‘Status Update Stress’ (SUS) – an emerging issue for global youth

Will Status Update Stress 'SUS' become an epidemic amongst youth?

The past few weeks I’ve been chatting to a handful of UTS uni students about their ‘Facebook’ lives and the pressures they face to constantly ‘craft the right update for their social networks.

As we know FB and other social platforms have brought youth closer together and turbo charged their connections. However, I believe teens & 20 somethings in Australia (and no doubt in other countries) are becomingly increasingly anxious about their status updates and the need to ‘perform’.  The need for peer approval on social networks is a major pressure for teens. Forget sexual performance anxiety, how you interact and update on Facebook/Twitter is far more critical.  Teens are now judged by what and how often they share content, ideas and opinions.

Teens today aren’t sitting by the phone waiting for an admirer to ring, they’re constantly refreshing Facebook on their mobile waiting for someone to ‘like’ a post or pic or better still ‘tag me in a cool pic, cos then I don’t look vain’.

Whilst FB and other social networking platforms have fuelled their self expression, given them a voice and grown their friendship base  so to speak, there’s always a shadow to a new behaviour.

Youth today have begun to suffer from ‘status update stress’ or SUS. On Facebook and now Google + their lives are on show and it is an extremely competitive space where every status update is scrutinised, judged. As these teens put it:

“Constantly trying to make your status update interesting is really hard work..I just want to tell people what I’m up to but now I feel this pressure to always write something cool or witty…”

“Facebook used to be just about checking out party pics, tagging and all that..now you’ve got to be constantly posting cool stuff, otherwise people will think you’re boring and got nothing to say…”

“I often spend 5 minutes thinking about a clever or cool post that will get me noticed on my friends news feed..it’s like trying to stand out at school…you gotta stand out on FB by what you say or share…you gotta be ahead of the game…”

There is clearly an undercurrent of anxiousness as teens go about their day thinking about their status updates. Crafting your online identity is hard work, harder work than looking cool it would seem.  If they don’t make the right update they can be cyber bullied or even chastised by their peers. Worse still some teens are reverting to lying on Facebook to try and fit in. This is called the ‘facebook fake’ (lying about checking in at a party and getting found out) and if found out can be social suicide.

I believe many teens are now becoming anxious about how they interact with their social graph, and in some instances (for more introverted kids) fleeing social networking platforms altogether. It will be interesting to see if Google + ‘circles’ overcomes these issues as teens may feel they have less pressure on them as they update within certain ‘circles’ or communities.

The flow on effect of SUS is that many teens may start fleeing social networking platforms and this is an even bigger fear for teens as it means being ‘out of circulation’ and losing their social standing within their tribes.

It will be interesting to see the psychological effect the need for teens to constantly share their lives with the world and the resulting pressures and competitiveness that comes with that, especially as their friendship groups spread beyond their proximity based school, uni or neighbourhood friends.

 

 

Chameleons 2.0 – experimental identities

Last year I blogged about the concept of youth being ‘chameleons’, in that they’re constantly morphing their identities to access different tribes and subcultures online. Today youth prefer shallow membership of many tribes, as opposed to entrenched membership & being defined by one subculture. Access to new tribes is just a ‘Google’ away.

The past few months I’ve explored this concept a little deeper whilst chatting to a host of teens and early 20 somethings as well as kicked around some thoughts with my good friend James Quinlan and we’ve come up with some new perspectives on the concepts of Chameleons.

The big insight is that youth in the digital age see their  IDENTITY AS EXPERIMENTAL.

They’re  constantly trying on different personas to see which suits best. Their identities and how they express themselves online is in constant BETA MODE, open to influence from culture, brands, events, celebrities.

An example being, a 15yr old girl I spoke with who is into beach culture and lifesaving puts on a certain voice eg: she speaks ‘pig latin’ with her beach buddies, but that same afternoon she’ll interact with her gamer or dance crew over Facebook or messenger and her communication (language, voice, tone) shifts completely.

Just as the youth of the 60’s experimented with drugs and free love, todays youth experiment with their digital identities, constantly.

How one crafts their digital identity is critical for young people today, as identity and being seen as multimensional within your peer group is social currency and ultimately, acceptance into the group or many groups. If you’re not connected and contributing to the conversation amongst your tribe, you’re social status drops and you’re an outcast. So, we’re seeing massive peer pressure being put on todays youth to contribute to their friends worlds.

This pressure to contribute and play an active role on social networking has led to what I call DIGITAL FAKING or  ‘FACEBOOK FAKING’. It’s rampant amongst Aussie teens.. They’re ‘faking’ checkins on Facebook places, taking credit for other peoples tweets,  lying about their FB status updates eg: they’ll check-in at the Ivy in the Sydney CBD, even though they’re sitting on their couch at home watching The Hills.

Although intrinsically linked, their online identity is far more important than their real world identity given they’re constantly on show and seeking affirmation. They are stressed about it, and scarily they are doing a lot of faking in order to fit in amongst their tribe. In a world where what and how often they share content, ideas, conversation with their friends determines their importance within the tribe, teens are under pressure to constantly be interesting and that’s hard, even for the coolest kids.

The implications for youth marketers are threefold:

–       There’s no longer a one size fits all approach to engaging youth, brands must appeal to multiple passion points and match their different social rhythms of the year

–       Think about how your brand enables young people to take on or evolve their identity? The success of gaming culture is a perfect example of the escapism and role playing young people crave today

–       How does your brand give youth fun and interesting ways to express or reinvent their personas, either via an interesting experience or content/ideas they can curate and share with friends. Give them ideas/content which is cultural currency, stuff they’ll want to talk about with their friends online as friends are the ultimate filter