This morning I read yet another in the unending series of articles talking about Gen Y, how connected they are, and how important social media is to them. The impression we're always given is that marketers have to know Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools inside and out, because that's how you reach the upcoming generation of consumers. We're also told as employers that Gen Y demands access to its social media tools, and either won't consider or won't stay at a job very long if access is denied to them. All of this is supposedly backed by research.
I don't know who those researchers are talking to, but it isn't any Gen Y-er I know. I think it's time someone brought a little dose of reality to these preceedings. But before I get into that, lest you think I'm some old fogey who just doesn't get it, let me give you some of my qualifications to comment on this phenomenon.
Yeah, I am old. I'm 53 to be exact. But I have four children -- two boys, two girls -- who cover most of the Gen Y demographic. My oldest was born in 1984, and the youngest in 1991. In addition, I coach girls fastpitch softball, both as a team coach and as a private instructor. As a result, I have direct contact with around 40 Gen Y kids every week. Here's what I can tell you.
Between me and my four kids, only one of us has a Twitter account. You guessed it -- it's me. When I ask them individually about Twitter they all make faces that tell me only dweebs are on Twitter. None of their friends are there either, as far as I know.
Since my Twitter account feeds my Facebook status updates, sometimes I'll have three or four status updates in a short period of time. One time when that happened my eldest daughter felt compelled to remind me that Facebook is not Twitter. She found it annoying that I had that many status updates in one day. My youngest daughter, who is in college, asked me not long ago why my Facebook updates sometimes had @ or RT in front of the posts. So much for Twitter.
But ok, maybe my kids just aren't with it. Let's take a look at the kids I coach. A lot of them have Facebook accounts, and I am actually Facebook friends with some. It's a convenient way for me to contact the kids on my team in a venue many of them frequent regularly. Many, but not all. Not every kid on the team has a Facebook account, and of those who do not all go there regularly. So I still have to email their parents to make sure a message is received. I have yet to see any of them on Twitter, or to learn that they have a Twitter account. None of their Facebook posts have the @ symbol in them, or start with RT, so I'm going to say they don't.
That's a pretty good sample size. But let's expand out from there. Former Tech Image CEO Mike Nikolich has been teaching an entrepreneurship class at our old high school (Wheeling High School) since September -- part of his being honored as a distinguished alumnus. He has also asked the kids in his classes about social media. His findings line up with mine. They use Facebook to talk to their friends, and the friends of friends to some extent, but it's not where they're making product or service decisions. If I recall correctly, none of those high school age kids were on Twitter, nor did they think much of it.
As for the jobs thing, the Gen Y kids I know coming out of college are just hoping to find a job. They're not looking to dictate terms or make demands. If you're willing to pay them, they're willing to live without social media for a few hours during the day. It's not that big a deal.
There's an old saying that "Research proves whatever the researcher set out to prove." I think that may be the case with so-called social media experts. It's in their best interest to have people think social media is critically important, otherwise why would anyone listen to them? So they design the research to prove the point.
It doeesn't hurt to have a Facebook page, or send out occasional Tweets. But it's not the fire drill the so-called experts make it out to be. In fact, from what I can see, the single largest audience on Twitter is so-called social media experts. If they're your target have at it. Otherwise, you might want to do a little more research before you jump into anything. There are definitely better ways to reach that audience.