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US Surgeon General Issues Advisory About Social Media + Mental Health of Youth

Last month, the US Surgeon General issued new advisory recommendations for teens on social media.

Nearly 95% of young people ages 13-17 are on at least one social media app, with more than a third admitting they’re on social media “almost constantly.”

Dr. Vivek Murthy (the US Surgeon General) concedes that social media is not inherently bad. But since teens’ brains (and bodies) are still developing, they can be more vulnerable to social media’s harms:

Dr. Murthy encourages policymakers, tech companies, parents, and teens to all make a more concerted effort in keeping young people safe online. This includes strengthening safety standards, setting up minimum age requirements (or parental permissions), scheduling time away from technology, and reporting inappropriate social media content.

Still, there’s plenty of good that comes along with social media—even for teens!

Now, what does this mean for brands? The Surgeon General doesn’t mention brands in his press release, so do brands have any responsibility here? As a digital agency that believes in the power and purpose of social media, Media À La Carte argues: absolutely!

For the foreseeable future, social media will remain the primary way brands can advertise to and engage with teens. If teens are your audience, the key is to be a source of good and to foster healthy interactions on your platforms.

7 Ways Brands Can Protect Teens On Social Media

1. Give them a break.

Instead of pressuring your audience to constantly engage with or check back on your page for the latest and greatest deal, encourage teens to engage offline. “Tag us in a pic wearing our [insert clothing or jewelry] on your summer vacation!” or “Bring a friend to our local pop-up shop for a chance to win a free [service]!”

2. Monitor your environment.

While we’re all for allowing critical comments on social media (see this blog for more on this topic), don’t hesitate to report inappropriate content, bullying, and harassment. Blocking users and hiding problematic comments protects your brand. Reporting the problem to the social media platform can protect other users from damaging, harmful, and misleading content.

3. Elevate what makes social media good!

Teens appreciate the connection and creativity that social media enables. Give your followers a chance to participate in your brand via UGC (user-generated content), polls/feedback loops, crowdsourcing, and reposting. Celebrate your teen customers to make them feel seen, heard, and valued. While lots of traditional advertising focuses on people’s insecurities, it’s vital for brands to pivot away from this harmful model towards marketing that is transparent, informative, empowering, and purposeful.

4. Prioritize privacy.

Today, brands need to get serious about strengthening their online security when it comes to protecting user data. Especially for adolescents, sharing names, addresses, or contact information can put them in danger.

5. Stay age appropriate.

Brands must really look at how their marketing is coming across. How does the art, copy, messaging, and vision come together? Do the ages of the models, influencers, or spokespeople represent your target audience? Is your ad fully transparent in what it’s portraying? Why did you choose to advertise to teens this way? Asking your brand these tough questions can help illuminate the ethics underlying your campaign.

6. Remember they’re still following you.

Even if teens aren’t your target audience, they’re certainly still your audience. Social media is public so you’d best believe that teens and kids are finding their way to your pages. Consider how provocative your content actually needs to be in order to have an impact.

7. Explore other avenues.

To prioritize digital wellness, social media apps are encouraging teens to use their apps less. Additionally, many platforms restrict paid ads towards users under 18. This means brands need to start brainstorming marketing strategies to attract and engage teens beyond social media. Host live events and create partnerships with clubs and youth organizations.

Many brands that market to adolescents have pure intentions. But we can’t argue that social media hasn’t had a significant negative impact on the mental health of young people in the United States. As additional regulations, conversations, and questions arise, Media À La Carte encourages brands to do the same—To ask, “What are we doing to make social media a safe and supportive place for young people?” If you’re concerned with or stuck in your current strategy, schedule a discovery call so we can help redirect your brand to have a more positive social impact.

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