the more endearing factors about Tumblr is the lax environment and community. For this reason, small- and medium-sized organizations are among the first professional groups to turn to Tumblr.

But what about everyone else? What do they, and you, think the benefits of Tumblr are?

One article I found explained Tumblr’s success as such: “Many attribute it to a thrust for the ‘tweener’ social media site – more content than Twitter, less than a full blog… Many use Tumblr as a simple alternative to WordPress, Blogger, or Typepad with quick blogging, reblogging, and feed integration options that allow for faster, more automated methods of running a blog.”

Right now, I’m hooked on the site, but how long will my interest in my own obscure obsessions last? How many Princess Bride or Sherlock (BBC) gifs can one possible watch before wanting more? Overall, I wonder if Tumblr will survive to become the “next big thing.” This, in many ways, will be dependent upon industrial adoption of the platform. Will companies make profit from this website? Can they use it to their advantage? Will it really make a difference with their consumers?

What do you think? Will it last? Do you use Tumblr? What are the benefits? Negatives?

I would love to hear opinions from more ‘experienced’ users.

Facebook Frenzy!

I am horrible about staying in touch with people when I’m away at school. My friends from home constantly berate me after long absences with limited communication. Even my father, my designated ’email buddy,’ will tease me about the amount of time it takes for me to get back to him. I understand their frustration completely. In fact, I’m not even exactly sure how I became so inept at online communications, especially since I’m a frequent user of several social networking sites. For socializing with my friends, our primary resource is Facebook. Oh Facebook.

On February 4th, Facebook celebrated their 7th anniversary. That same day I received a phone call from a friend, just to chat, but her immediate reaction was: “Wow, I was actually able to get in contact with you.” These two concurrent events made me think a bit more about my Facebook socialization throughout the years. In more recent years, when the site would have actually been a valuable resource for keeping in touch with my high school friends, my interest in Facebook has waned. Personally, I prefer Twitter, a preference that most of my friends unfortunately do not share.

I do, however, remember my first experiences with Facebook. I remember the ‘addiction’ and the excitement of this new website. And I remember how pathetically encapsulating the site became. I believe I first started my account toward the end of my Junior year of high school (that would be nearly 5 years ago now). Fresh off of MySpace, I was excited to find out about this more ‘grown-up’ various of social networking (not that I had even heard the term ‘social networking’ before). At the time, my brother had just entered college, and as the pretentious kid he was at that age, he was under the firm belief that Facebook should be for college students only–after all, he argued, that’s who it was created for. Instead, the fad quickly leaked into high schools, and eventually penetrated the walls of middle schools as well. Now, Facebook boasts 550 million users worldwide. The site is available in 70 different languages (I’m unsure if that stat includes the ‘pirate’ language feature).

Needless to say, Facebook is impressive. It has also become a key part of our society and culture. Who hasn’t heard someone say something along the lines of “Well, I don’t really know [name] but we’re friends on Facebook,” or “Oh yea, they broke up. I saw it on Facebook.” It has infiltrated our culture, even begin used as a verb, much like Google is (“I facebooked him/her. She seemed cool” & “We’ll have to Facebook”).

I use Facebook primarily for personal socialization– though not nearly as frequently as I apparently should. However, several companies have also taken advantage of the opportunity to ‘keep in touch’ with their customers. Companies and brands roll in  publicity from users’ ability to ‘like’ their work, or add them as an interest. We all want our profiles to be an accurate (though super cool) portrayal of ourselves, and this often means mentioning interests and favorites (i.e. Dunkin Donuts coffee– yep, here’s a shout out for DD!).

From a site that was created for Harvard student only, then college students, then spread to the general public–Facebook has certainly grown. This no use supposing this is just some passing trend. Facebook is an essential resource for companies as well as the general user. Despite my own personal receding interest, Facebook won’t be going out of style anytime soon. Nor will I cancel my account. In fact, I should clarify– my decreasing interest means that, instead of going on Facebook 12 times a day, I only go on 3 or 4. Still excessive by any means, but apparently not enough to ‘keep in touch.’ Facebook isn’t going anywhere any time soon– and that’s okay with all of us!

p.s. I debated prefacing this post with a viewer alert that no, I have not in fact seen The Social Network (I know, shame on me). Instead, this tidbit will just have to do as a post script.

Barbie & Ken Rekindle…online

They are the Ross and Rachel of toys. Will they or won’t they? Their indecision has plagued us for years…and the intrigue has just gotten even more compelling.

Many might recall that back in 2004, Barbie and Ken, the idyllic couple of our childhood imaginations, decided to take a bit of a romantic break. Perhaps these two ‘plastic celebrities’ decided they each wanted to spend just a bit more time on one of their numerous careers (i.e. rocket scientist, professional dancer, veterinarian). Whatever the reasoning, Mattel, Inc. split the two up.

And now, on the eve of Ken’s 50th birthday (wow, he looks good for his age– think he had some work done? plastic surgery maybe? sorry lame joke), Mattel has launched a digital marketing campaign of epic proportions in an attempt to reunite the two lovelorn dolls.

A jack-of-all-trades, Ken’s next greatest challenge is to win back his true love. Since the break up, Ken has been undergoing an image overhaul. Now he’s ready to show his new self off, and he’s using the power of social networking to do so. Consumers are encouraged to check out Ken’s profiles, as well as the hub site barbieandken.com. You can even vote in an online poll asking, “Should Barbie Take Ken Back?” Leaving no viral stone unturned, other social marketing sites being utilized include Facebook, twitter, foursquare, and YouTube. Fans can follow the love story as it unfolds, with both of the dolls actively engaging in socializing through these sites. Ken has been known to tweet anything from nostalgic memories about times with Barbie to his favorite articles in contemporary mens’ magazines.

So why the campaign, and why now? Well, besides the obvious excitement over Ken’s birth-aversary (that’s birthday and anniversary combined), the release of the latest Ken doll is also causing quite a stir. The new “Sweet Talking Ken” doll  is described as being “the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion,” praising his ability to say “whatever your want him to say!” Certainly sounds good.

Also in the works, in attempt to gain further notice, Mattel has started a web series called “Genuine Ken.” The series, hosted by Hulu,  is looking for the literal equivalent of the toy company’s newest Ken doll. The contestants all compete for the title of “The Great American Boyfriend.”

Another clever scheme is the product incorporation within the campaign. Ken be seen promoting any number of products. For instance, he uses a Macbook while browsing Google Chrome.

All in all, the concept seems pretty great. The famous dolls’ relationship spans generations, and by using the internet, the company has successfully targeted the modern youth. What do you think? And more especially, should Barbie take Ken back?