We follow youth culture and media trends closely throughout the year, and we’re seeing some significant shifts in Gen Y attitudes and habits that will have an impact going into 2012 and beyond. Some of these trends, such cord cutting, have been brewing for years and are just now becoming a reality, while others, such as students owning tablets, are the result of rapid technological innovations.
1. Music Ownership Is Over
Ownership will take a big step forward in becoming a thing of the past. Students have rapidly adopted platforms like Pandora and Spotify, making the need to own music, even in digital format, less important. In less than six months, Spotify has made it possible for music fans to get access to artists’ complete collections online, on their tablets, and on their phones. It’s easier than ever to carry around their favorite tunes, all organized and bookmarked, without needing to sync or upload songs to the cloud. To Gen Yers, it’s no longer a question of whether they can find their favorite music online to listen to at their leisure; they expect to be able to do so. And if they can’t get the music they want through their subscription services, they’ll find a way to get it, even if that means downloading it (gasp!) illegally. Moreover, bands that aren’t present on Spotify — particularly those indie rock bands students like to “discover” — are missing a major free marketing opportunity via the service’s integration with Facebook, which posts what users are listening to for their friends to see, like, and comment on…and sometimes to follow up on by checking out the artist themselves.
While this trend may water down the value of individual songs or albums, it adds value to live performances, which can’t be substituted, as Jessica Robertson of MTV Hive pointed out to us recently. Shows also add to the personal connection fans feel with bands that they’re forging thanks to bands’ activity on social media.
2. Cable Nets Will Report Higher Numbers Of Cord Cutters
TV networks, particularly those aimed at Gen Yers, are trying hard not to go through the same digital piracy mess that the music industry went through. They’re finally embracing streaming services. In the final months of 2011, we’ve seen The CW, Disney, and ABC Family partner with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon to offer their content to subscribers, with little, if any, delay following the show’s original airing. The nets realize that Millennials aren’t going to subscribe to expensive cable services when they can get their TV online — and on their own schedules — for just a few bucks a month. What can cable companies offer that Millennials value? Internet access. That’s one cord Millennials will never sever.
All this is not to say Millennials won’t watch TV anymore. They’ll make an effort to catch their favorite shows when they air on broadcast networks, because they know their friends will be talking about them on Facebook, Twitter, and more (even while the show airs). If their busy schedules get in the way — or if they air on a channel they don’t have access to — they’ll find the shows online rather than be left out of the conversation.
3. We’ll See What Works In Mobile Shopping Tools
With half the population empowered with smartphones, marketers tried every means possible to assist and persuade consumers making purchases. From QR codes to apps to Facebook pages to text alerts, 2011 saw it all. In 2012, we’re going to learn what actually works. According to our recent research into students’ back-to-school shopping, new media isn’t breaking through the clutter. Even tech-savvy Millennials can be stymied by slick QR codes. Surprisingly, they preferred classic flyers and newspaper inserts to Facebook pages. That doesn’t mean marketing via new media is destined to fail, but it does mean marketers need to learn how to better communicate their messages in this space. Social media is about conversation; students don’t like marketers to simply use Facebook or Twitter as a megaphone to tell them about products and deals; for them, the purpose of the site is to interact.
4. Students Will Be Toting Tablets
No, most students won’t have an iPad, though they aspire to own one. The price tag is too high, and few have received one as a hand-me-down from their parents. Instead, they’ll be the proud new owners of a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, which offer much of the same tablet functionality while fitting in the range of student’s budgets. Plus, if they already own an e-reader, they can transfer their purchase history to their new tablet. We expect many students will be unwrapping these hybrid tablet/readers as gifts this December. They’re not a substitute for an iPad, but they’re a step in the right direction.
5. Twitter Takes Over
One of the first apps students will want on their tablet is Twitter. While Facebook is still the leader in social media, young people are increasingly using Twitter as a sort of social media filter. Millennials have been on Facebook for the majority of their teen lives, having amassed several hundred friends on the site — they’ve friended just about everyone, from random acquaintances to parents to brands. They don’t want to unfriend people (that’s not nice), so they’re turning to Twitter as a means to follow just the people and brands they actually care to hear from on a regular basis. Although the network is more open, it feels more private because they’ve managed their connections on Twitter, unlike their approach to Facebook. While this trend is starting small, it will gain steam as more Gen Yers join the network to be where their best friends are. Twitter won’t replace Facebook, but young people will spend more time with it because it fills a particular niche.
Gen Yers have also joined Google+, but only because it was the cool thing to do when the site launched. They thought the new network was full of possibility. But in fact, Google+ has failed to differentiate itself from Facebook, giving students little reason to invest their limited time in cultivating a presence there. Google+ isn’t giving up, still adding new features, but as of now, it’s fighting a losing battle. We’re looking forward to seeing how thing shake out in 2012!