Subtlety proves effective with fickle online tweens

The so-called "tween" demographic - kids roughly between the ages of 8 and 12 who are not quite in their stereotypically rebellious teen years, but still are starting to listen to their peers more than mom and dad - are a particularly interesting group for PR and marketing firms looking to take advantage of the phenomenon of online social networking.

The so-called "tween" demographic - kids roughly between the ages of 8 and 12 who are not quite in their stereotypically rebellious teen years, but still are starting to listen to their peers more than mom and dad - are a particularly interesting group for PR and marketing firms looking to take advantage of the phenomenon of online social networking.

For one thing, tweens may be congregating on any of a number of different sites, depending on their interests, from Pizco to Mog, Squidoo, Snapvine, Whateverlife, or MySpace, and they can be very fickle: What's cool one month may be so over the next.

Plus, this group is far savvier than kids of yesteryear about advertisements and marketing. That means PR pros should, above all, resist trying to infiltrate social networks by, for instance, paying someone to talk up a product or service.

"The teens and tweens are very sophisticated now and can ferret out advertisements and fake profiles," says Dan Katz, account supervisor for Mindshare Interactive. "They can tell when someone's not real in an instant."

So how do you pitch this group? Not directly, notes Brian Reich, director of new media for Cone. Tweens, like everyone, pick up their knowledge from a variety of sources - TV, magazines, radio, the Web, and especially friends - and if they think something is cool, then they talk about it on social networking sites and elsewhere.

"It's that natural flow that marketers and PR people need to tap into," Reich adds. "You don't know which of the 10 [marketing] things you put out will trigger that flow, but the closer you make those 10 things worthy of being shared, the closer you'll come."

But while a blitzkrieg of information directed at tweens is likely to backfire, they do love to wrap themselves in brands whose reputations are established through other media and then are spread online. Then, concludes Andy Nibley, chairman and CEO of Marsteller, Burson-Marsteller's global advertising, design, interactive, and production arm, the brand may spread, creating a kind of viral marketing effect.

Key points:

Tweens are fickle about social networking sites; what's cool one month may be out the next

They are savvy about PR and ads, so "guerrilla" marketing ploys are likely to fail

Tweens love brands whose image is only created through other media, such as TV, then spread on social networks

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