Once upon a time I wrote a weekly column for an online technology magazine. When new Internet technologies and web sites emerged, I was tasked with predicting their fate.
Whenever I said something would take long to adopt (like e-books, for example), I got tons of hate email saying a) I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that b) the upcoming generation would look at the technology completely different than we did and readily adopt it. That I didn’t know what I was talking about wasn’t surprising, but what was curious was this faith that once younger people came along, everything would change.
Well, last week I had the chance to talk to two classes of undergrads at a major university about Internet marketing. After explaining search engine optimization, web analytics, paid search, etc the subject turned to social media. I gave them the typical talk about listening, participating, having a dialog, giving up control, etc, and how social media is a big deal (you know, the standard rap about if you’re not on a social networking site, you’re not on the internet). Then I showed them the various social networking platforms and asked them which ones they participated in.
Now, just a bit of background here. These are juniors and seniors in a business school. When you look at them, you know these are the kids who aspire to move into the business world very soon.
So, the first class told me that MySpace was considered pretty passé, and they were all on Facebook and almost all on LinkedIn. When I asked about Twitter, however, only 4 (out of 40) in the first class used it.
I immediately posted a tweet about this and heard back from several people. Matt Collier, for example wondered whether many of them had even heard of Twitter (perhaps this was about non-awareness, rather than a disinterest in using this platform).
So, during the second class I asked this question again. It turns out almost everybody had heard of Twitter, but only 1 of 40 was using it. When I asked them why they were so disinterested, they explained they got most of this experience on Facebook and didn’t see the value. Frankly, the general comment was “why would anybody waste their time on this?”
When I showed them what TweekDeck looked like, I got almost pained looks and comments about information overload (this from a generation that has grown up with information overload).
Now, some people think that when relationships and business are important, these people will flock to Twitter. Hmm. Business is important to them right now and they are obsessed with finding jobs and building relationships. So, what does this platform mean for their future?
Other people think this is about being “ahead of the curve”. But whose curve are we talking about–the curve of people who are in business right now, or the younger generation that isn’t living in the land of curves?
As many who heard me talk about this subject know, I have no proverbial dog in this fight. I’m not an evangelist of any platform, just trying to understand what is going on. But one thing I know is that you can’t have it both ways. If you believe that looking at younger people give you an idea of what will be popular in the future, then you have to seriously consider what this group of future business people are saying about the technologies they feel are valuable to them.
So, what do you think? Well, it turns out if you’re over 20 years old, what you and I think isn’t relevant here. But look through a really objective lens (no evangelism, please), and what do you see for the generation about to enter the working world?