It’s Not Just Where Teens Are. It’s Why They’re There.


They’ve been called a lot of things by marketers – text-crazed, tech savvy, hard to reach, lacking attention span. But as the first digital native generation, their constant connection to their devices means they have infinitely more options about how, when, and why they consume content. And when you have options, you can afford to be picky.

And it’s exactly their pickiness marketers should marvel at when we look at how much in common the top apps have. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon’s Niche surveyed 7,000 members of the high school class of 2014 on their most-used mobile apps[1]. Topping the list of daily habit apps were Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pandora.

This list should come as no surprise. When you look at the top 25 apps that teens use daily, it’s apparent they share some core characteristics. But the lesson is there for marketers who are listening. These apps keep teens connected, but their characteristics, if examined a bit closer, can offer something more. They reveal the simple attributes of app success with teens: discovery, immediacy, and personalization.


The stream of content provided in many these apps goes deeper than connectivity – it’s about discovery, whether it’s discovering music, movies, pop culture, or even friends. Our feeds are filled with the customized results of years and years of preference decisions. But imagine how important discovery is to your feed when you’re just starting to make those choices. The suggestions we might swat away on Facebook or Twitter may carry different weight at the early stages of a teen’s digital independence. Even more interesting are responsive services that take that discovery to the next level. Beyond following or opting-into certain content, Netflix’s suggestion algorithm and Pandora’s proprietary Music Genome Project learn from engagement, creating individually unique experiences, recommendations, and discovery in real-time.


Immediacy is important to everyone, but to say the phone call is on the verge of becoming an endangered species with teens is not a far off exaggeration. Sure they use it…when talking to their parents. By daily use, texting is nearly three times more popular with teens[2]. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s easy, it’s low effort, and it delivers immediate connection. But look up at that graph and you’ll notice texting isn’t the only game in town. The immediacy of texting has made messaging a core function to be expected, especially in new apps. Whether it’s instant photo updates and direct messages on Instagram, messaging options in gaming apps, Facebook Messenger, or the explosive popularity of Snapchat, apps that offer real-time relationships appeal to teens who grew up expecting instant, constant connection to the people and content they love most.


Personalization isn’t new, but it’s more important than ever to teens that have a way to create and customize their digital lives. In fact, a Pandora user study found that 62 percent of teen listeners said the ability to personalize their music was THE reason they keep coming back to Pandora[3]. So, personalization is important to teens presenting who they are to the world, but also in creating customized experiences with the content they consume.

If you’re a marketer looking to connect with teens, it’s important to know where they spend their time; however, keeping in mind the reasons they are there in the first place will help inform a smarter, more authentic mobile marketing strategy.


[1] Ink Niche Insight + Analysis, Best and Worst: Media Habits of the Class of 2014, June 2014 [2] The Atlantic, The Most Popular Social Network for Young People? Texting, June 19, 2014 [3] Pandora User Study, September 2013