By Matt Pigott - June 12th, 2015

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If video (and boomers) killed the radio star, social media and Generation Y have killed sales. That’s because Gen Y doesn’t like being sold to, at least not in the traditional sense.

If you specialize in digital demographic analysis or online marketing, chances are that this is a prickly pear of a subject that gets discussed a lot around the water cooler.

After twenty years of significant progress, social media is reaching maturity. We know this because it has, in a very short space of time, turned the traditional sales process on its head. But it doesn’t feel like things will stop there either.

As with everything else in the digital realm, there’s a lingering sense of impermanence, of nothing staying the same for long. Trends emerge from trends, only to be usurped by even newer trends. Thousands of new apps. Disruptive innovations. Emerging and folding tech companies. Leading platforms switching algorithms and making the models marketers have come to rely on obsolete.

All of this is just part of the problem. Add changing attitudes and shifting social media behaviors of teens and millennials and it’s a perfect storm of change that heralds the death of ‘selling’ as we know it. But, there is hope. 


In the Beginning—Physical Products...

Most millennials will be able to remember a pre-social media world, a simpler age when people sent letters, bought records and CDs, and borrowed DVDs from Blockbuster. However, the rising Generation Z won’t remember much of this, if any of it at all. In an age where streaming music and video from services such as Spotify and Netflix—paying monthly subscriptions for partial and often time-sensitive ownership—physical formats are fast becoming to entertainment what horses became to transport.

Moreover, for generation Y, digital is no longer something baffling and new. Now their children are growing up swiping TV screens and getting frustrated when nothing happens. Digital is hardwired into the next generation. It’s normal. And it’s this digitally native generation that will form the consumer consensus of the near and distant future.

Already, this particular demographic is deserting what anybody over the age of 30 considers to be the number-one standard social networking platform.

13-year-old New Yorker, Ruby Karp says: “All of my friends have social networks–Instagram, Vine, Snapchat etc. But… Facebook is losing teens because of these other networks” She adds: “By the time we (teenagers) were old enough to have Facebook, we were already obsessed with Instagram. We want what’s trending, and if Facebook isn’t “trending,” we won’t care.”

She also touches upon Facebook’s intrinsic problems, how thoughtless posts by others can inadvertently or intentionally get friends into trouble, and how the platform is often used as a channel for bullying in middle school, which adds to the reasons for the exodus. “In the end, Facebook has been trying too hard,” she says. “Teens hate it when people try too hard. It pushes them away.”

On the other hand, when it comes to the most popular of recent social networking platforms among teens—Snapchat (a platform Facebook, incidentally, tried and failed to acquire)—she is more positive: “The reason teens love it so much is because it is one of the only apps that is relatively private. Your parents have no access to it. It is the only app your mom cannot trace back to you after seeing you tagged in a photo, the way she can on Facebook or Instagram.”

It’s clear, then, teens want privacy, they want to be perceived to be ‘in’ with the latest trends and innovations and, in this regard, Facebook fails to meet their needs. Couple this with further research that shows teens prefer YouTube for entertainment and Twitter for shopping, and it constitutes a growing trend that may, in time, affect the way marketers wish to position themselves.

The question remains then: what are these tech savvy teens planning on next, and how is it possible to spot emerging trends in time for them to be useful for marketers? 

Find out where Gen Z is heading next, and what marketers need to be looking out for, in our next installment!

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