For 10 years now I have judged a high school marketing event at the district and state level. And every year I feel I learn something by seeing things through the eyes of a bunch of teenagers. Of course, when I started doing this back in 2003 I was in my 20s, twitter didn’t exist, flip phones were cool, people still wanted their privacy and high school students were trying to NOT get caught.

This year I feel I learned a little bit more because of how quickly social media has evolved. As marketers, I think we get caught up in how we use it and assume that everyone else uses it (or: wants to use it; should use it) the same way. When in fact there are so many different types of users and uses. And it’s hard to forget that there isn’t a universal rule book for social media. People are allowed to use it differently. And when it comes to teenagers it seems they definitely are.*

Here are a few observations:

Putting the ‘social’ in social media. The biggest difference I noticed is that the ‘professional’ view of social media is to share, engage, network on a professional level. Be careful what you put out there because it will affect how people think of you. Watch what you say. Censor yourself. We think so much about what we’re going to say based on that because for many of us social channels came along after we had joined the workforce. We were already thinking of our professional selves. But ask yourself how you would’ve used social if you had access to it as a teen. And had a device that enabled you to access it 24/7. Would the teenage version of you had been so safe? I know I wouldn’t have. Hell, I got censored (for a whole week) once for content I used on morning announcements – imagine what trouble I would have been in if I had twitter at my disposal during my high school years. My parents just shuddered at the thought.

The high school students I spent time with and talked to weren’t thinking about how they could share the latest article. Or comment or participate in a chat. They wanted to tell people about the game they were playing. Or how annoyed they were. Or how much fun they were having. Or how it sucked getting up so early. They’re using it to actually socialize. It was interesting to me to see how they used twitter more for one-on-one conversation (v. texting). In some cases they were tweeting at the person sitting right across the table, the room, the aisle.

Pictures rule. How many articles have we read lately about the importance of visual content? Well, there’s a reason for that – the generation coming up behind us wants it that way. They communicate that way. If my generation was the Sesame Street generation this one is the Blue’s Clues generation. Show me a picture – a clue – and I better be able to understand the rest from there.

YouTube? YouTube. I can’t fathom what it would’ve been like to carry a TV in my pocket as a high school student and be able to watch any funny SNL skit, stand-up act, movie clip, etc. at any time I wanted to. My friends and I had to do it the old-fashion way – act it out. Now if you say something like ‘oh, I haven’t seen that random auto-tune version of that weird news clip’ four students are handing your their mobile device so you can watch it. (And there is so much auto-tune I haven’t seen! I’m thinking of taking a PTO day just to get caught up.) But YouTube is definitely a teenagers best friend – it’s how they seek out and expect to find…anything.

Four-star hotel? Try four-bar hotel.  Whether it’s a restaurant, a hotel, a mall – you better have an accessible wireless network. And it better be good. As a society we’ve become more impatient – but for teenagers who have grown up with expecting access to their device, it’s a must. (And oh Lord help us when my kids’ generation hits their teen years…what they’ve grown up with.)

For me, the most interesting part of all this is how this will evolve social even more as this generation enters college and the workforce. Each generation is going to leave their mark on social, which makes our job as marketers even more challenging. And even more important that we stick to a core philosophy on how to adapt to that evolution. I’m excited and scared to think about what this blog post will look like 10 years from now.

*Based on my in-depth, 100% scientific, proven research conducted this past weekend