As many of you know, I co-chaired the Digital Kids (formerly Engage) this year with the lovely Izzy Neis, Regine Weiner and Amy Pritchard. Had a great time and I thought I would update my notes on my panel and my musings here.
My panel was on Parent Controls We were tasked with presenting the parent controls we have on each of our sites – mine for Animal Jam, Hillary for Everloop, Holly for AOL and Sebastien from Oregon Scientific . What follows is the rant I built up during/after the panel. 😉
SO, Kids site owner…
You have a Fort-Knox caliber security system that makes registration super secure – nice!
You have reports on your child players’ usage and maybe even what they learned – cool!
You allow the parent to see who your child’s buddies are – neat!
While this exercise is fine, what I thought more valuable from the panel was the conversation we were able to have after with audience. Parent controls are not required by law, so those of us who have them are already above the bar. We can dust the dirt off our shoulders and congratulate ourselves, or we can talk for real about them.
Truth is, not many parents use parent controls. And when they do, it’s usually because the are in a negative mood – their child was caught trying to swear, their child gave out their password and then is confused why they were “hacked,” their child “borrowed” their parent’s credit card and bought a membership or some virtual currency. All of a sudden Mom/Dad/Grandma is SUPER interested in how to control their child’s activity on their favorite sites.
If the only time you engage with your parents are in these reactive and often negatively tinged situations, you are doing a disservice to your parent audience and your brand. Parent controls are simply one pillar in what should be a larger parent communication strategy.
This strategy should encompass the parent controls, yes, but also:
– Your registration process
– Your tone in your parent focused area of the site
– The messaging and frequency in your parent emails and newsletters
– How contests are managed
– How your customer service reps interact with parents
– Your refund and retribution policies
– Your crisis management plan
– Your Social Media strategy
If parent controls are the only thing you have worked on, or if they are worked on in a vacuum without realizing how they intersect with these other parent communication channels, you are at best missing valuable audience engagement opportunities and at worst, losing customers.
Don’t assume that your Parent Controls are a “If you build it they will come” situation. Most parents, like you, are busy. They don’t even look at your site when their kids start playing. Best case, they do a quick scan of your site to determine that it doesn’t offend them in some way. Of course, there are parents who will sit with their children and explore all the sites they play on diligently to make sure they comply with their parenting pedagogy. But these parents are a minority (albeit a vocal one.)
The average parent DOES discover your controls and other parent communication when their child is crying about something regarding your site. Like I said before – they’ve been “hacked,” they’ve been bullied, they’ve been banned. The parents are suddenly transformed into Momma and Pappa Grizzly Bears, ready to defend their angels from the brutes of the Internet, usually holding you, the site, as the main offender.
You think this Hulk-esque mood will be placated with reports or the ability to deactivate newsletters? Nope, they need their indigence/fear/rage to be acknowledged, validated and calmed. That’s your job as a Community Management (or Customer Services, depending on your corporate structure). In the process of calming their nerves, you can use the existence of your Parent Controls as evidence of your brands commitment to partnering with the parent. Sometimes its the mere mention of their existence, sometimes its a patient walkthru of the tools – but usually it’s then that the parent becomes impressed and/or calmed by your commitment to their child’s well being and their own state of mind.
An important caveat here is that an equal amount of parent’s first engagement with parent controls is often to extend abilities, rather than remove them. This is usually done to stop the incessant pleas to turn on some feature for them, usually chat or other interaction tools.
Now this could all change as our parent audiences get more comfortable with the technology and/or those who grew up online become parents. But we aren’t there yet. Until then, we need to stay eyes wide open regarding these communication avenues and not discount, ignore, or over-emphasize any particular one.