This paper aims to investigate how social media usage by children determines their interactions with consumer brands. The paper also examines the nature of the processes evident.
A qualitative approach was implemented using both paired and single in-depth interviews of New Zealand children (both boys and girls) in the age group of 11-14 years. The data were analysed by thematic analysis of the interview transcripts.
The study demonstrates that children use three main processes – discerning, reacting and forming – when interacting with brands on social media. Each of these processes has different levels of interaction episodes depending on the amount of social media activity by each child. Discerning has noticing, a lower level of interaction and identifying which uses already internalised brand knowledge. Reacting consists of describing and evaluation which involves more active interaction resulting in opinion formation. Forming can involve a distant “watching” interaction or a more active relating behaviour when children are using multiple social media platforms.
The study identifies three key modes of brand interaction behaviour when young consumers use social media, which each have two interactions. The implication for marketers, parents and policymakers is that there is a range of behaviours, both passive and active, that children show when interacting with consumer brands when using social media.
The current study offers a way to deepen the understanding of how children approach online communications with brands in the social media context. The research finds that the children’s use of social media is more active and dynamic than previously thought, giving rise to connections with brands that are meaningful to the children. Specific codes of practice for online brand marketers may be necessary so that children are helped to understand the commercial intent of brand practices on social media.
The findings shed light on the range of interaction behaviour of young consumers, and such information provides insights into how children acquire brand knowledge, react to social media communication and decide the value of such communication for themselves. Brand marketers have a role to play in ensuring their brand communications practices avoid deception and clearly indicate commercial intent.
Investigating how children individually process brand information in a social media context provides insights into their interaction behaviour. These findings show differing levels of interest in both brand and social media activity amongst children.
The authors’ grateful thanks are extended to the children and to their parents who agreed to be part of this research and who gave their thoughts and ideas so freely in the interviews.
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