Being Social

Every one of us in the youth marketing community begins and ends our interpretation of Gen Y with emphatic statements about its use of technology. The rapid rise of many of the latest, greatest technologies can be mapped directly to early adoption by those who are currently under the age of 30, and it is indeed the case that youth are great believers in the benefits that technology brings to their lives.

If you dig a little deeper, you'll quickly find that technology is simply a means to an end and that the end that Gen Y desires above all others is to connect ... to belong ... to be social.

There are many reasons why this generation desires this outcome. Looking to those that preceded them, Gen Y made a conscious decision to be different from X'ers who, given their rebellious and independent nature, put individualism above all else.

Furthermore, "socialization" was a key priority for the earnest parents of this special generation -- Gen Y had frequent, pre-planned play dates with carefully selected cohorts as Barney the dinosaur sang about caring and sharing and working together. This generation of team players would much rather be social than have solitude.

There are technologies that empower the individual. As Neil Howe will say, the PC is a very Gen X use of technology. My laptop and I are at this very moment alone in the dark writing this article. My laptop is a tool and I use this tool to achieve ... how Gen X of me.

On the other hand, Facebook is a very Gen Y use of technology, allowing Gen Y to maintain and nurture connections. Similarly, text messaging allows Gen Y to always be connected. A few flicks with a thumb is all that it takes to send a pulse to make sure that they know that you're there and that you're still connected.

One motivation that is consistent across generations is how youth seek to establish their identity and to proclaim their existence. Here I am.

Status updates not only send a pulse out to the social network that surrounds you, they reaffirm your existence, no matter how fleeting the experience or the statement may be. If you hang out in the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York and spy on what members of Gen Y feel is so compelling that they abandon a beautiful summer day in Central Park to go downstairs and wait for a few precious seconds on an iMac, you'll witness a thousand of these proclamations of connectedness: Here I am ... in New York ... at the Apple Store.

I came, I saw, I connected.

Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan described the impact of what he then called electromagnetic technology: "An external consensus or conscience is now as necessary as private consciousness." The private, contemplative moments that used to occur inside your head are now externalized in the form of status updates for "an organism that now wears its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide." Surrounded by a blanket of electromagnetic technology since birth, Gen Y has a fully formed "external conscience."

This desire for external consensus began as Gen Y was plopped on the floor beside their first friends, through their group projects at school and now, amongst each other as they enter the workplace. The statistic from Mr. Youth's Millennials Inc. report regarding decision making by Millennials that Mike Doherty cited in last week's post takes on additional meaning in this context: "70% would prefer to make decisions by consensus (when amongst their peers)."

As we measure the marketing efforts that target Gen Y, we can see in an instant those efforts that leverage Gen Y's desire to be social versus those that merely try to leverage the latest technology. As you attempt to connect with Gen Y, make sure that you realize that technology is merely the means to an end and that the real motivator for Gen Y is being social.

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