Paradox of connectedness: the sad state of Gen C holiday experiences

Gen Y bali holiday I’ve blogged alot over the years about Generation C – the ‘Connected Generation’ and their need to be constantly connected to their friends, sharing content with the world. But this pic, which popped up on my newsfeed this morning, just blew me away. Here’s a handful of cool, educated late 20 somethings from Australia, NYC and London all gathering in Bali for a wedding, yet they’re completely engrossed in their screens when you’d think they’d be engrossed in conversation.

Gen C crave experiences over material goods. We know this. They crave connection. We know this. They crave sharing their world to show off and belong. We know this. Showing that you’re always connected (even on holidays with your closest mates eating brekky) on Facebook is now a badge. New to me.

This pic is very symbolic of Gen C and the paradox of connectedness.  These friends, who likely haven’t seen each other for a while seem more disconnected than connected in the physical sense. The impact of screens on our youth is being studied by people  much more intelligent than me, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our screens are having a profound impact on our interpersonal skills. The Gen C mantra of ‘I share, therefore I am’ has completely taken over.

What happened to holidays where you just talk to people, chill and catch up?

Look, I’m not on this holiday and I’m sure they’ve all had an amazing time catching up, sharing stories about their lives etc, but the fact that they’re all compelled to start their day ‘together’ by uploading to Instagram, Facebook and check emails is really a sad state of affairs for this generation. If ever a ‘digital detox diet’ was in need, it’s for these cool cats 🙂 Chill out. Unplug. Talk to each other. Live in the moment. Ban wi-fi at resorts 😉

Hansel & Gretel Effect: the hidden trail of digital breadcrumbs #m360 presentation

Yesterday I spoke at the Mumbrella 360 #m360 conference in Sydney and I thought I’d share the speaker notes. The topic was social media and youth and I decided to talk about the concept of ‘digital breadcrumbs’ and how youth are expressing themselves and evading parents using social media tools……

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Brands have and will always be playing catch up with youth culture. They’re always trying to stay on the trail.

As we all know, we’re all leaving traces of our presence across the internet, whether that be through social posts, sharing pictures and videos, or just surfing the web whilst signed in with Google. Think of these as ‘digital breadcrumbs’. So how are digital breadcrumbs affecting the social media behavior of the Internet’s most prolific sharers.. youth (specifically 16-24yr olds)?

I call it the Hansel & Gretel effect, the ways youth are both expressing themselves on social media platforms but also evading parents, marketers when leaving their digital breadcrumbs.

Today’s teens are constantly crafting and curating their online identity. This isn’t a new concept, but the explosion of new visual social platforms like Instagram has turbocharged this behaviour.

Our (Iris Worldwide’s)  recent Planet Hyperconnected study looked at the digital breadcrumbs of 6,000 18-24yr olds across 6 countries including Australia. Amongst other things, we found the average teen is consuming, creating and sharing content for up to 13hrs a day. Yes more than half the day. So they’re creating and leaving a hell of a lot of digital breadcrumbs.

So what are some of the digital breadcrumb themes (both good and bad) we are picking up on right now?

Firstly, we’re seeing the onset of Selfie Obsessed Syndrome – teens spending hours posing for the perfect selfie, or altering it on one of the many free photo editing aps. This is a behaviour that’s celebrity fuelled but also has permeated from youth subcultures driven by fashion and also sports for boys.

Whilst brands have moved away from a focus on image to reality/transparency over the past 5 years, teens are going the other way.

They are trying to create an idealised version of themselves to boost self esteem.

It’s not all fun and games though, there is a real INSTAGRAM- PRESSURE to look your best all the time and have a ‘perfect life’. We’re seeing many teens talk about ‘faking’ checkins at parties or festivals, as they feel the pressure to be seen in the right place.

They’re seeking approval by asking their friends to rate them #hotornot and #rateme on their posts as well as uploading selfies to judgement sites.

Their self esteem and confidence are increasingly being defined by how many likes and comments they get. When you’re a LIKEAHOLIC it’s a constant contest putting an amazing amount of pressure on your appearance.

This girl who we spoke to loves the fact that she gets up to 100 likes when she posts a selfie..for her it’s clearly a sense of validation and confidence.

However, the flipside of the positive validation is that there is an undercurrent of teens with body image issues as their selfies or pics are not perceived to be making the grade.

A week doesn’t go by when we don’t hear another story of a teen committing suicide following a relentless Facebook Bullying campaign by her classmates.

 INSTAGRAM PARTIES

A little cultural trend born in Australia (to my knowledge)

Forget hanging at the local Macca’s or skatepark. We’re seeing Pop Up social media takeovers in the form of Instagram Parties.

Teens getting together, having a party and trying to post enough content to effectively take over Instagram for a couple of hours… Their plan is to #ownthenight

In an era where everything is shared, do teens really give a shit about privacy and do they worry about the ramifications?

Well a global study by Device Research for the Young People’s Consumer Confidence Index found that 68% of 16-24yr olds are not concerned that their social media behaviour could harm future job prospects.

However they are only really concerned with the NOW and those with immediate power over them.

Think about when we were growing up, teens have always wanted privacy – in our day it was our bedrooms with  “no parents allowed” hanging on the door.

For todays youth– the motivations are the same – they still want a place to express themselves away from Mum and Dad, but now it’s a digital hideout instead. They want a place they can call their own and talk their own language.

Comparing todays youth with older generations;

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Their photo albums are now on Instagram

Their MTV are YouTube playlists

Their tapes and CDs are now spotify playlists

Their loveletters are now short sharp Snapchats

Their diaries are Tumblr pages

Their posters are now Pinterest pins

Their playground gossiping happens on facebook…  or at least it did…

Teens still crave privacy, but now Mum and Dad and unwanted friends are now on Facebook following their breadcrumbs.

It’s no surprise that today’s youth are spending less and less time on Facebook. I’ll go so far as to say there’s a movement off the platform by Aussie youth, following the trend from American youth.

There are simply too many chaperones at the party. The average age of a new user is now 47. So teens are getting out of there

So where are they going? Places Mum and Dad won’t find them like Instagram and Tumblr and places where they’re leaving fewer breadcrumbs.

Snapchat is the mobile app of the moment for youth … posts, pics and videos are sent and then selfdestruct within 10 seconds. They use it for meaningless fleeting interactions. It’s either silly selfies or sexting. Youth see it as failsafe way to share, communicate and interact without ever getting stung by mum and dad. As one teen said

‘It’s a way to connect with friends when you don’t really have anything to say.” Anonymous teen

However literally this week sites such as Snapchat Leaked and Snapchat Exposed  have popped up where people are screen grabbing naughty Snapchat pics and sharing them.

 CODED BREADCRUMBS

Another new behavior we’re seeing is youth leaving “coded breadcrumbs” online.

Teens are doing this by creating and sharing Cryptic Content as a form of privacy protection in the digital age. Academics call it social steganography where they control the meaning of content.

This is content that has layers of meaning, and hidden messages. To the untrained eye it can look like an innocent, vague facebook post, insta pic or vine video, but to those that know the inside language, it has pointed meaning.

Pew’s recent study on teens social media habits found that 64% of teens admit to using inside jokes and subtle cultural references to hide what they’re really saying.

As Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd states, ‘The more they share in public, the more they are hiding in plain sight

A recent example of a brand that’s tapped into cryptic content by creating a new language with hidden meaning is Puma with their Dance Dictionary.

So marketers today must be highly perceptive and agile, able to quickly spot and act upon the digital breadcrumbs the Hansels and Gretels of today are leaving behind them.

I think there are several types of brand action to consider when engaging youth in the social space:

CURRENCY

Start with what will give teens social currency in the digiverse, conversation is king. It requires shifting the participation focus from message to cultural relevance that will get people talking.

Brands need to act at the speed of culture, real time marketing is an imperative  – think like a newsjacker,  being able to tap into relevant cultural memes or events and respond with social ideas at speed. At Iris we call it Urgent Genius and creating conversational currency must be a key tenet of your marketing program.

CURATE

Trying to navigate through 13hrs of content a day is hardwork, at a minimum brands need to play the role of curators. Think less about what content you can create (remembering Youtube cops 72hrs of new content every minute) and how you cab make their life easier by being a curator.

Aggregating, organising and sharing ‘best of content’ created by others to add context, narrative and meaning to it.

Coke’s doing this really well at the moment.

 CHALLENGE

Todays youth get a kick out of discovering the underlying meaning, and knowing what others don’t. Challenging youth to discover the hidden meanings and mechanics through gamification. Motivating and then rewarding them for deciphering ideas.

Our Iris team in London recently launched Adidas NEO fashion label using Justin Beiber, our ‘Find my gold shoes Adidas NEO’ idea generated participation by hundreds of thousands of Beliebers, with reach social reach to over 300m people on Facebook. If the reward ‘Bringing Justin the gold shoes you found online’ is motivating enough, people will participate in droves.

 COLLUDE

Finally and most importantly we need to continue to look at ways in which we can collude with youth. I purposely use the word collude over collaborate as I think collaboration is the most overused word in marketing. Collusion is much more about giving youth something special, making them feel like they have the inside track, letting them put their fingerprints on ideas so they can share as their own…in secret without broadcasting to their parents..just to their friends that will give them cred. It’s a word shift, but one I think is critical.

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So yeah it’s harder than ever to keep up with youth culture, but understanding the digital breadcrumbs and the needstates is the key to engaging youth in the social age.

‘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.

 

 

Who is Generation C

A speech I gave last year at a digital conference here in Sydney on who is Generation C. This is Part 1 where I cover off who these digital natives are and their relationships with brands and each others. Part 2 will of the presentation which I’ll post shortly was about how to create conversation and tribal ideas with Gen C. Stay tuned.

Experimentation is the New Engagement – Speech at AIMIA Gen Y conference

Speech I gave 18months ago (have only now decided to upload it) at AIMIA (Australian Interactive Media Industry Association) conference on Gen Y. I speak about the dimensions of Gen C and how brands need to experiment with popular culture and involve youth in the brand narrative if they want to engage. The examples are a little outdated (apologies) but hopefully there are still some relevant learnings even though this presentation was delivered well over a year ago.

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

Gen C Mantra: “I share, therefore I am”

Gen C using their mobiles as 'social shield' - note the lack of conversation

Last week I was invited by Nielsen to present at the inaugural Consumer 360 conference in Jakarta Indonesia. I presented on one of my favourite topics: Generation C. Many of you may have read some of my other posts and presentations on how the ‘Connected Collective’ are interacting with brands and each other via social media, but If you haven’t, here are the key points from my presentation from the Nielsen press release.

Just who, or what is Gen C?  This question, posed by Mr. Dan Pankraz speaking at Nielsen’s inaugural Consumer 360 Conference in Jakarta Indonesia (19 October 2010), drew curious looks or blank faces among the participants.  Mr. Pankraz also highlighted the need for companies to understand and engage Gen C, a group he believes to be the most highly influential in the world due to their need to share their lives via social media platforms. 

Unlike Gen Y or Gen Z, Gen C is not an age cohort.  “Gen C are teens and the 20-somethings who have been ‘hatched’ out of social media. They could be 9 or 39.  What ‘C’ stands for has been widely debated: a few years ago it was about Generation CONTENT…now it’s a multitude of things…it’s about constant connectivity, collaboration, change, co-creation, chameleons, cyborgs, curiosity. But most of all, Gen C are ‘The Connected Collective’,” Mr. Pankraz explained. 

“Gen C is not a target audience but a community of digital natives that want to collaborate with brands, they want to be involved in the brand story. The yare already co-creating content for brands as we speak,” said Mr. Pankraz.  To be successful in marketing to Gen C, brands must create fresh, cultural capital for Gen C to talk about, a process which also gives them “status” within their tribes and social networks.

To help marketers better understand what makes Gen C “tick”, Mr. Pankraz discussed some key characteristics:

  • Tribal behaviour:  To have a better chance of reaching Gen C, brands need to get into conversations that are happening within and across tribes.   Like many youths, Gen C form their identities by belonging and expressing themselves within “tribes” reflecting the desire to “connect” around interesting ideas, cultural objects, causes and movements.  Opinions from within tribes have more credibility and get more attention compared to external sources.

 

  • Social status derived by what you share: Gen C gain credibility in their friends world by expressing opinions, sharing ideas, observations and thoughts. “Their influence within their friends worlds depends on what they share and how often they share. Marketers need to think about how they’re enhancing the social status of the individuals they’re trying to engage with.”

 

  • Bee-like swarm behaviour: Powered by social media platforms, Gen C members mobilize as one with their tribes like bees, around topics that interest them.  Marketers who want to influence them effectively must talk to “we”, not “me”.  “How are you creating a conversation for the swarm to run with?” Mr. Pankraz asked.

 When it comes to buying decisions, 85% of youths rely on peer approvals.  Everything is reviewed and rated, making decision-making a team sport.  Marketing successfully to this group therefore also becomes all about “talking to the community, not the individual”.

  • Social oxygen:  More than any other “generations”, Gen C thrives on constant connectivity via social media platforms.  Their mobile devices therefore become their “social oxygen”, enabling to connect, create and share opinions and thoughts with their tribes.

“The mobile phone acts as their lifeline to the world but interestingly they also use it as a social shield to protect them from people they don’t want to hang out with,” Mr. Pankraz noted.

  • Continuous partial attention:  Teens today consume 13 hours of content daily and have constant exposure to new ‘news’.  As experts at managing content and information, they engage in never-ending conversations, constantly “livestreaming” their experiences to the world.

 

  • Chameleons:  Social media platforms has created a new tribal behaviour amongst Gen C, they are “chameleons”, constantly changing and morphing their identities to simultaneously belong to as many different tribes as possible.  One-dimensionality is not an option for Gen C.

 

  • Co-creators: The social web has brought out Gen C’s creativity, leading to what Mr. Pankraz calls the “democratisation of creativity”.  They no longer consume ideas, but actively participate, play and collaborate. They demand to be part of the brand story.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Pankraz offered 5 Tips On Creating Content For Generation C.  In essence, marketers should ensure that content:

  • Is relevant, useful & entertaining
  • Enhances social status within tribes
  • Begs a reaction and has a fun social interface
  • Connects Gen C members with each other, not just with a brand
  • Enables Gen C to participate in, play with or produce themselves and pass on

‘I share, therefore I am’ – creating content to get into ‘My World’

Young people outwardly like to see themselves as individuals, however we all know that ‘belonging’ to a tribe or subculture, or indeed belonging to many at one time – is the key way  young people create their  identity.

Today, young people are more than just connected, they are hyper connected on a digital planet. They can all control, create and distribute content. They can all have their opinion spread, shared and discussed. They now have remarkable influence over  brands.

Today, YOUNG PEOPLE ARE THE MEDIA and brands need to respect their social influence.

They’re evolved to copy and now brand decision making very much happens amongst the ‘swarm’ within social networks. Gen C prefer brands they hear about from friends or social networks.

Their constant exposure to status updates occur independent of face to face interaction. The rapid fire nature of these updates,  provides almost constant exposure to new ‘news’. Their response is to filter the information they receive, and prioritise what they pay attention to – what matter to them. They start to prioritise ‘my world’ over ‘the world’.

Put simply, youth view the world as ‘Me, My World, The World’ (a concept first introduced by Peter Fisk a few years back in a presentation called ‘The Consumer Agenda)

‘My World’ is a representation of who I am, and also adds meaning to my life by connecting ‘Me’ to the things I care about or want.

‘The World’ is everything outside of ‘My World’ that does not have immediate meaning to ‘Me’. The vast majority of advertising operates in ‘The World’.

I gain and maintain credibility in my friends worlds’ by expressing opinions, sharing ideas, observations and thoughts. ‘My’ influence within my friends world is based on what I share, and how frequently.

The new youth mantra is ‘I share, therefore I am’.

Gen C ‘The Connected Collective’ rely on social networks to ‘protect’ themselves from info overload. As a result, info that comes to ‘Me’ through ‘My World’ will be prioritised, receive more attention and go ‘viral’ so to speak.

Brands today looking to engage Gen C have to create content that has ‘conversational capital’.

Content that is relevant, useful and entertaining.

Content they can actively spread through ‘My World’. That content could be anything from film, to games to online experiences to applications and utilities.

Content that begs a reaction and has a fun social interface.

Content that connects them with each other, not just with a brand.

Content that they can participate in, play with or produce themselves and pass on.

Content which enhances their social status within ‘My World’ and says something about who they are and which tribe they belong to.

That’s how you get into ‘My World’

Big thanks to my old DDB colleague, PC  (now Digital Planning Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland) who authored the descriptions and insights above on  ‘Me, My World, The World’  from a DDB Yellow Paper he co wrote with Brent Annells earlier this year.

Generation C thrive on Social Expression

I was recently quoted as part of a Myspace survey done on how different generations interact with social media.  The press coverage  was  here and here

This is the article which ran in The Age on the 26th June 2010

BABY boomers are better online networkers than their Generation X counterparts, a poll of Australian MySpace users has revealed.

Often thought to be flailing in a world of 21st-century networking, Baby Boomers, aged 46 to 64, boast more online friends than the average Gen X (31 to 45), the survey of about 1½ million people revealed.

The results were formulated using self-expressed data taken from the MySpace accounts of users across the country. But it comes as no surprise to youth strategist Dan Pankraz, who says it reflects a broader cultural trend that he terms ”the rise and rise of Generation C or The Connected Collective”.

// ”Unlike Gen Y (14 to 30) or Gen X, Generation C are not an age cohort but a collective mindset of digital natives,” Mr Pankraz said in a statement.

”Gen C-ers of all ages, whether they are 14 or 41, share a need for social expression, and social media has turbo-charged their ability to express themselves in real time.”