This Generation Thing

gen z

When I started working at a university in 2000, there was a lot of talk about Millennials. That generation gets a lot less attention these days. I am not much of a fan of these generation generalizations, but that won’t stop them from being topics of conversation. They are particularly of interest to marketers.

The generation that follows the Millennials are those born between 1995 – 2012. That makes them 5- 22 years old. I don’t know how we can generalize very much about that wide a range of people. But educators should take note because they do include kids in kindergarten through the new college graduates and all those students in between.

The post-Millennial generation hasn’t gotten name that everyone agrees on. I hear them called Generation Z, Post-Millennials, iGeneration, Centennials and the Homeland Generation.

Although “iGeneration” might suggest that they are self-centered, the lowercase i references the Apple world of iPods, iPhones, iPads etc.

“Homeland” refers to the post-9/11 world they grew up in. September 11, 2001 was the last major event to occur for Millennials. Even the oldest members of Generation Z were quite young children when the 9/11 attacks occurred. They have no generational memory of a time the United States was not at war with the loosely defined forces of global terrorism.

I’ll use Gen Z to label this demographic cohort after the Millennials.

Here are some of the characteristics I find that supposedly describe Gen Z. You’ll notice that much of this comes from the fact that this generation has lived with the Internet from a young age. This is usually taken to mean that they are very comfortable (don’t read that as knowledgeable) with technology and interacting on social media.

Besides living in an Internet age, they live in a post-9/11 age and grew up through the Great Recession and so have a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity.

They get less sleep than earlier generations.

They are mobile phone users – not desktop, laptop or landline users.

They are wiser than earlier generations about protecting their online personalities and privacy, but they live in a world that also offers more threats.  For example, they are more likely to create “rinsta” and “finsta” Instagram personas. (Rinsta is a “real” account and finsta is a “fake” or “friends-only” profile.)

They are wiser to marketing and more resistant to advertising. Less than a quarter of them have a positive perception of online ads (Millward Brown). But, perhaps ironically, they trust YouTube stars, Instagram personalities, and other social media influencers and that includes when they make purchasing decisions.

Having grown up with more of it, they are generally more open to efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.

They’re easily bored with an average attention span of eight seconds (Sparks & Honey). Of course, the attention span of the average millennial is supposed to be 12 seconds. That makes them hard to engage, but they self-identify as wanting to be engaged.

That haven’t had or expect to have summer jobs.

They are said to be slower at maturing than earlier generations. They postpone getting a driver’s license. Many of them even postpone having sex.

Rather than a generation gap, like the one made famous in the 1960s, they are more likely to hang with their parents.

They are very open to sharing their opinions in many ways from consumer reviews and other consumer behavior, and online they like collaborative communities and the exchange of ideas and opinions.

Why Teach Social Media?

scocial-media-pixa-lg

I teach social media courses. They are graduate courses in a communications program and most of the students are working in some related field (technical writing, graphic and web design). Some older friends who are not educators have expressed surprise that there are courses in social media (SM). They view social media as something “all kids know about” these days and don’t think of SM as a very serious subject.

Of course, SM is very serious business in the marketing and advertising sense. I have written earlier about what some feel is a social media skills gap. That term, “skills gap,” is itself an important one for colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called it “The Idea That Launched a Thousand Strategic Plans” (the article is unfortunately for subscriber access only) because trying to fill in gaps in skills that employers say they need has become a way to build programs and therefore colleges’ plans for the future.

There are educators that question that kind of planning because it makes assumptions about the role and purpose of a college education. Is college meant to train employees in skills and job-specific areas, or is the mission something much larger?

Some social media consultants have said that 90% of workers don’t have the skills to leverage social media as a business tool, so it would seem logical that there would be a “market” and interest in higher education to fill in that gap.

Yes, more social media courses are being offered at colleges – generally in marketing and communications programs. But for just-in-time training, current employees are also looking to online courses, MOOC offerings and free on-demand resources.

Hootsuite is one of those providers, but it also offers a Student Program that provides educators and their classrooms free access to social media tools and resources. They have a Hootsuite Academy, which obviously uses their own Hootsuite dashboard which is a widely used platform for social media management. They also offer free certification for students who complete the program.

Because I teach social media courses at a university, and I also do social media consulting, I looked into the Hootsuite Student Program as another way to integrate hands-on activities into NJIT’s online MA program and also its graduate certificate programs.

Social media is just one part of this larger gap, but the “meteoric rise” of social in U.S. over the past decade to more than 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide can’t be ignored.

Some of the materials in the Hootsuite program were topics that I have always included in my curriculum for designing social media. For example, having students conduct an online reputation audit on a real local gives students a better idea of creating a strategy for a brand versus their personal accounts. Students do research and present an analysis in order to create a strategy to improve their client’s social marketing. They research target audience, popular content channels and types, competitor social media use, and make recommendations for future social media marketing activities.

I have students create a social media campaign with objectives, target audience, and metrics. It no longer surprises me that my students often make very little sophisticated use of social media themselves, and have a very limited understanding of how organizations are using it.

One gap I have been attempting to bridge this past year is the lack of knowledge (and interest) in social media ethics and law. That gap is not only in students but in those currently working in social media.

I also see frequent mentions online about a broader “digital skills gap” with employees who don’t know how to use, or are not aware of, the technology available to them. According to a Harris poll survey in Entrepreneur, only one in 10 American workers have mastered their employers’ tools and this gap “Bleeds $1.3 Trillion a Year From US Businesses.”  I believe that this learning process in my social media courses has value beyond making students just being able to do marketing via social media. Activities like creating a social strategy through research, analysis and application, and doing it in a digital world can help bridge a number of skills gaps.

Is It All About Conversions?

There is plenty of talk about e-commerce now that we are deep into the end-of-year holiday shopping season. In e-commerce marketing the key word seems to be CONVERSION. That term refers to converting site visitors into paying customers.

Getting visitors to your website is important of course, but even to a non-profit organization you want visitors to engage with their organization. A “conversion” is generally, but not always a “sale.” The organization might also want a visitor to add their name to a mailing list, request information, make a donation or download a special offer.

Websites monitor carefully your activity on the site. When a customer visits, adds item(s) to an online shopping cart and then “abandons” it, that is a lost conversion. Nowadays, it is common in that situation for the organization to re-engage the customer. They might offer free shipping, an email reminder, or even offer live chat with the customer as soon as they attempt to click away from the site.

Social media has become another way to boost conversions.  Social media has been a way to generate traffic to a site for a lot longer. Using contextual ads, word-of-mouth social sharing and positive reviews are all important to attracting users, but turning that traffic into sales or leads is more important.

Using social media is one way to react to the analytic data about visitors.  Using tools like AddShoppers, which uses reward sharing by identifying social “influencers by tracking social activity and crossing that with conversions or ROI.

As instructional designers often use the ADDIE framework for designing training and instruction, some social media and marketing designers use the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) principles to design the user experience. This framework is built upon the conversion funnel.

funnel

The conversion funnel is a phrase used in e-commerce to describe the journey a consumer takes through an Internet advertising or search system, navigating an e-commerce website and finally converting to a sale. The metaphor of a funnel is used to describe the anticipated decrease in numbers that occurs at each step of the process from getting traffic to the conversion of a sale or other action..

Of course,there are many things that can be done to increase conversions besides marketing. Increasing trust in the site, improving site navigation structure and content (text, images, video) and usability to reduce barriers to conversion.

Is it all about conversions? Probably, but it is not all about marketing.

What Facebook Thinks You Like

I came across this Chrome browser extension that allows you to see how Facebook collects your data.

It can only use data on what categories Facebook has placed you in (not identifiable information or cookies, for example) but the name of the category, the I.D. number Facebook gives it internally, some other subcategories and your logged reaction to the category.

There are so many questions, rumors and concerns about social media and the Internet concerning privacy and data collection that this seems very relevant. I know that amongst my own friends and students there is a lack of knowledge about what is collected and how it is collected when you’re online, but there are a lot of negative feelings about it.

Most people know that sites want to determine your ad preferences and use data and tracking to figure out which ads might be relevant and useful to you. They don’t do it to be nice to you – although if I have to see an ad I would rather it have some relevance – but because advertisers want to know their ads are getting to the correct people.

Your Facebook profile information and interactions with friend and businesses influences the ads you see. It is not so different from targeting ads from before the Internet Age. Demographic information—such as age, gender and location have always been important. But we voluntarily give so much more information (even if unconsciously) by our thousands of clicks and activities online that targeting is much more refined.

 

fb-ad-prefs-11-16

 

When you use the “What Facebook Thinks You Like” app offered by propublicasocial, you’ll see how your interests in people, travel, news etc. help determine the ads you will see.

 

Are You Ready for Generation Z?

gen-z

As an educator, I have had a long interest in all the discussions of “generations” and their attitudes towards school, technology, media etc.  At NJIT, at the turn of the new century, we ran workshops and focus groups on teaching the Millennials. People would point to members of that generation, like Mark Zuckerberg, and say that these students would reject higher education and start their own companies in the hope of earning their own first billion dollars by the age of 23.

That didn’t happen, but they are a different generation of students than those I taught on the 1970s.

The Millennials are of somewhat less interest these days to educators as they age up (though there is still interest in them as consumers and people still discuss marketing to millennials) and attention is turning to the kids who follow them. Beside educators, they are of interest to market researchers, cultural observers and trend forecasters. Hello, Generation Z.

They are young. The oldest members are just out of high school and most of them are tweens and teens. But they will be the influencers of tomorrow. Marketers have an eye to the billions in spending power they hold. Can we figure them out now and build awareness and brand loyalty while they are young? Will there even be such a thing as brand loyalty when they hit their twenties?

The New York Times had a piece recently about Generation Z and those that came before them and according to some forecasters, they are the “next big retail disruptor.”

These generation labels are not really even agreed upon in the years they span or the descriptors used to label them. A millennial can be defined as a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000. Demographers seem to like to use 15 year blocks of time.  That makes millennials probably born between 1980 and 1995, so they are about 22-35 years old now. These are my sons. They are out of college, in the workforce, marrying, buying homes and having children. They are important consumers.

Millennials grew up in the boom and relative peace of the 1990s, but they also saw our country crash on September 11 and financially crash in 2000 and again in 2008. The second half of their youth took place in an age of terrorism. They had computers as kids, though it might have been an Apple IIe with 5.25 inch and very floppy disks. They had a fledgling Internet and slow modems. They discovered social media at the age that Mark Zuckerberg thought they were ready (age 13, if they were playing by the rules). They saw many of the social media platforms they used disappear (FriendFeed, MySpace) and others, like Facebook make billions of dollars.

They were not digital natives for smartphones and tablets, though older generations assumed that they would take to it more readily.

alex
Alex, second from right, with her book and phone and her modern family

The Times article says that Alex, the middle-child character on TVs Modern Family, is Gen Z. She just graduated high school and is conscientious, hard-working, self-describes as nerdy and is anxious and very concerned with her future. Her younger brother and slightly older sister are probably Gen Z too, but they don’t fit that description.

Following that 15-year block, they were born between 1995 and 2010 (some overlap of generations in the first and last years with that system).

You’ll find this generation also called the Post-Millennial, iGeneration, or (in the U.S.) the Homeland Generation. Generation Z is really the first generation that are digital natives. They were playing with their parents’ phones when they were in their car seat. There always was an Internet. Everyone uses social media. Even their parents use Facebook – which means it is time to use something else.

Who are the parents of Generation Z?  They were raised by Baby Boomers, like me, and the sometimes-forgotten Generation X. Gen X was that smaller in-between generation that was post-Vietnam and post-Watergate. There were a lot of latchkey kids growing up in the 1970s. They tried to give their kids more attention and, like most generations, a better childhood. They were concerned about schooling, foods and health. They wrote are read mommy blogs.

If you are wondering what happened to Gen Y – the demographic cohort between Generation X and Generation Z – they were relabeled the Millennials.

I think it is an unfortunate generalization by some marketers that Gen Z is seen as a group that you need to communicate to in 5 words, images and emojis. Does Generation Z have more awareness of their personal brand? I think that may be a safer generalization.

More important to note is that Gen Z  a generation more dominated by a Hispanic population. According to the Census Bureau, in the first 10 years of this century, the U.S. Hispanic population grew at four times the rate of the total population according to the Census Bureau. The number of Americans of mixed white and Asian descent grew by 87% and the number self-identifying as biracial white and black rose 134%. Gen Z has been hearing about same-sex marriages for a long time, and they grew up with an African-American president.

TV Alex’s extended family has a gay couple, a Hispanic step-grandmother who doesn’t look like anyone’s grandma, an adopted Asian, a working mom and a sensitive dad.

The Times article also notes that if you think overall about Gen Z and their concerns with privacy and about getting a good career and being middle or really more upper-middle-class, they don’t really look like Millennials. They probably look more like their grandparents’ generation.

That large demographic is known as the Silent Generation. They were born from the mid-1920s to the early 1940s. They were shaped by two world wars and the Great Depression. The younger ones grew up in the fifties and sixties with a Cold War, nuclear threats and lots of television.

There are no obvious answers to how to reach Generation Z, but these kids may want to start their own online company instead of working summers at Burger King. Remember that the Silent Generation was not only very job and career-focused but it was also the richest generation.

Is it too early to worry about the next generation of toddlers born since 2010? The oldest ones are entered kindergarten this fall.

This Generation Alpha (or whatever we decide to call them when we start over on the alphabet) is ready for virtual reality.

Marketers and educators, be prepared.

 

Web and Social Media Analytics

Google AnalyticsAnalytics are important is every business and organization. They always have been. Today’s world of “big data” has made them more important and has certainly given them wider use and more visibility.

With websites and social media accounts, the numbers (statistics, metrics, measures) you always hear about are hits, follows, likes, shares and reposts.  Every person using social media has become a part of others’ analytics – and probably follows their own numbers.

I don’t know of anyone who has a website or blog that doesn’t take a look at their hit counter and whatever data is being gathered. If you use WordPress, you get a suite of stats and analytics. But many users use other tools in addition. Google Analytics is another popular method of analyzing site traffic. I use WordPress.com and use their stats, and I use Google Analytics. Most of the time the numbers don’t agree. It’s not a small variation either. Have you heard the saying “A man with two watches never knows the correct time”?

I have read a number of explanations. For example, JavaScript based analytical tools, like Google Analytics, can never be completely accurate because many people have JavaScript blockers installed in their browsers. Some tools allow hits by the owner to be counted and some do not. I know that when I’m working on a site, updating and viewing it, that can amount to a few dozen “hits.”  That is why analytics will also sometime break out visitors versus unique visitors. The former is always bigger because the latter means that if I visit a site (or a site’s pages) 25 times today, that is one visitor.  Unique visitors may sound more accurate, but in some cases you would certainly want to know that your visitors are returning throughout the day (think of Facebook, Twitter or a news site) and visiting multiple pages.

That is why you’ll find articles with titles like “Is Your Social Media Content as Popular as You Think?

One of the buzziest terms out there now is “engagement.” Not a new word, just new to this new arena. Engagement means capturing and holding attention. As a teacher, I want to engage students and have interaction with them. I also want that to occur with this post and all my blogs and websites.

When we are talking about a business and profits, engagement changes. To Amazon.com, hits are good but engagement means all the things that lead to conversion and sales. Some critics of the aggressive online marketing we see now say that where engagement was once the journey, now it is the goal.

I am not a marketer, but I need to be aware of what is happening in the field, so I look at things like the content marketing goals in places such as the Content Marketing Institute reports.

“Likes” don’t necessarily mean a conversion or sale and thousands of views don’t mean a positive ROI. And yet, you still need to follow the numbers.

What did it mean that Twitter removed share counts from its widgets, buttons, and API? Are they telling us that the share count didn’t mean much? It didn’t count replies, quote tweets, variants of your URLs, or reflect that some people tweeting these URLs might have many more followers than others, so the share count was never an accurate measure of social engagement with your content.

Remember that analytics is not statistics, but what you do and learn from those statistics

YouTube only counts a view after approximately 30 seconds. That’s so that accidental views or bounces don’t get into the stats. You might also say that if 25% of your views were under 30 seconds that it is because your videos aren’t interesting – or at least they are not engaging in those first 30 seconds. YouTube analytics will tell you if someone watched 1, 2, 3, or all 4 minutes of your video and that is important to your analysis and further action.

Many of the “pro” tools are for a price and so is hiring someone to handle your analytics and marketing, but there are good free analytic tools to measure content effectiveness.