Gen Y is taking over. The generation of young adults that's composed of the children of Boomers, Generation Jones, and even some Gen X'ers, is the biggest generation since the Baby Boomers and three times the size of Gen X. As the Boomers fade into retirement and Gen Y takes root in the workplace, we're going to see some big changes ahead, not just at work, but on the web as a whole.
There's some contention over where exactly Gen Y starts and stops - some say those born 1983-1997, others think 1982-1997. In this week's Entertainment Weekly, Gen Y is defined as "current 13 to 31 year-olds" and BusinessWeek says they can be as young as five. Regardless, we know who they are - they're the young kids of today, the most digitally active generation yet, having been born plugged in.
How They're Different
They're Plugged In: The term "digital native" applies to most Gen Y'ers. Those in Gen Y grew up around computers, the Internet, mobile phones, video games, and mp3 players. They are web savvy multitaskers, able watch TV, surf the web, listen to music, and talk or text on their phones, often performing several of these things at the same time.
TV Isn't King: Although you'll find some Gen Y'ers obsessing over the latest episode of "The Hills," and other shows, they aren't watching TV as much as other generations do. Instead, Gen Y'ers spend more time surfing the net and using other devices, like iPods and Xboxes, even when it cuts into TV viewing. For them, TV is often just "background noise."
They Don't Care About Your Ad, They Care What Their Friends Think: Because they are immersed in media, both online and off, Gen Y'ers are marketed to left and right. But when it comes to making decisions, Gen Y tends to rely on their network of friends and their recommendations, not traditional ads. "Ads that push a slogan, an image, and a feeling, the younger consumer is not going to go for,'' says James R. Palczynski, retail analyst for Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. Instead, they respond to "humor, irony, and the unvarnished truth." They're also somewhat distrusting of ads, which is why grassroots efforts can also work. However, don't get too comfortable, Gen Y doesn't have brand loyalty - they're quick to move the next big thing.
Work Isn't Their Whole World: Sure, they're going to go to work, but it had better be fun. For Gen Y, work isn't their identity. It's just a place. Gen Y sees no reason why a company can't be more accommodating, offering benefits like the ability to work from anywhere, flex-time, a culture that supports team communication, and a "fun" work environment. They're also not going to blindly follow orders just because you're the boss. Sometimes dubbed "Generation Why?" they need to "buy in" as to why something is being done. Old school bosses may find their questioning insubordinate behavior, but they would be best to just change their management techniques and adapt. Gen Y hasn't known much unemployment and they're not going to put up with being treated poorly just for sake of a paycheck. (Bosses, your survival guide is here).
They're Socially Conscious: Gen Y cares about the world. They pay attention to politics, the economy, social causes, and environmental issues. They think they're a force to be reckoned with in elections and follow the candidates online on social networks. They read the news, but not in newspaper format, which is is going to hurt that industry even more as time goes by.
Gen Y & Technology
Since Gen Y grew up on the web, they're going to be the driving force behind the way the web of the future is shaped. What Gen Y wants from the web will be the web.
Internet TV: Although watching TV online is something that few Boomers do, Gen Y is perfectly comfortable with this. They time-shift content all the time, not only on the web but via portable devices and mp3 players, too. When it comes to TV on the web, a recent study showed Gen Y leading the way when it comes to internet TV viewing:
- Generation Y (33%) and Generation X (27%) led early Baby Boomers (19%) in use of official TV program web sites.
- Gen Y (62%) users are much more likely to have watched a full episode on the program site than Gen X (41%) or younger Boomers (32%).
Socializing Rules...But They Want to Control It: Gen Y thinks a truly "private" life is a crock. 54% have used MySpace, Facebook, or some other social network. Most of Gen Y had to learn the hard way about the perils of posting everything online. As they've aged, they realized blogging their every thought and posting those embarrassing pictures might have hurt their jobs prospects at times, so now some of them are interested in more privacy on their social networks. They're happy to continue over-sharing with friends, but also learning how to protect their updates and set their profiles to private. They're also wary of old folks, like their boss, trying to "friend" them in their social space, especially if they're tragically un-hip wannabes.
But that's not to say their over-sharing is going to stop - Gen Y is getting into lifestreaming too, streaming live video via services like Yahoo! Live. In their own world, they're celebrities. Says Jason Barg, a 2004 graduate of Penn State University and founder of an online real estate company, notoriety is more about standing out from the crowd. "A primary goal of people my age is not necessarily to become famous but to become distinctive," he says.
Marketing Has To Change: Because Gen Y is media savvy and conscious of being marketed to, brands that succeed in the future will be those that open a dialog with their customers, admit their mistakes, and essentially become more transparent (save one notable exception, apparently). Companies' web sites that want to attract GenY'ers will become more like today's Web 2.0 sites. Social networking will be just a feature. Blogs will be standard ways for companies to reach their customers. Customer service won't just be a phone call away, it will be available via non-traditional means, too. Today, savvy companies might be using Twitter, but that could change at any time if Gen Y moves on. Companies will have to keep up with Gen Y and not get too comfortable using any one format. (Oh, and you can stop calling everything "viral" - that's lame.)
Work Tools Need to Mirror Web Tools: Gen Y will drive adoption of "Enterprise 2.0" products and services. Gen Y in the workplace will not just want, but expect their company to provide them with tools that mirror those they use in their personal lives. If socializing on Facebook helps them get a sale, then they're not going to understand why they can't use it at work. For more buckled down companies, if workers aren't provided with the tools they want, they're going to be savvy enough to go around I.T.'s back and get their own.
Companies wondering how Gen Y wants to use these tools at work should take a look at this - Sacha Chua's Gen Y Guide to Web 2.0 at Work (made for IBM):
Web Sites Will Need to Cater to Shorter Attention Spans: No more long boring text! Thanks to constant media input, Gen Y has shorter attention spans and their "grasshopper minds" leap quickly from topic to topic. (They also didn't read this whole article...too long!)
Mobile Web? Yes Please!: Gen Y will be happy to adopt the mobile web - they are practically glued to their phones. Currently, Gen Y is using the mobile web to socialize, not search. Steve Ives, Taptu CEO, in a company whitepaper, Making search social: Unleashing search for the mobile generation, concludes that "...Generation Y, who sees the mobile as a social device first and an information device second, is not using today's mobile search as much as expected. But Generation Y is using mobile phones to access social networks."
Ignoring the voices of Gen Y is something you should do at your own peril, especially if you're a business looking to hire, a company selling a product, or an advertising firm trying to reach them.
Some good resources I've found recently for following Gen Y trends comes in the form of blogs (you know we love RSS here at RWW!). If you're interested in this topic, you might want to subscribe, too. See below the list for additional subscription options.