Teens not so cyber-obsessed after all – but they’re more social than oldsters

Two new studies say adults are spending a weekly average of six more hours on the Internet than teenagers do. But it's the youngsters' passion for participating in online social media that's putting a gleam in the eyes of international marketers.

Judging by the results of an Ipsos Reid study released yesterday, Canadian teens aren’t the Internet hogs they’re generally assumed to be.

Findings from Inter@ctive Teens: The Impact of the Internet on Canada’s Next Generation – include the eyebrow raiser that the average weekly time spent online by the 12-17 demographic is a mere 13 hours – a number that hasn’t increased since Ipsos last measured online teen behaviour in 2004. By comparison, Canadian adults are logging onto the Internet for an average of 19 hours per week.

The study points to a couple of factors that might account for the relatively little time teens spend on online. One is the influence of parents on teens’ Internet use – over half (54%) of the study’s teen respondents reported that their parental units impose time limits or curfews on online time. The other is that only a minority of teens (37%) agree that using the Internet is an important part of their day, compared to 51% of adults.

‘What’s surprising about our research is the extent to which it challenges conventional assumptions adults make about the technological sophistication of teenagers,’ says Steve Mossop, president of Market Research for Ipsos Reid in Western Canada. ‘The reality is that they spend far less time online than adults, with a very limited number of activities – like socializing, gaming and music. And their attitudes are surprisingly unsophisticated in terms of their lack of comfort with the technology, their concerns about security and privacy and the importance of the Internet in their daily lives.’

More than a quarter (28%) of online teens consider themselves to be very skilled or expert. Another quarter (24%) admit to not being skilled in navigating the net, while the remaining teens pegged themselves as fairly skilled. And while adults are going to a multitude of different websites for a variety of online activities, teens are focused mainly on websites that allow them to socialize, download music or play games.

In fact, online socializing is by far the overwhelming reason teens surf the net. The majority of kids surveyed (88%) have participated in an online social activity (compared to 70% of adults), and more than half (59%) visit online social networks or communities daily or a few times per week.

It’s that passion for socializing online that’s the subject of a multi-country survey released today by UK-HQ’d TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. In the first such study, 71 senior marketers from global blue-chip brands – including Sony, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline and Hewlett Packard – in Canada, France, the UK and the US shared their views on the untapped power of social media.

Nearly half of the respondents said they believe that leveraging blogs and social media websites, such as Facebook and MySpace, is a vital component of corporate communications that should be monitored at the executive level and allocated significant resources.

‘Most marketers think social media is another channel that companies can use to their advantage, but the reality is that most companies are taking a very cautious approach,’ says Michael Ennamorato, SVP of TNS Canadian Facts, whose firm conducted 11 interviews with Canadian marketing executives for the study.

Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer of TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony, says discussions about brands are already taking place online, and that the influence of consumer-generated content will only increase in the future.

‘If marketers use social media in the right way, they can build brand awareness, support product launches, increase customer loyalty and give businesses never-before-seen levels of consumer insight,’ he says. ‘Surprisingly, however, our study shows that many business executives are still new to social media, which points to a large gap between attitudes and action that must be addressed.’