We here at Truth Central like to think we’re pretty tapped in.

But it took just two hours one evening for us to realize that we may be less cool than we like to think – certainly according to teenagers. As part of the research for our recently launched 2013 Truth About Privacy study, we spoke with a group of 16 and 17 year-olds, resulting in an illuminating discussion centering on issues of privacy and sharing. By the end of the evening, the gap between researcher and subject was rather apparent.

Though Nadia, who moderated the focus group, was able to almost effortlessly hang with the crowd for about 30 minutes, it was ultimately one small question that fell her. When a teen said that she typically doesn’t text that much, Nadia asked what “not that much” meant, guessing it was around ten texts per day. The teen laughed, “10? No, more like 300”. If this was one of those Hollywood films where an adult goes back to high school and tries to fit in, this was that scene in the cafeteria where the imposter is outed.

Then another teen helpfully added, “I wake up to thousands of texts every morning.” There it was, the gratuitous spitball that serves as an exclamation point for many high school humiliation scenes.

While the session yielded other simply humorous learnings of the cultural phenomena of today’s teens, including nuggeting, we were also able to extract a multitude of insights that proved even more central to our research objectives. We learned about the intimidating metrics of curating an interesting and authentic presence on social media. People of all ages have a loose set of rules for proper online behavior, but teenagers have clear-cut instructions for each and every social media platform.

We took some of their rules and created a guide for How to Be Cool on Instagram (according to 16 year olds). These 8 easy-to-follow instructions made us realize just how uncool we are, as we consistently break at least two of them.


There were three important takeaways from the focus group session. First, the fact that we over-use the word ‘cool’ makes us uncool. Second, that today’s teens are incredibly self-aware of how they share data online and what it says about them. And third, that we need to conduct focus groups with teenagers on a monthly basis.

Check back with truthcentral.mccann.com every month for the latest installment of our on-going “Truth About Teens” research, as we discuss a different topic shaping the world today (for both consumers and brands) as seen through the lens of a teenager