What does Social Networking mean to the next Generation?
Recent changes, stats and obvious factors (such as age) have seen some major changes to our social networking habits recently. Yahoo! acquiring Tumblr was a large one, Google+, Pinterest & Flickr’s new interfaces were a few more.
For the purposes of this blog I’m targeting my particular age demographic – 21 – 29 year old (where I sit within that age bracket is for me to know and you to find out, if you ask me) but am not excluding those who sit within a more mature, wise and better age range; we are all in the same boat so to speak.
The term ‘Social Network’ brings to mind, for us, a platform format we are used to – MySpace, Facebook, Bebo – where it all began for us in any ‘real’ sense.
Think back to the early 00s and the development of Facebook. It sticks in my mind particularly as my older sister who attended University was allowed access while I was not – pushing our sibling rivalry to its limits as I tried to persuade her to somehow get me an Oxford University email address because in ‘those days’ it was only available to students. She declined, eyebrow duly raised. I still haven’t forgiven her.
When we picture a Social Network, we picture Timeline, Photos, Games & Likes; anything outside that and we get confused, it is not an interface we are used too.
Alongside this association we also think about the devices we used such networks on – desktop at first, laptop when we went to university or received an exceptionally great Christmas gift, then first generation Facebook apps on our clunky smartphones. Those of us born in the 80s and raised in the 90s still remember the days of landlines and Nokia 3310s and are well placed to remember the transition between ‘traditional’ communication and ‘modern’ social networking as we practically grew up alongside it. The same pace, sort of.
The Next Generation Social Networkers, however, had a different experience. I’m talking about the 13 – 20 age bracket here; these are individuals who have grown up with the full force of Social Networking. For them, part of coming of age was being allowed to create a Facebook profile. I remember my younger brother moaning for years that ‘all his friends’ had one when he was 10.
But by the time my bro, and many of his friends, actually got to Facebook age, they were met with something they simply did not anticipate – a big bunch of us ‘old people’ and an interface that simply didn’t agree with them.
Pew Research Centre’s recent Social Network demographic research on user demographics published early 2013 shows that between 2005 – late 2012, social network users have got older; this can be a result of a few factors:
1) An aging population and
2) More interest in social networking from older demographics
Facebook purchasing Instagram was undoubtedly a step towards trying to reclaim the younger market, 90 million users became ‘Facebook property’ in the move, boosting the numbers and ruffling more than a few feathers.
Pew’s Research unearthed an interesting and widely known fact about the nature of modern social networking; that our parents are on it. And when you’re 16, having your parents ‘Like’ your status and comment on your photos or even – heaven forbid – scold you via Facebook is one of those life experiences best left off your bucket list.
Thank you, Mumsie.
Is this why we find Google+ so hard to get to grips with?
Yes, probably – at least in its earlier form.
While we are as au fait as a person can be with the format Facebook and other networks like it has provided us with, anything out of our comfort zone automatically brings confusion with it. Consider how we first feel when playing on Windows 8 compared with how our children, younger siblings or equivalent feel when messing about on the laptop themselves.
We spend the first half an hour searching for the start button at the bottom left corner; the interface we are used to.
Nevertheless, Social Networking is evolving at a rate this year that only few could have predicted. It’s a case of get on board, or get out of the way. It’s time to get out of our comfort zones and begin to realise that a Social Network can never have a format or interface ‘standard’.
Google+ is a perfect example of this; a network that has provided us with a myriad of tools to play with, waiting for the next gen users to pick them up and use them in whichever way they deem necessary.
In this way, Google+ has anticipated that their network will develop organically around user-ship, rather than building something that users must adapt themselves to use; a true social network 2.0.
So, How do we Prepare?
As a Digital Marketer, I like to prepare by being totally honest with my Clients and take a ‘4 step’ approach to staying on the Social Ball:
1) Research – daily. This includes noting trends outside our own industries, researching latest white papers and monitoring social media avenues that seem to be growing, such as Vine. Spending time researching may seem a total pain in the bum, especially if your Client-load is growing (which if it is, I applaud and high five and all of those things) but trust me on this one: It is ESSENTIAL to social media success.
2) Brand, Competition and Industry Analysis of Major Social Networks. We all indulge in this kind of analysis for the benefits of our customers, why not use that strategy to analyse major Social Networks too? Find out their mission statement and see what other networks there are out there with similar ones. If there is a buzz about a new network on a current network, it’s worth looking into.
3) Ask Young People. Easier said than done, until you look around and realise they are all around you…like ants. I tend to ask my siblings, cousins and friend’s sprogs. When they get over the ‘epic LOLs’ at my questions, they tend to be pretty helpful. In fact most of them steal my phone and download all the Apps I need for me with strict “IT MUST BE FREE” instructions from myself. NB: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask a random group of youthful youngens questions on their social media habits. Not only will you be arrested, they will Tweet about it to all their friends and you’ll feel totes embarrassed.
4) Follow dedicated Youth Brands on Google+, Twitter and Facebook. They are constantly updating their streams with trending topics, tools and apps and while the majority of things they say is incredibly boring, you can never escape the power of an online trend. Before you know it, you’ll be as up to date as Made in Chelsea as you are with your Gas Bills.
Pretty soon you’ll start keeping up with the next generation of Social Networkers; after all these are the people we will be marketing to in a few years – it’s always better to know what forums are the best on which to do that.