Should Facebook officially lower or eliminate its age restrictions, it will be faced with developing and communicating a privacy-focused strategy that ensures a safe environment for its new users. Brands, in turn, will need to adjust communications strategies to include Facebook.
As of now, the way brands engage with the under-13 demographic is on social networks such as Everloop, Yoursphere, Kidsocial, and Poptropica. Embedded with strict parental controls, the sites are continuously partnering with brands to engage with target audiences through brand pages.
New, creative content
"Marketers and communications professionals will need to be completely in tune with the privacy regulations put in place by Facebook," says Marie Baker, social media director at Coyne PR.
The role of the community manager will become increasingly important because brands will need to monitor their Facebook pages more frequently for spam and other questionable content, she adds.
"Depending on how Facebook structures the technology, one of the challenges for brands will be riding a fine line between creating content for existing fan bases while also speaking to a younger age group," Baker says.
Sandy Barger, CMO at Everloop, a Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) compliant startup social network site for kids and tweens, says companies such as Facebook entering the social media space need to create robust, dynamic content that allow kids to be creative - for example, creating an app specifically for that age group to express themselves.
"You can't just dumb down adult technology," Barger says.
If Facebook did open up to younger users, Scholastic would also reevaluate its communications strategy for reaching that demographic with its content.
"In broad strategic strokes we would like to foster the same sense of community we do now with the programs we currently have and look for them to be age appropriate to that community," says Stacy Lellos, VP of marketing and multiplatform publishing, Scholastic.
• The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) states that websites must obtain consent from parents before children under 13 are able to create an account
• Despite COPPA, in May 2011 Consumer Reports found that 7.5 million of Facebook's users were under the age of 13
• A November 2011 study published on First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal focused on the Internet, reported that 72% of parents whose children were on Facebook knew their child was on the network prior to turning 13
• Facebook has a page for parents and educators that gives advice on their children's use of the website
The company has a number of methods for reaching out to users older than 13 that could also apply to the tween set, such as the "This Is Teen" app, which has about 85,000 likes and is designed to showcase new books each month, along with acting as a forum for teens to interact with one another and share recommendations.
The firm also conducts sweepstakes, and allows teens to create custom bookshelves through which they can make purchases via links to retailers.
"We're very careful about respecting the communities and then allowing them to foster," says Lellos. "That's why we've been successful as opposed to just trying to push out what we want to say. We really want these communities to grow and live and feed on themselves."
Lellos says if Facebook opens to younger users, much of the strategic guidelines would remain the same as reaching out to teens, such as being mindful of user age and the voice used to engage with them, and being thoughtful about content posted.
While it's still unclear if and when Facebook will launch for the under-13 demographic, Baker says the expansion would be important for many brands, especially in entertainment.
"Having direct access to this age group will play a crucial role in overall social marketing efforts," she says.
COPPA compliancy is just the foundation of what needs to be done by a website welcoming kids under 13, says Mary Kay Hoal, president of Yoursphere, a social network for kids.
"The content has to be age appropriate," says Hoal. "It has to be content that's really engaging and that they want to participate in."
She adds that brands looking to open social networks for young people under 13 must be mindful of educating children on why their privacy matters.
"Social networks created just for kids allow kids and young teens to experience the great benefits of social media all the while learning about safety and privacy before graduating on to adult networks," says Hoal. l