By Susan Davis Gryder 2013-06-11 22:21:01
Several months ago, my son turned 13 and was officially eligible to sign up for his own, much-anticipated Facebook account. He went online, created his profile page, and within minutes, every one of my friends saw the announcement. Aunts and uncles delightedly friended him. A day later, I saw that his account had been closed. “What’s up?” I asked. “Don’t you want to be on Facebook?” “Nah,” he replied. “It’s too annoying.” This should have been my first clue that I was behind the times in the social media universe. Whether they have specifically embraced Facebook’s appeal or moved away from the site like my son, children and teenagers today are enthusiastic users of the Internet and particularly social media. In fact, a recent study from the Children’s Digital Media Center shows that about a quarter of all kids under 13 have a social networking profile somewhere online. By the time they reach their teenage years, 90% are using some kind of social media technology. The choices that young users of social media make, and the social media sites they use, may be a relatively benign mystery to their elders. But it’s a matter of great interest to marketers. Read on for an overview of social media marketing, how it works and how your school nutrition program can get on board by borrowing strategies from some major companies successfully reaching out to your students and their parents. Social Media 2.0 While there are those who insist on holding out, it’s likely that most of you use one or more of the major social media technologies yourself. Facebook is still the granddaddy of social media sites, with a staggering 1 billion monthly users, but social media is constantly evolving, with more—and more creative—options being introduced all the time. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that 67% of all Internet consumers use Facebook, followed by Twitter (16%), Pinterest (15%), Instagram (13%) and Tumblr (6%). Facebook’s age demographic is considered the widest, claiming 32% of Internet users older than 65, as well as a majority of Internet users well under that age. Some of the numbers behind the numbers are interesting, too. The distribution of social media users is similar across all income groups, but not when you look at gender or ethnic/racial groups. For example, women are five times more likely than men to use Pinterest, and African Americans and Hispanics are the largest demographic groups using Instagram. In fact, minority users are higher for every social media site except for Pinterest. Let’s take a look at some facts about the most-used social media sites. Since Facebook and Twitter have been around for quite a while, you likely are familiar with these giants already and we’ll skip them in this overview. [Editors’ Note: To refresh yourself or to learn more about these sites, see “How ‘Friend’ Became a Verb,” February 2010.] Instagram—www.instagram.com. Instagram was developed by Stanford University grads in 2006. It began as a photo-sharing application (app), but recently has been adopted with mounting frequency by tweens and teens as an alternative to Facebook. According to an analyst from Altimeter Group, a business research company, many teenagers have made this switch in response to Facebook’s increased popularity with the adults (parents and grandparents) in their lives. Users post and share pictures, collect followers, follow their friends and amass “likes” and comments. Instagram was sold to Facebook in Spring 2012 for $1 billion and operates independently and as a linked application. Fifty-eight percent of its 100 million users are under age 25, and Instagram was the top photography website among U.S. teens ages 12 to 17 in December 2012, according to Nielsen research. This means that roughly 1 in 10 online teens in the United States visited Instagram in a web browser during that month. Pinterest—www.pinterest.com. This sharing site started as a virtual version of the popular, but offline, scrapbooking trend, and, as with scrapbooking, the majority of Pinterest users are mothers with children. Media monitor Mashable reports that Pinterest is the fastest-growing website ever; it now has some 50 million users—that’s a lot of scrapbooking! “Pinterest is a tool for collecting and organizing the things you love,” says the company’s home page, and indeed this is how people use it. Employing something akin to a giant, cyber bulletin board, users collect photos to create wish lists, organize an event, plan a trip, manage a project and show off a collection (or dream one up). Pinterest recipe collections have become very popular, as have Pinterest collections of home decorating and fashion ideas. YouTube—www.youtube.com. This video-sharing site gets an amazing 4 billion views per day. You might simply browse viral video sensations that are shared via other social media sites (like Facebook), using the site only in its capacity as a vast video database. But YouTube also works as a social media site in its own right, when users become members and create their own personal “channels.” Channels feature a short personal description, thumbnails of uploaded videos, other channels that you “subscribe to” (e.g. “friend” and “follow”), video favorites and so on. This option is particularly popular among teenagers, who post, share and comment on videos. A recent IPSOS MediaCT poll of teenagers cites YouTube as the most widely used, by far, website on the Internet by this age group, with more than 90% of respondents saying they spent time on YouTube weekly. (This same poll showed that 100% of teenage respondents spend more than one hour a day online.) Tumblr—www.tumblr.com. Tumblr is a platform for short-form blogs, or microblogs, that contain text, images, links and more. It has been around since 2007, but recently has grown to more than 100 million individual microblogs. Its most distinctive feature is its Dashboard, which allows users to upload material, see live feeds of other blogs that they follow and connect to Twitter and Facebook. Posts are tagged so that followers can find them easily. Like a standard blog, users can give their Tumblr microblogs their own domain names. More than 50% of Tumblr users are under age 25. Google+—https://plus.google.com. Google+ is Internet search giant Google’s attempt to bring social networking into its suite of offerings and compete with Facebook. With more than 300 million active users, it’s got some catching up to do. Unlike other social networking sites, Google+ operates as more of a social layer integrated into Google’s other offerings. Users organize their contacts into Circles, which can overlap or exclude certain groups of friends, and post content to their Streams. Google+ includes features like Hangouts (where groups of up to 10 people can videochat and even watch YouTube videos together) and Huddles (which enable group messaging within Circles). Reddit—www.reddit.com. Reddit is the ultimate community site for the Internet, a place where users vote for the content they like, with the most popular links rising to the top of Reddit’s “front page.” Reddit (from “I read it”) tracks users’ success in voting on popular links through a point system called karma. Users post comments and vote on other people’s comments, too. Reddit has more than 50 million users. It’s important to note that the content can get pretty wild and wooly, even if some comments are moderated. These social media giants aren’t the only games in town, and some of the latest up-and-coming social media providers include SnapChat, Vine, Multiply, MyLife™, Ning, Orkut and more. Even the original social media star, MySpace, has been redesigned to capture new users. In addition, many traditional websites are starting to emphasize their interactive, social side, with chat boards, forums and communities for almost every conceivable interest, hobby and affiliation. While social media sites may vary in how they are set up and how users engage with these technologies, one thing these sites and platforms have in common is the goal of building community. For examples of how corporate America is using these social media sites as part of its marketing efforts, see “Follow the Leaders,” on page 60. Marketing’s New Frontier Anywhere there are millions (or billions) of eyes riveted to screens, marketers are sure to follow, and social media is no exception. Many companies have had Facebook pages for years, but the site is now offering more options for advertisers to sponsor posts and increase their visibility on users’ pages and news feeds. An increasing number of companies are using Twitter to communicate directly with customers. This new direction is confirmed by the ever-growing portion of the marketing-dollar pie that is being targeted to social media strategies. Consider that in 2009, 48 food companies spent $1.79 billion marketing their products to youth, according to research from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Of this total, $122.5 million was spent on marketing via “new” media, including social media and phone advertising. In 2006, the total was $2.1 billion, with just $76.6 million allocated for new media marketing. Now, although updated figures are not available, just imagine how much the proportion has grown in the last four years, as social media popularity has exploded! (The loser in this equation, by the way? Television advertising aimed at children, finds the FTC.) But social media marketing presents some unique challenges. Aggressive advertisers can run the risk of annoying the very customers they want to reach (as those getting lots of “suggested” posts on their Facebook feed can attest)—and may cause users to flee to other sites not (yet) as hungry for advertising. Plus, unlike television ads, as just one example, a social media pitch must compete with free content for a user’s attention, raising the bar for marketers who strive to make their efforts irresistibly compelling. For advertisers who want to reach out to children and teenagers, the social media landscape presents extra challenges. The biggest obstacle may be the age of their prospective customers. Most social networking sites have age limits for creating a profile—for example, Facebook and Instagram stipulate that users must be 13 years old, and Twitter has age restrictions to follow certain feeds from alcohol companies, etc. Of course, everyone knows that there are lots of kids under 13 on social media who have found their own ways, with and without parental approval, around these restrictions. But these age limits make marketing to children and teens trickier from a public relations perspective. Still, SpongeBob has more than 40 million “likes”—it’s a good bet many of those are from users under 13. And the trendy plastic bracelets called Silly Bandz are a social media marketing success story, initially sold only online and since garnering a million-plus “likes” on Facebook, with no traditional advertising, says Mashable. While social media providers’ age restrictions are, for all intents and purposes, impossible to enforce, government regulations are significantly harder to circumvent. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) places parents in control over what types of information can be collected from young children online, including geolocation, screen names and other identifying details. The rule applies to online services that allow users to receive online advertisements, even if those personal details are provided voluntarily. While most print and television media advertising are in the same boat—with limited data mining opportunities for ad viewers—this is a complication for social media advertising, which is often based on search history, content posting and other personal activities. But big business marketers are undeterred by such limitations, and many have crafted innovative social media campaigns that can serve as terrific inspiration for school nutrition professionals charged with capturing the attention of the same youth market. The box on page 60 offers some examples of how major marketers have seized the possibilities and avoided the pitfalls. But you also can find inspiration from your school nutrition peers, as social media is becoming part of the marketing plan for more schools and districts across the county [Editors’ Note: For additional examples beyond those that follow, see “Sweet Tweets,” September 2010.] Facebook: Sticking With a Classic Jenilee McComb, child nutrition director for Provo City (Utah) School District, has made social media an integral part of marketing her school meals operation to students, parents and the community in her 16,000-student district. McComb believes firmly that outreach is a key part of her mission: “We’ve had so many new things lately, so much change…” she observes. “It can either be scary or exciting, and I think it’s all in how we sell it to the people we work with and to the public. They have to know that we love what we do and that we want to serve their children wonderful meals.” McComb’s social media marketing efforts center on her operation’s own Facebook page, ITSMeals at Provo School District (www.facebook.com/ITSMeals Provo). Fans “liking” the page are greeted with photos of vibrantly colored, nutritionally balanced school meals, dancing kids and happy child nutrition staff. Her team includes a designated Facebook manager (who’s also her website guru), responsible for posting updates several times a day and encouraging cooks and managers from sites around the district to share photos of the meals they create. McComb says her operation’s Facebook page is frequented by parents and students alike—students are cautioned to visit in the company of a parent, as McComb is mindful of the age restrictions of social media sites, but it’s clear that the youngsters enjoy posting reviews of their favorite meals! Other content contributors include other school staff members, obviously proud of their cafeteria colleagues, and even prospective employees with questions about the operation. All this posting and updating takes time, concedes McComb—about two hours of staff time a day to manage the Facebook page and website, plus the time spent in schools collecting photo and video material. But she insists that it’s worth the effort: “We have to sell ourselves. If the students and their parents don’t know that our food is beautiful, tastes delicious and is nutritious, how will they know to come to the lunchroom and eat? Parents hear otherwise, so we have to tell them how great out meals are, how hard our people work and how much love they put into the program.” Pinterest and School Food: A Colorful Fit One of the biggest trends on social media today is posting a picture of the meal you’re about to eat. People are snapping pictures of their dinners, both the ones they make and the ones they order in restaurants. And some school nutrition professionals are joining in. Janice King, RD, SNS, is director of school nutrition for Quaboag Regional School District in Warren, Mass. This small, rural district is intent on getting ahead in the social media game, King says. She’s starting with a Facebook business page—an option featuring administrative tools that give the account holder greater control over comments and content, permissions and notifications. She plans to use this page to share information about upcoming promotions and events, her program, nutrition education and such important issues as proposed legislation that affect school nutrition. But King thinks that social media’s greatest potential is to communicate the value of school lunch and entice kids and parents. “We’re trying to show that $2.50 is an extraordinary value, and a good, healthy alternative to a lunch from home.” To do this, King will begin this summer to post pictures of her cafeteria offerings on Pinterest. King realized, through her personal use of Pinterest, that it was a great place to showcase her program’s school meals. “Pinterest is a pretty site,” she says. “Some of the pictures on Pinterest are amazing!” King plans to blend themes like whole foods, farm to school and seasonal offerings. She and her staff already are working on collecting photos and staging shots of meals they are serving. She photographs some complete meals on trays as they are served in cafeterias; she stages photos of single items with placemats and colorful dishware, to add to the visual interest. Considering going the Pinterest route? You don’t have to limit yourself to simply posting school meal photos. As part of a smartblogs.com article, writer Flora Caputo suggests including text descriptions of menu items and sharing some of the story behind the meals. For example, where are the ingredients from? And consider going beyond photos of food and sharing photos of students enjoying the meal, as well. You also can highlight daily specials or promotions. Above all, “Tell the story through pictures…. A richer story about your food or brand connects with your target more viscerally,” Caputo advises. King is setting her social media sights even further. Next up is Twitter, which she will use for quick announcements to students about upcoming special meals and events. But she acknowledges that there is discomfort around social media marketing, citing both age restrictions and school policies about using phones and technology on campus. “There are a lot of internal barriers to using social media with kids,” she observes, advocating for more internal social media options that are appropriately supervised. Until then, though, she will capitalize on the channels available to her and her customer base. Keeping Cool on Twitter In Castle Rock, Colo., Douglas County School District School Nutrition Director Brent Craig, SNS, was an early adopter of employing social media as a school meal marketing strategy. He regularly uses Facebook to reach out to students and parents and is now developing a new webpage that operates like a blog. Craig has a couple of years of experience with Twitter, too, and has some wisdom to offer to newbies interested in tweeting: “A lot of people just try to get large numbers of followers, but we try instead to create a true community made up of parents and students.” Craig learned quickly, though, that parents in his community don’t use Twitter much, and students weren’t interested in following the school nutrition department’s Twitter feed. (Uncool, perhaps?) “We decided to deploy a different tactic,” Craig recalls. “Now we follow the students on Twitter!” In Craig’s experience, being active on Twitter means accepting the rules of the road. “All the kids like to poke fun,” he says, “so you can’t get too serious! But when they get to tweeting about things that relate to school lunch, nutrition, etc., we will tweet out to them in response and try to get them talking. We use Twitter (www.twitter.com/DCSD_Nutrition) as a tool to follow what the kids are saying, learn the issue and market some things to support, help or counteract what’s happening.” A note of caution from Craig: Social media has its own rules. “You can’t control the content,” he advises, “and it’s all about being transparent.” Craig recalls one Facebook post announcing a product he was considering, only to be confronted with 100 negative comments about the product’s manufacturer. “I sat on my hands and didn’t respond,” he says. “I don’t want to remove comments—in fact, I’ve only had to do it once, when a student used bad language.” Ready to Create a Splash? These experiences may inspire you to dip your own toe into the social media marketing pool—or maybe you’re already out there but looking for a push to help you dive into the deep end! Wherever you find yourself along the spectrum, you can be sure that social media’s role and influence on children and teens is only going to get stronger. Your students, your suppliers and your colleagues already may be online, sharing experiences, offering feedback and promoting healthy school food. Someday, on some platform, there will be a place for your school nutrition program, too. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Photography by Wavebreak Media and Robert Churchill. Look Who’s Talking… …about peer influence The single biggest influence on kids my age is other kids my age. My peers impact the decisions I make more than any other factor. My peers influence how I dress, what I wear, the things I do, what I say, how I talk—everything, really. The good news is that I choose which of my peers I spend the most time with, which means I get to pick who among my peers will have the greatest influence. For example, I love to perform, so I am in the show choir and the dance company at school. The kids in these groups are very active. They don’t have time to sit in front of a screen and watch TV or play games, because they have to rehearse and perform. These kids are active, so they influence me to be active, too. In return, I try to influence my friends and peers by explaining the consequences of not eating healthy and not getting physical activity. All I had to do was to join a group that shared my love for performance and we all stay active together. Eating healthy is a bigger challenge, because kids do not always get to choose what we eat. I think if adults were to encourage kids about eating healthy and physical activity at a young age, then it would seem normal to lead a healthy lifestyle. During the school day, we have to eat what the school provides and at home, we eat what our parents provide. But we still find ways to make a difference. I joined a group at my local YMCA called Keys for Healthy Kids, and this group toured a grocery store to learn how to make smart decisions by reading product labels. We also put together a slide show presentation of my school’s lunches and asked our school board to make our lunches healthier and tastier. Since, the lunches in my school—and other local schools—have changed in the quality and quantity of healthy foods that are served, and kids are starting to enjoy lunch at school instead of dreading it. As a Youth Advisory Board member with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, my first project was a community garden. With the help of my friends, we received space at the YMCA and planted, cared for and harvested a garden. This year, younger kids are taking over its care and maintenance. Teaching gardening classes and participating in grocery store tours are just small steps in a much bigger journey. But each step moves us closer to taking control of our lives and influencing our generation and future generations to live healthy. Mataio Swain, 15, Capital High School, Charleston, West Virginia School Nutrition thanks our youth authors, representatives of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Youth Advisory Board, for sharing their insights and enthusiasm with readers. Look Who’s Talking… …about changing the world If there is one key lesson I have learned in my years of medical research and volunteer work, it is that connections between people are essential—both for our emotional welfare and our civic responsibility. Today’s generation has a plethora of resources to communicate with one another, including cell phones, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These forms of communication have brought forward many advantages, but these advantages come at a cost: We’ve transformed to a generation that is dependent on these methods to communicate with others. But I believe our generation needs to step away from computers, phones and electronic devices to build connections with others in our community through civic engagement. Civic engagement allows us to develop stronger personal connections with others—and many of these connections have become weaker in our technological world. I realized the connections I made through visits with hospice care patients were as important as my research on Alzheimer’s disease; they are the faces behind the medical research. My visits allowed me to interact directly with patients and build personal bonds that can’t happen with research alone. These connections offer immediate benefits, whereas research is long term. These connections are also vital in building bonds between different generations. For the past two years, I have worked with a local group, The Grandfather Youth Task Force, which has allowed me to see the direct benefits from the integration of activities between youth and seniors. I’ve also built connections with people around the childhood obesity epidemic. Working on different service-learning projects, I have been able to develop relationships with different people in my community. Being appointed to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Youth Advisory Board has allowed me to expand my work nationally, and I have realized that the youth voice needs to be integrated alongside the adult voice. Bringing together the ideas from these diverse generations is an essential connection that is necessary to change the pattern of childhood obesity. Technology may have made our lives easier, but it cannot be a replacement for actual face-to-face communication. No matter how much technology may develop, we must remember that civic action and interaction are both essential for success. Despite our busy lives, there needs to be an increase in collaboration between youth and adults to decrease the gap that has formed between generations. By doing this, possibly we can get one step closer to fixing some grave issues in our nation, including childhood obesity. Akansha Jain, 17, Millard North High School, Omaha, Nebraska School Nutrition thanks our youth authors, representatives of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Youth Advisory Board, for sharing their insights and enthusiasm with readers. follow the LEADERS Despite the challenges associated with reaching kids via social media, many of the most popular sites and platforms have been used by corporate America to launch some amazingly creative marketing campaigns, some geared toward adults and others to users of all ages. While your school nutrition operation surely lacks the funds and staff to support the most innovative of these examples, they may serve as inspiration for your own novel approaches. Let’s start with Instagram. Because it’s entirely photo-based, Instagram can be used as an online catalog, to highlight specific products, distribute brief messaging and create general buzz. Organizations also can engage viewers to participate in photo contests or reward followers with promotional codes and publicize upcoming special events like concerts and trade shows. And since Instagram’s demographic is primarily young, companies who use Instagram most effectively tend to have a customer base that includes lots of teens and kids. For example, Instagram users can follow Taco Bell (with creatively designed pictures of its menu items), the video music sharing site Vevo, sports teams (including the Brooklyn Nets and L.A. Clippers) Adidas, Starbucks and even Target. A new Nike app, Nike PHOTOiD, allows users to create custom sneakers using Instagram! Pinterest is another social media site that is well suited to marketing—in fact, the buying decision process is built right into the site. See something you like online? Pin it, and you are providing the company with instant, free advertising. Pinterest is capitalizing on this synergy with a targeted business account that verifies a company’s website and allows the company to post a “Pin It” button on the website, making it easy for users to pin the website to their individual Pinterest boards. Pinterest also gives business account users access to analytics that track how many people pinned and repinned their products and services, as well as information on the types of things people pinned alongside. With its mostly female, 25+ demographic, Pinterest may not reach many kids, but it’s a great way to reach their mothers. Food companies are just one example of the type of business that’s highly prolific on Pinterest. For example, Dunkin Donuts (http://pinterest.com/DunkinDonuts) asks users to post photos of what they’re drinking and how they’re “running on Dunkin,” while Chobani’s Pinterest page (http://pinterest.com/chobani) goes beyond promoting its product by capturing the adventures of the “CHOmobile” as it travels across the country. Kraft Foods’ YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/ KraftCookingSchool) also focuses less on promoting specific products in favor of teaching at-home cooks useful kitchen tips and tricks. The channel features (product-centered) recipes, as well as short how-to videos featuring culinary skills building and advice for entertaining. This could be a natural approach for school nutrition operations! Use short videos to teach kids simple recipes and basic kitchen know-how. You also could include these videos on your program’s website (and Facebook page) to showcase your expertise and the healthy meals you offer to parents and others in the community. Tumblr is a site that traditionally has avoided advertising, but its management has begun to explore ways for advertisers to reach users. The site incorporates “Radar,” a tailored mix of editorial content and ads that runs along the side of a user’s Dashboard. Tumblr’s advertising policy tries to preserve the site’s content-rich reputation by requiring that advertisements and marketing content add “value” to the user experience. This approach appeals to younger users, too: The marketers of the teen-targeted “Hunger Games” movies created an entire Tumblr microblog (http://capitolcouture.pn) designed to look like a lifestyle magazine featuring trends and styles from the movies’ fictional Capitol and featuring its stars in character for fashion shots. And from a food perspective, Whole Foods (http://dark-rye.tumblr.com) produces a Tumblr for an online magazine that features content on such topics as recipes, shopping for produce and starting a community garden. United Kingdom-based chocolate company Cadbury (https:// plus.google.com/+CadburyUK) was one of the first companies to break the 2-million-followers mark on Google+. It uses its page to post product updates, receive customer feedback via the Hangouts feature and offer exclusive sneak peeks to followers. Following its own model of letting users have a say in the types of content they prefer seeing, Reddit moved this spring to a new advertising system that gives users the ability to vote ads up or down. This will help train the system to better tailor the ads that a user sees based on individual preferences. If a user downvotes an ad, it will never appear for that particular user again, and he or she will be presented with an option of providing feedback to the Reddit team on how they can present more relevant ads. Facebook uses a similar system for some of its advertising. Let’s end with two examples that used the social media giants. In 2012, M&M’s® conducted a Facebook campaign inviting its page fans to weigh in on a new color for the popular candy (turquoise won out, appearing in a limited edition product run). And Wendy’s parlayed its Twitter followers’ love for its flatbread product line into a chance to win some cash; followers could tweet a photo of one of the targeted menu selections to be eligible to receive $1,000. BONUS WEB CONTENT Traditional social media options aren’t the only 21st-century technologies that school nutrition operations are turning to in their attempts to reach students and other stakeholders. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus content to read about other cuttingedge approaches. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Photography by Wavebreak Media and Robert Churchill.
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