Candice is a vivacious 17 year-old girl who is completing Grade 12 this year. She lives in Welkom. I refer to her as royalty because for the past three years, Candice has sent an average of 1500 SMSes per month. Candice is an SMS Princess.
More often than not, Candice has used up her 1500 SMS allowance by the 20th of the month and then has had to use her pocket money or barter credits with her friends to continue chatting.'
It is teenagers like her that the networks adore. They are constantly networking and communicating from the moment they wake up until they go back to sleep at night. SMS princesses can text as fast as most secretaries type on a keyboard. Many of them text messages without looking at their handsets. And they multitask… they can hold a full-on conversation with one person while having a text/sms conversation with another.
Then the phenomenon of personal instant messaging hit South Africa last year. Teenagers became hooked and could not put their mobile phones down. The cost of a typical message had been reduced to about 2c. The drastic reduction in cost paved the way for millions of aspiring text chatters to become royalty, and they are responding in style.
SMS princesses were no doubt the pioneers of the new networking services but they did not turn their backs on SMS. Candice has reduced her usage of SMSes to 1000 per month and does the rest of her text chatting on her mobile network service.
Who does she chat to and what is it that drives young people, especially girls of her age to become so massively involved in this technology?
A report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org
) released last month does provide some clues. Ninety one percent of teens use networking sites to stay in touch with friends they see a lot. Eighty two percent use it to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person. Seventy two percent use the services to make plans with friends. Forty nine percent use these services to make new friends and 17 percent to flirt with someone.
So what’s new? The picture of frustrated parents hanging around while their teenage son or daughter chats for hours on the landline has now been replaced by teenagers text chatting on their mobile phones. Unfortunately, the parents have remained frustrated.
Teen behaviour stays the same; it is the introduction of new technology and services that allows them to network more in today’s world than ever before. And they are doing so. The challenge for marketing managers is to determine where they can become part of, or involved in, this communication process so that young people associate with their brand before any other.