In an article today about the “MySpace Generation??, BusinessWeek describes today’s college students and teens. Their online and offline lives are interwoven, and they are fluent in many technologies that are still foreign to older generations. A typical American college student may now complete coursework online, email, blog, IM, and text message on any given night. The social lives of this hyper-connected generation are also dependent on technology, and social networking sites like MySpace have become an increasingly important way for young people to build and maintain friendships:
Although networks are still in their infancy, experts think they’re already creating new forms of social behavior that blur the distinctions between online and real-world interactions. In fact, today’s young generation largely ignores the difference. Most adults see the Web as a supplement to their daily lives. They tap into information, buy books or send flowers, exchange apartments, or link up with others who share passions for dogs, say, or opera. But for the most part, their social lives remain rooted in the traditional phone call and face-to-face interaction.
The MySpace generation, by contrast, lives comfortably in both worlds at once. Increasingly, America’s middle- and upper-class youth use social networks as virtual community centers, a place to go and sit for a while (sometimes hours). While older folks come and go for a task, Adams and her social circle are just as likely to socialize online as off. This is partly a function of how much more comfortable young people are on the Web: Fully 87% of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet, vs. two-thirds of adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Not surprisingly, marketers are eager to penetrate these social networks. But since they are somewhat intangible the challenge remains for many companies to come up with an effective approach:
Many youth networks are evanescent, in any case. Like one-hit wonder the Baha Men (Who Let the Dogs Out) and last year’s peasant skirts, they can evaporate as quickly as they appear. But young consumers may follow brands offline — if companies can figure out how to talk to youths in their online vernacular. Major companies should be exploring this new medium, since networks transmit marketing messages “person-to-person, which is more credible,” says David Rich Bell, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Other companies have experimented with paying “influencers?? to talk up their products. These are individuals believed to carry a lot of weight with other people in the networks, so marketers are investing in them to get the word across about their brand. While this “person-to-person?? approach works when it’s spontaneous, I don’t know how the “influenced?? will feel when they know someone is being paid to sell a product. The “influencer?? might turn into more of an “imposter.??
While BusinessWeek praises the current college generation for their tech know-how, commenter Sam posts on their website that using the latest technology won’t necessarily translate into success after college:
Net-geners seem to be unable to a large extent to communicate with anyone but each other and are arriving on college campuses without even basic understanding of how to interact with people “live.” It’s the so-called “Generation-X,” currently aged 30-40, who have successfully bridged the gap by fluently learning technology while at the same time maintaining their ability to communicate live and in standard English.
Sam might be right about Net-geners being out of touch with “live?? communication and standard English, but as technology continues to change our society, live communication and standard English will probably change with it. And the Net-geners and subsequent generations will be leading the way.