Posted in Club Penguin, Disney, kids, MySpace, Nick, online community, tween, Webkinz

How to approach youth social networks theorectically

There are many different perspectives to put on online social networking and it is important to know where one is coming from when talking about social networking and youth. The perspective(s) one has will be very different whether one is a parent with a teenage daughter on MySpace, a marketing executive interested in the target group “14 to 20,” a journalist looking for the next big news story on young people and new media, a youngster using a social networking site as part of everyday life or a researcher investigating how young people are using social networking sites.

35 Perspectives on Online Social Networking (SocialComputingMagazine.com)

This is a great article that details the 35 perspectives from which one can approach a youth oriented (12-18) social network.  These include from learning, social, democratic, love or surveillance perspectives and many more.  It is quite thorough, yet there is a bit of overlap in some of them.  She also goes onto describe the 6 different categories these perspectives fall into. 

I am really happy that this sort of research and theoretical thinking is being done now on an academic level.  I contemplated a few years ago whether to go the academic or business route with online communities.  I chose business with twinges of regret, born primarily from the lack of academic research in the area.  The more articles like this and danah boyd’s work, the better I feel about my decision.  I’ve always been more of a practical approach person who dabbles in theory, though. 

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Posted in Club Penguin, Disney, kids, marketing, MySpace, Nick, online community, tween, Webkinz

Kids and the Web/Technology – let’s talk about the future

Our current culture is stuck on the underlying fear of the dangers surrounding our kids online.  While there may be dangers, they are greatly outnumbered by the potential wonders and great experiences that are possible now because of the web and technology in general.  To take a knee jerk reaction and prohibit or limit use of the web is not only a pedantic reaction, but potentially a detrimental one for your kid’s development.

The future (and the present) is wired and will continue to be.  Parents need to step up and become educated in the net and what their kids are doing online – both good and bad.  But how?  And by whom?  We can’t rely on them to just do it on their own over night.  Even if they have the desire, they may not have the resources or be too overwhelmed to even know where to begin.

There is a sea change coming soon on how people view the net.  Gen X’rs and beyond have more knowledge and have less fear of the net and will pass this thinking onto their kids (whom they are already having).  In the interim time though, until the change is here, we, as community professionals, have to prepare to help out.

We talked about this one of the sessions at the Online Community Unconference last week (can you tell I liked that visit?  I can’t stop talking about the epiphanies I had there).

It’s great that the big guns in the kids web space (Disney, Nick, Habbo, etc) are doing community and are committed to continuing to do so.  Maybe we can start the movement (yes, I think we can assume it could qualify as a movement) by leveraging the bigger communities who have the trusted brand and wider reach.  What about having PSA’s on their sites about why the Internet isn’t all bad for kids and what parents need to know – both bad AND good.  Maybe pre-roll the same PSA’s in movie theatres before family-centric movies.

Another smaller, but equally important tactic could be to make sure your OCM’s and other staff members who are on the front lines are aware, ready and watching for the signs of change in their communities.

I know I am going to continue blogging and talking about the issue wherever I can.  Like I said last week, I don’t need to be the talking head on this subject, but I definitely want to help write the script.

I was just talking to Bill Johnston over at Forum One about some of these bigger topics in the Online Community world and he mentioned that it would be cool to round table or podcast about some of these more nebulous topics.  I think that’s a great idea.  There are enough of us who have been in the online community space for long enough to move to the next step and start thinking about the future of our industry. 

Let me know if you want in on these sorts of conversations too and I will be sure to bring you into them.  It may sound cheesy – but the future starts now, let’s start working on it.

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Posted in Club Penguin, Disney, gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, MySpace, Nick, online community, television, tween, Webkinz

Making kids exercise, because it’s what you do

Got a little couch potato?

Check out fun summer activities for kids.

This was the footer to my friends email to me written on a Yahoo email account.  Now, I love my gmail because it allows me to make all the words that are in my email and doesn’t put an often cheesily written ad at the bottom exclaiming the virtues of shopping online.  But I noticed this footer, clicked through and am now blogging about it.  Good job Yahoo for finally putting something on the footer that matters.

So, onto my diatribe… active kids…

I have seen alot of articles and commercials lately that equate a child playing computers or video games or watching tv as fat and lazy.  While this is true in some cases, it’s not the fault of the computers, games and tv, it the fault of the child and the parents.  Our media consumption is just that, something we consume.  We should train ourselves and our children to know when enough is enough and when there has been too much.

I am on my computer from relatively minutes after I wake up until mintes before I go to asleep at night, and most of the day in between.  But I have trained myself, like a good human, to also eat, bathe, exercise and converse with fellow citizens in some way in addition to my media consumption.  Since I have been working from home, this has been more highlighted.  When you leave the house for work or school, you inherently start moving.  Hopefully you continue that movement and try to capitalize on it by riding a bike, walking to your destination or even choosing to park further away to make you walk.  Maybe your job has walking involved, even if it’s climbing the stairs or walking to the printer.  I don’t have to do any of that at home, so I build it into my day, because I know moving and exercise is important. 

My point is, I don’t think kids are learning this in some households.  Just as you have to teach them the reasoning why eating potato chips and cake all day is a bad idea (and it is, if you don’t know that), you also can’t try to scare them from said potato chips and cake all together (because they are delicious and you should eat them sometimes). 

You have to teach them that moderation of their media is also something they need to watch for.  Playing video games for a couple hours will not make your child fat and lazy.  It will probably help your child in infinitely more ways.  But if you don’t explain the reasoning to them, and just punish them from the media, you haven’t done them justice.  They will rebel, as any respectable kid would, and end up playing the game more and STILL not know that there is a reason behind why gaming all the time is a bad idea.

I was a camp director at CyberCamps for a few years.  I taught intro game design, Flash, 3D animation, robotics and other computer skills to rooms of 25 8-15 year olds at a time.  The first day was always the most interesting for me, because their parents dropped them off with me and the kids wanted to bee-line right for the computers.  Oh, the fights I would have with the bold kids who tried to reason with me that their parents paid me to have them on computers, not playing tag.  The silly children didn’t understand that tag was just the format I used to introduce social skills to them.  By the end of the week, they were begging me to shave time off their game design modules so they could play one more game of kick ball or cards with their new friends.  Many of them who figured out my motives actually thanked me by the end of the week for making them realize that you can having computer AND non-computer activites was more fun and interesting, not the opposite.

So please stop demonizing media for lack of comprehensive parenting.  Computers, video games and TV are all cool and make our lives richer and interesting.  Don’t take them away or make them “bad.”  Make sure your kids ALSO have non-plugged-in things that are interesting and that they learn moderation in all things, and I think you will find they will become better people all around.

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Leading Kids Site? Really? … really?

Kidzworld.com is the leading safe, secure, content-driven community for Tweens, kids ages nine to fourteen. Established in July 1999, Kidzworld leverages contemporary technology to allow users to express themselves through the creation of original content, interact with each other in the chatrooms, one the boards and in their KW Zone profile, and explore the digital

Kidzworld.com – social networking for kids – KillerStartups.com

This is when I don’t like marketing. I can’t stnd the use of “leading,” “only,” and “best” in marketing and PR materials.

Kidzworld may be leading in search engine placement because it has been around for a while. (Although I was unable to get them to be a “first-pager” with 5 tries of generic kid search terms on Google). That means that all the old school links on abandoned pages aggregating “Cool sites for kids!” from 99-02 link to Kidzworld and they are getting higher placement on searches. Longevity and perservence has it’s rewards.

And I will EVEN give it to them that IF a kid didn’t have a predetermined list of sites to go to the second they hit the computer (Nick, Club Penguin, MySpace, YouTube, etc etc) AND they ran a serach for “kids sites” (because SO many kids identify with the term “kids”) they MAY click on Kidzworld. But will they stay?

The design is VERY young and the content is lacking compared to the heavy hitters in the space. They did just go through a redesign (thank the gods!) but it is still not going to look like a contender in the race for “Leading Kids Community.”

PLEASE someone explan how I am misreading it. Is it the claim of “safe” or “secure”? It’s kind of the law now, but ok, maybe that is your loop hole. I just have known about Kidzworld since back in the day when I was running FreeZone’s community. So reading KillerStartups.com, and seeing Kidzworld (is 1999 still a start up date?) as a leader was something I just had to comment about.

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Virtual worlds, branding and kids

Finally almost caught up on at least TWiT. Still have tons of blogs to read. Last time I take a vacation, oy! Again, forgive me if some of these topics are a couple weeks old – they are but days old to me.

There has been a great deal of talk about using Second Life or other immersive virtual worlds as vehicles to partner with to market brands to kids and teens. The owners of the virtual worlds seem open to it.

  • Second Life specific marketing agencies are popping up everywhere, offering to build your brand’s avatars and set up an area for you in Linden’s many worlds.
  • Nicktropolis is seeking brands to add into their new virtual world.
  • Cartoon Network is buidling a virtual world now as well and we can only assume they will follow suit as well.
  • Sony is entering the space now too, with Playstation‘s new game/virtual world “Home,” which promises to have tons of sponsorship and branding opportunities

At the recent Virtual Worlds Conference, Steve Youngwood of MTV, said that MTV’s Interactive division, who has had Virtual Laguna Beach and The Hills running for over 6 months, has seen 99%
of their users who were exposed to brands in their virtual worlds go
on to use those products within the next 2 weeks. That is a pretty impressive
statistic (no mention was made of their younger demo offerings at Nicktropolis).

Privacy and moderation issues aside for a moment, I think a bit more thought is needed before everyone runs into these kid/teenworlds. Tons of care and consideration needs to be put into how a brand is added to any kind of community, but especially a virtual world. There has been considerable of backlash from the Second Life “residents” about the corporate influence and even evolving into groups like a SL Liberaton Army which aim to fight the recent sponsors that have set up shop, most of which are very “corporate” in nature.

In the same Virtual Worlds Conference keynote I mentioned above, Matt Bostwick of MTV talked about the considerations that they took when adding brands to Virtual Laguna Beach and The Hills. He used the term 4D branding to describe making the brand’s the experience and interaction with the brand on a deeper level. He mentioned the recent success of a Pepsi campaign that worked really well with the Virtual Hollywood Hills residents, where different types of immersive Pepsi marketing were occuring simultaneously throughout the world – from purchasing cans of virtual Pepsi from vending machines to sponsored events and games. The promotion resulted in 99% of the their users being exposed to the brand 9 times or more and satellite Pepsi fan groups appearing organically with fan activity.

Both examples, Second Life and Virtual Hills, tried to integrate a corporate sponsor into their worlds with very different results. The difference is the level of consideration each world gave to how the users would react to the brand integration. Second Life has a fanastical world where a corporate presence would be a huge contrast to the culture that was already established. I am sure it is harder for Second Life marketers to develop campaigns that won’t rub their residents the wrong way – but I am sure it is possible, if not done already. Whereas, Virtual Hills is tailor made for corporate sponsorships; it’s residents being raised on a steady diet of corporate branding from almost birth (their target demo is 20 y.o. females).

It will be interesting to watch the next year unfold. I still stand by my earlier claim that I don’t think virtual economy’s that are fueled by actual cash will work for the under 13 y.o.’s demo the way it worked in S Korea with Cyworld. Habbo is selling their cards at CVS’s, so we will see if I have to eat my words.

I do think that there is tremendous opportunity for respectful brand integration into virtual worlds where the users have a meaningful connection with the product and the brands see the power that this new generation of community holds.

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SXSW07: Community Ecology: Finding Balance When Working with Fan Groups Panel

Community Ecology: Finding Balance When Working with Fan Groups Panel
Jake McKee Lead Samurai, Big in Japan (previously adult community manager at Lego)
Rebecca Newton Global Safety & Moderation Mgr, Sulake.com (Habbo/VMK) (previously with Israel Interactive and AOL)
Terrence Ryan Moderator, suicidegirls.com
Virginia Miracle Dir Word of Mouth Mktg, Brains on Fire (fiskar scrapbooking community – fisketeers) (previously with DELL)
Betsy Whalen Dir Mktg, Discovery Education

Regarding how live events work in conjunction with online community
– keep them small
– trust your community
Habbo’s virtual world found was best to keep virtual and real separate to maintainthe magic for their users

Open up questions to audience:

Question about how to control brand consistency in your community without a hub site, only grassroots
– you don’t – you help them understand any negative aspects, champion the positive
– get over your fear, community has openness/unpredictablilty and should be embraced
– don’t be upset, figure out a way to work with it
– treat your community like a relationship, with honesty and openness

Question about at what size does the community need to be before doing on its own
– how long should you stay on other social networks before making your own
– don’t focus on the tech, but rather what tech works for the community you have
rockourworld.org – example of a tangent communnity that spun off of discovery eucations community members
– clearly define your success measures (traffic, longevity, active periods)
– determine if there is a need and fill that need

Question from Cartoon Network – launching game and wanted to know about how to market
– make easy to share
– make the tagline palatable and easy for kids
– virtual world like Nicktropolis
– have a place for them to create their own games
– referenced Club Penguin

Question about online fundraising
– how to maximize
– how do you deal with “bad” community ideas
– be clear on parameters , unlimited scope is not good

Question on how to get your audience involved in the product design process
– contextualize it for your community
– determine the success measures
– identify your community leaders, give them the tipping point moment to become more involved
– communities are based on ego – play on that
– recognize people like to talk about the bad than the good, help them contextualize
– given them an opportunity (ask them).

Question about self policing flagging, etc and not hurting the community
– there is an illusion that there is free speech in an online community, but it is a public facing private area
– company needs to understand what abuse means, constructive criticism is not ness a bad thing
– common practice is the more opportunity you give the users to shape their community, the more active and engaged community you get, not vice versa

Question regarding how they deal with user feuds
– deal with them like children, put them in separate corners
– had to change the “ignore” tool to “ban chat” because users needed a stronger feeling word for their feuds
– be open and there for your users

Question regarding internal office community and how to make it succeed
– start small, in manageable chunks
– show examples on how easy it is (make it easy, of course)
– get your early adopters and make sure they are influencers

http://www.communityguy.com/sxsw for more commentary

Posted in Disney, kids, Nick, online community, tween, web business

Nick To Launch A Whole New Virtual World, Just Ahead of Disney

Nick.com is launching Nicktropolis, a new virtual community focused on games and video featuring characters like “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Avatar.”Similar to other online worlds popular with kids, such as Habbo, Nicktropolis denizens will create virtual representations of themselves with their own living space in the digital city. They can then find games to play, enter areas centered on Nick shows, and interact with other kids if they have permission from their parents.The move comes as Disney is prepping a re-launch of its Disney.com Web site with the same goal of immersing kids in a digital world full of its properties. While Disney’s site won’t be a “virtual world,” it also will feature games, numerous parental controls, and achievement points to keep kids online in order to earn virtual prizes.

Toon Zone – Your Source for Toon News!

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