Thursday, October 1, 2009

We're not as digital as you think

More often than not it’s my peers, not my parents, asking me, “So what’s this twitter thing?” In my circle of friends (all millennials) I am among the most Internet savvy. For anyone working with social media on a daily basis this should concern you. If it turns out that millennials aren’t that digital then what are we doing? And what are they up to?

I may be slightly above average when it comes to my grasp of the “State of the Internet,” and I am literally always learning. I don’t mean that in one of those cute, oh shucks I’m always learning kind of way, rather it’s a frantic, confusing cluster k@#k of learning while I try to drink in new technologies, understand their potential and offer strategies about how best to leverage them for marketing purposes. So if this is me then where are my peers?

The issue here is, to what extent are average millennials engaged with the world of social media. And this is when David Scott and Malcolm Gladwell pop into my head. Most of what I know about the information superhighway highway was gleaned from what can only be described as Mavens. People who sat down at my computer and said back in 2005, “Hey I’m going to put Firefox on your computer, it’s better than IE, just trust me.” They were the ones who pointed me down the "long tail" of new technology literacy. And here’s where Scott comes in, because it seems that while internet literacy is growing wider and deeper, ultimately it’s not common knowledge, but a niche skill to use blogs and navigate twitter.

In the introduction to my thesis on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign I set up the premise that 2007 and 2008 not only had Internet technology advanced, but people’s comfort and literacy with it had finally progressed enough as well (an educated guess). As a result, more people knew not only what the Internet was and how to use google, but they were aware of and engaged with social and mobile technology. Yay, online community coming to fruition. Clicks translated to real life action. Awesome.

And yet, even with twitter as yesterday’s news it still seems to mystify many. Frequently I find myself at social events extolling the virtues of blogging or explain to them that reading and (of course) using twitter is worth their time. While many are happy to hear about it at first, I find the that just the idea of using these technologies are frequently met with misunderstandings, skepticism and more often that one would think, outright hostility – I'm arguing with 20 year olds that the internet is cool. What?

Last year when I saw the new Dentyne ice campaign on the subway I had to smile because it validated the Account Planner in. Someone else had come to the same conclusion I had, that outward disdain for social media could be a good position for a band. That is, even though many people may use social media they are confused by it and what they do use they resent for the time it steals from their lives and for the diminishing direct social contact – it’s tough to share even a football game on a computer, let alone while surfing.

So what do we have? The Internet is confusing and on the whole millennials are just as confused as everyone else. There is a big chunk of mystery, misunderstanding and just plain lack of understanding sitting between a few (million) heavy users and everyone getting on board. The knowledge barrier to hurdle just to use twitter is high, then to use it enough to like it? Most say forget it. Reading blogs? Starting a blog? Most millennials see it as an attention thing or expect to start getting followers within a few weeks having followed no one themselves. On the whole we are skeptical and even pessimistic toward the Internet.

I’m not saying that millennials don’t use the Internet, we use it a lot. Just not where or how you think we do. And I’ll tell you one thing right now – it’s not facebook fan pages.