I’m reading Don Tapscott’s excellent Grown up Digital, which focuses on the Net generation. It’s particularly pertinent as I’m preparing a talk on social media strategy for the local chapter of YPO. What’s interesting is that the event is organised by the YPO ‘kids’, the children of the YPOers. When I asked for a brief from my twenty-something contact, she said: “Do what you did the last time I heard you speak. Our parents need a wake up call. They need to realise that things have really changed. A while ago. They need to stop pretending that new media is about kids being silly on Facebook or sniggering over someone’s photo. They need to understand that ordinary people are using social media channels all the time, and that it’s impacting their business. Whether they like it or not.”
I’m slightly bemused by this. I’m 49. The people who ‘don’t get it’ are the successful captains of industry and entrepreneurship on this island. Many of them are younger than I am. I’m wondering how I can earn the attention of people who may not feel compelled to change anything about the way their business operates… Facebook or no Facebook.
So I go back to Tapscott, and the Net generation. That’s the Millennials, or Generation Y – people born between January 1977 and December 1997, now aged 13-33. Tapscott’s book is based on on a 4.5 million dollar study of 6,000 young people, and has some great handouts – for employers, instructors, parents, marketers and political leaders. What’s fascinating is not so much insights about how the Net generation uses technology – but what Tapscott calls the ‘The Net Gen Norms’ – the distinctive attitudinal and behavioural characteristics that differentiate this generation from their parents and other generations. His research identified eight characteristics:
1. Freedom. In everything they do, from freedom of choice to freedom of expression.
2. Customisation. A need to personalise anything, from media to job descriptions.
3. Scrutiny. The Net Gen have a love of transparency, and know that their market power allows them to demand more of companies and employers.
4. Integrity. Net Geners looks for openness and corporate integrity when deciding what to buy and where to work. They expect company values to be aligned with their own.
5. Entertainment. This generation wants play in work, education and social life. It has been bred on interactive experiences. Brand recognition alone is no longer enough.
6. Collaboration. NetGeners are all about relationships. Nine out of ten young people interviewed said that if a best friend recommended a product, they were likely to buy it. The conversations on online networks also include discussions on brands, companies, products and services.
7. Speed. That’s not just in video games, but in flow of information. Many marketers and employers still have to understand that NetGerns expect the same quick communication from others – every instant message should draw an instant response.
8. Innovation. A twenty-something in the workforce wants the new BlackBerry or iPhone not because the old one is no longer cool, but because the new one does so much more. They seek innovative companies as employers. Sometimes, they just don’t want to be employed, and prefer to strike out and do their own thing.
My most recent wake up call – about the Net Generation having come of age – came last May. My wife called me to say that she’d just found out that she was ‘watching 26 unusual items on eBay’. The 26 items were all ‘Playmobil cowboys.’ When she cornered our son Jacob, then aged 7, he immediately admitted to being the watcher.
“Sure,” he said. “Did you know that Playmobil don’t make cowboys any more? They seem to think that kids only want this modern stuff, like cars and aircraft. Well they don’t! I know you use eBay to find stuff that you cannot find easily in a shop. So I did a quick search! Look – you cannot find any of these cowboys on sale at the Playmobil Fun Park! And there’s nothing of interest for kids on their website either! I’m going to write a letter to the CEO of Playmobil and let her know!”
You still can’t get Playmobil cowboys very easily, unless you get on eBay or find some in your attic. Jacob’s letter to Playmobil, complaining about the demise of the cowboy range, and offering his services as a ‘consultant’ was answered promptly and very graciously by the Playmobil CEO. Jacob still can’t understand why so many companies won’t listen to what kids are telling them to do.