It can be tough for a kid to experience community on the Internet. All but 5% of teens are online, and most are using social media platforms. However, for all the success experienced by websites like Facebook, these are not places that welcome teens and tweens, either through policy or behavior. Girls at the cusp of becoming teenagers report the most negative assessment of online social networks.
Last month, Sweety High became the latest startup to launch with a mission of providing a safe Internet community for tween and teen girls. The service is trying to differentiate from the growing number of companies in this domain by focusing on creative expression and original online content.
In Sweety High, girls ages 8 to 16 participate in contests that give them a chance of winning once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as recording a song track, dancing with TV celebrities, or designing a fashion line. The COPPA-compliant website creates a safe online space for tween and teen girls to be creative and develop leadership skills.
Sweety High is described by co-founders Frank Simonetti and Veronica Zelle as a creativity-powered social game. Members accumulate karma points by being actively involved in the community and sharing creative work, including scrapbooks, journals, and videos. They keep track of those points on their “SweetyMeter” as they work toward virtual goods and contest entries. As members advance through the game, they qualify for bigger events and more exclusive prizes.
“We envisioned an online version of Fame,” says Simonetti, “but one in which you could leverage virtual currency and community to win the real-world opportunities you’d get at a prestigious school for the performing arts.”
Simonetti likens the engagement to World of Warcraft, but built around content creation and pop culture, two things he says teen girls care about. “Our goal was to bring them out from behind an avatar into a specifically tailored environment that put their creativity front and center,” Simonetti asserts.
A Pedigree for Programming
One of the things that differentiates this service from other tween-centric networks is the quality of the original content. Sweet Beat TV — an online show that tracks trends in pop culture and interviews celebrities — and the webseries “Sweety” are two of the channels members can choose to view.
Girls are encouraged to interact directly with characters from the webseries, driving the outcome of new episodes. “Because we are a smaller, more agile studio,” explains Simonetti, “we often choose creative ideas that come directly out of conversations with the girls on our platform. We also allow many of our users the ability to participate in this content if they distinguish themselves on the site.”
The in-house creative team has a resume that includes Disney, Nickelodeon, Atari, and Grammy nominations. Zelle has two decades of experience producing music videos for performers such as Madonna, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera. “Our expanded executive team includes experts who have created hit products for the youth demographic, both online and off,” says Simonetti. “From innovative technologies to popular programming, this is the team that will drive the future of social gaming for girls.”
Creating a Nurturing Community
One overlap of original programming and karma points is an online safety program that features a number of PSAs. Girls are rewarded for active participation in the program — including reporting any suspicious behavior in the game — with an exclusive Savvy Sweety badge.
Registration on the site requires both the “Sweety” and her parent to register, with either party being able to initiate membership. Parents can play an active role in the community. The Mom Foundation is a group of diverse moms that serve as ambassadors to Sweety High, helping moderators maintain quality control.
Unlike some other safety-conscious teen sites, Sweety High doesn’t have requirements to know other members offline before connecting with them online. “We’ve seen that girls derive tremendous inspiration from other girls that they identify with, but would never normally get the chance to meet,” Simonetti observes.
Because the creative focus of the site is swimming in pop culture, there is a high degree of brand visibility that might concern some. The company is not dependent on advertising for the core business model, however, and has a high bar for corporate involvement with Sweety High. “We focus on brands that are good for the girls and that we feel represent a trustworthy level of quality in the marketplace,” assures Simonetti.
Sweety High is a freemium service, where registration and most interactions are free, but a richer experience is available to subscribing members. “The more virtual currency they obtain and gift to friends, the higher their likelihood of success,” says Simonetti.