Kids have always been eager to help their parents with the dishes and mow the lawn. Now, they also want to scroll through feeds, just like mom and dad. The problem? Social platforms were never created for kids. They weren’t designed with the creative growth, collective flourishing, and communal safety that kids need to truly become like their parents – not to mention good digital citizens.
The social platform PopJam is that rare commodity — an Instagram-esque platform minus the bullying and negativity that so often plague teen and adult social networks. It’s a sharing platform designed for 7 to 12-year-olds that allows kids to do the very things their parents are doing — making accounts, creating and sharing content, liking and commenting, and engaging with content, brands, and creators — but in a kid-friendly, and most importantly, kid-safe way.
PopJam is owned and operated by SuperAwesome, the kidtech company whose technology powers privacy-based digital engagement for hundreds of millions of under-16s every month. Their products include kid-safe advertising and monetization platforms, parental consent management services, and privacy certification programs. Given that background, it’s no surprise that PopJam is a flagship of child safety and is used by hundreds of content companies as their community engagement tool with the U13/16 audience.
“PopJam enables a walled garden for kids communities,” says Craig Donaghy, Head of Community Insight and Child Safeguarding at SuperAwesome. “It allows content owners, creators, and brands to create a safe digital space for kids to express themselves, but without revealing themselves.”
The Daily Challenge
The Daily Challenge is a great example of how PopJam encourages kids to express themselves in a social media space usually reserved for adults. A daily creative prompt that can include a challenge to design an original image, decorate an existing image, and more, the Daily Challenge shows off the range of kids on the platform — and gives everyone an opportunity to shine.
The Daily Challenge is akin to Twitter and Facebook’s “What’s happening?” and “What’s on your mind?” prompts, with a dash of Instagram’s photo filters and editing tools.
One recent challenge was to “Draw the first animal you think of beginning with ‘R’’. Responses include a red dragon, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, rats, rabbits, rattlesnakes, and more. And like all kid’s creations, they run the gamut from near-professional to charmingly innocent.
PopJam has created a safe space for kids to emulate their parents — but without falling into the “perfection” trap of altered selfies (no selfies allowed) and manufactured poses. On PopJam, every PopJammer is equal.
“There’s no such thing as bad art in PopJam,” says Donaghy. “The kids with creative hearts, who want to make art but might not be quite so talented are still given the tools to create something special.”
Tools include stickers, stamps, and GIFs, which allow kids to express themselves and create art — even if they can’t draw from scratch.
Every day there’s a chance to try something new, or the opportunity to get a shoutout from PopJam staff.
“It’s really important that kids feel seen,” notes Donaghy. “Reward and recognition are huge. And we want to do that in a safe way.”
Safety by design
In order to provide an environment where kids can particulate in a social platform, safety is at the core of the PopJam experience. This is where Community Technology and BI Task Leader Lynn Snyder and Community Engagement Manager Lynn Davis come in.
Unlike many social media platforms for adults, PopJam enforces strict community guidelines, including no selfies or pictures of faces, and no bullying, harassment, profanity, or PII (Personally Identifiable Information). All user-generated content, including artwork and comments, is screened by different combinations of AI, automation, and human review before it’s posted.
“I remember having conversations with Lynn [Snyder] and Lynn [Davis], who were running through moderation practices with me and I remember being fascinated by the way they did it and the amount of care that they both took,” Donaghy recalls.
“The text and image filters invisibly train users how to interact better,” notes Lynn Snyder. “They’ll try to upload a selfie three times, and when it doesn’t even get out of pre-moderation, they’ll give up and try something else.”
Lynn Davis shares a story of that “invisible training” in action.
“We have this great example of a kid trying to say shut up on the app, which they’re not allowed to do. Then they say ‘You’re ugly.’ That doesn’t go through. Then, they try ‘Would you please shut up?’ And then they finally say ‘Will you please be quiet?’ And that goes through!” she says, laughing. “It’s this great example of molding through text filtering. We’re saving them from themselves, in a way.”
Sometimes simply the positive presence of a staff member can have an immediate impact on behavior.
“If we see a post with a negative comment — not inappropriate, just negative — we know that a staff member can jump in and say, ‘Hey, this is brilliant!’ Or, ‘What’s your favorite type of dog?’ And the mood changes just like that. It’s about reminding kids that this is a place for positivity. They learn that the more positive they are, the more likely they are to get positive recognition.”
“You can do that with kids, right?” adds Davis. “If they’re crying or grumpy, you can make them laugh pretty quickly and switch it up.”
The kids appreciate the presence of staff. “We have a lot of staff accounts who post engaging things on a daily basis, and so kids can follow them and interact with staff,” says Davis. “We’re super careful about how we interact with them and we keep it on a kind of a very professional level,” she continues. “It gives it a personal feel. Kids feel like they’re being watched over by adults and that someone really cares about them and their safety.”
The lesson from PopJam is clear: Great moderation is not just about filtering inappropriate content. It’s about moving the needle from the negative to the positive. As Donaghy notes, “It goes beyond moderation; it’s almost like curation.”
Lessons from kids
This authentic connection to kids has helped Donaghy produce a fascinating monthly report called PopJam Kids Insights. Every month, he asks the community three questions. In April 2020, he asked “How are you keeping busy?”, “What’s making you happy?,” and “What music are you listening to?”
The report spans the globe, with insights separated by region, including the UK, US/Canada, and Australia.
To no one’s surprise, in April kids were talking about the coronavirus pandemic. But that didn’t stop them from also discovering the Roblox game “Piggy”, loving the new Animal Crossing game for the Switch, and they continued to rave about TikTok.
The PopJam Kids Insights report gives the team valuable insights into kids’ trends and it also helps them create new and engaging daily content — and prevents them from losing touch with a fast-changing online culture.
“Kids don’t just sit around and watch the same thing over and over again,” says Davis. “The second that we give them content that’s a year off or even five months off, we look out of touch.”
Not only has PopJam found a way to provide a safe social sharing platform designed specifically for kids in a space usually reserved for adults; they’ve also kept their fingers on the pulse of kid culture while still complying with crucial privacy policies.
PopJam is a shining example of a kids’ social platform that encourages positivity, kindness, and creativity — the very features that adult social platforms are so often lacking. Through PopJam, kids can learn how to be good digital citizens. And with any luck, they will carry those lessons over to the next platform they visit, ensuring that the next generation of social media users is far more generous than the last.
So what does the future hold for PopJam? The team has a keen interest in fostering smaller communities on the platform.
“We’re continuing to explore trends and kids being part of sub-communities.” says Donaghy. “What does it look like if you’re an animal fan rather than an artist? How can your interests shape your experiences online?”
If you enjoyed this piece, check out our other Community Spotlights!