Do digital natives think the virtual world is flat?

Does Generation Y understand social media?

Two interesting recent conversations:

  • On asking a twentysomething about her take on Twitter: “Oh, it’s just for celebrities.”
  • On discussing the results of a student exercise on marketing: “Of 10 groups, none of them mentioned social media.”

It’s true that Gen Y are the ‘digital natives’. They’ve grown up with the web all around them, and they use social media to chat with friends, share photos, arrange meet-ups etc.

I’m Gen X, so I’m the generation that first got into mainstream tech and started using the web in its initial, one-way, non-social form. We’re fairly comfortable with computers – today it’s as essential as the three ‘Rs’ – but the older generation can, on the whole, still have problems with it. I’m convinced my mother thinks there’s a little homunculus inside the PC doing all the work for her.

Youve got to go there to find out. Click image for source.

You've got to go there to find out. Click image for source.

Back to Gen Y. OK, these were just two conversations but they surprised me, especially the results of the student exercise. It’s as if they’re so familiar with the ‘social’ of social media that they don’t see the ‘commercial’.

This is endearingly naive and while I don’t advocate they all become cynical mercenaries bent on monetising every conversation in the social-media-sphere, if the next generation of marketing professionals are going to help people market themselves, they’ll need to break out of this.

I think it’s part of a bigger, universal theme. If you’re inside something, you can’t see outside. I’ve seen it happen with companies who claim to have rebranded themselves, and when I see the work they’ve done, it’s immediately obvious that they haven’t had external input. All their comments on the competition are negative. They tout ‘unique’ offerings that aren’t unique at all. They don’t see what they’re doing wrong because they haven’t looked from the outside in. And, in one case, I knew they were regarded by some as too expensive and offering disappointing results but they simply didn’t know this.

So perhaps Gen Y should get a bit more savvy. Maybe as digital natives they need to walk around the virtual world more and explore it.

They already know how to use the platforms but they need to step outside how they use it, and how they think, and be aware of how other people do. That’s the essence of marketing, and never more so than in the social media world.

I could be disastrously wrong however. See video below, from 5:59 to 6:23…

One thought on “Do digital natives think the virtual world is flat?

  1. Pingback: Must hear: How Gen X Leads – Harvard Business IdeaCast – Harvard Business Review « Fredzimny's Blog

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