Want to know how the Internet really works? Ask a 12-year-old girl.

I was recently in Tampa conducting focus groups for an exciting edu-tainment website that’s set to launch in the Fall.  Over the course of two days, I met with more than fifty young Tampa area residents between the ages of 11 and 19. During the course of the discussions, we used an open format, so attendees could stop me and ask questions or pose comments as they arose.

One young girl, a 12-year-old named Allie, had more questions and comments than any of the youngsters I saw that weekend.  And they weren’t just silly questions like “what’s the URL again?”  or “why did you choose green?”  There were no forced comments like “I think your site is cool.”  No, these were pointed, insightful, investigative questions and pithy and mature comments that followed a clear and curious narrative line.

Allie asked about security and wondered if her private information would be shared.  She wanted to know about the pricing model, and would the company consider “tiered” pricing?  (She didn’t use that word, but that’s what she was driving at.)  Allie asked about how much savings she would realize by opting for the subscription model.  Allie wanted to know about merchandise, and if she would be incentivized for participating in the viral spread.  Allie suggested that the client add content to the offering to appeal to different demographics and that they use YouTube as a place to promote the platform.  Allie thought adding a Skype-like chat feature would really put this thing over the top.  Allie thought integrating mobile would be really helpful, so she could get updates about the site whenever and wherever she was.  Seriously, this is ONE kid.

More than anything else, Allie’s comments illustrated the key point about the web:  more than any other medium before it, it has put the user and the user experience at the center of the marketing universe.  This has been written about many times before.  But for some reason, the disposition of a pre-teen female may be the optimal example: generally aware of herself and her surroundings, slightly self-serving, insanely curious, quaintly creative and wildly and unabashedly participative when encouraged.

As I prepared my summary to the client about the findings, I found that almost all my comments back to the partners and their development team had Allie written all over them.  Next time you’re thinking about launching a site (for any target audience,) consider inviting an Allie over for tea.  You just might get the key insights you need.

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