Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Window into Generation Y

I'd like to start this post by telling everybody a bit more about myself.

I was born in 1987 and got my first computer in 1994. By the time I was 8 years old I had learned just enough about DOS commands to boot up Magic Carpet and Earthsiege. After that, computers became my life. At 11 years old, I began playing a game called Starsiege: Tribes. It was at this point that I had my first experience with an online community through forums associated with the game. From that point on, my life was lived behind a monitor or a drum set. Needless to say, my parents were less enthusiastic about the Internet than they were about music.

As soon as I was able to afford an MP3 player (my first was an RCA Lyra with 64mb of memory) I slowly stopped listening to the radio. I haven't heard a radio ad in over 5 years.

Since I discovered Adblock for Mozilla Firefox (one of my favorite plug-ins of all time) nearly 3 years ago, my browser has been ad free.

2007 was when I finally picked up a DVR (wish I could afford a TiVo!) and I've fast forwarded through every commercial break since. Well, unless there's a really outrageous ad that plays like a 30 second comedy sketch.

I tell you all this to illustrate a point. I, and all my friends, have nearly isolated ourselves from every traditional media/advertising outlet. This is how I, and most of my Gen-Y peers, operate.

So, when the president of Maine State CU asked me to come up with ways for us to connect with such an isolated demographic, I got really excited. I've always been a fan of the Credit Union movement and couldn't wait to start working my web knowledge and Gen-Y viewpoint into our institution. The challenge came when I was asked to present my thoughts on Gen-Y and web 2.0 to staff and management. All of this seemed like common sense to me, how could I break it down any more than just "knowing" it? I really had to step back and look at the generation gap between the boomers and myself. Here is a list of points that I made in a presentation to staff yesterday.

-The way people use the Internet has changed drastically. The Internet is no longer simply a business or research tool, it is a social meeting-place for millions of people. You no longer connect to a server and are fed a faceless page, you are connecting with the person behind the monitor on the other side.

-Average people now have the power of the press. Web 2.0 lets average people be read, heard, and watched by thousands and thousands of people based solely on word of mouth spreading through the net. This is also known as "Viral Marketing" and it has been proven to be a powerful marketing tool and one of the fastest ways to get yourself noticed by large quantities of people.

Take for example Nine Inch Nails' latest album, Year Zero. They used no traditional media to spread the news of this album and instead relied on people to discover the hidden web sites and mp3 files and spread them around the net. Needless to say, it worked.

-Why should it matter to Credit Unions? Generation Y has grown up with this social Internet. They are growing up and becoming a huge consumer market. At the same time, they ignore much of traditional media either by tuning it out because of distrust, or by isolating themselves from it.

-Generation Y doesn't participate in traditional focus groups or committees. Generation Y, sometimes referred to as "Generation We", is much more interested in diversity and the collective group than their predecessors of Generation X, or the "Me Generation". Taking a select few people from the collective and having them decide what it is that happens for the rest of the community goes against their global perspective and diverse lifestyle.

Not only does it go against this diverse upbringing, but if it isn't entertaining, they won't participate. The trick is to create an environment with the possibility of discussion and then driving them to that venue by encouraging conversation about something interesting and engaging to the collective group.

-The social Internet, once seen as a waste of time for a massive group of apathetic teens, is being accepted as a powerful way to connect with a younger audience. Connecting with our membership, and potential membership, on a personal level is one of the things that makes us a credit union. These new web 2.0 tools are giving us the opportunity to reach people in a way once thought impossible. It makes it easier to know people's faces, preferences, and the way they behave in a very dynamic way. It's no longer a matter of memorizing faces as they enter the branch, but keeping a social circle online that allows us to keep track of potentially thousands of people.

-Generation Y loves to support a worthwhile cause. Look at young peoples support of the green movement, or the fight to end cancer. The Credit Union movement ought to be one of them, but we aren't as engaged in our community enough for people to see what our true purpose is. We tend to fall into the category of corporations who try to cover their backsides by donating money to a cause every year. In fact, here at MSCU we stopped doing small business loans...isn't that part of being a credit union, supporting local economic growth?

-What do we do about it?

-we need to rethink our view of participation. Gen-Y is out there participating in discussion, but not where we expect or want them to be.

-We need to change our conception of what a committee is. As I stated in this post, Generation Y (including myself) will not drive to the CU to do a committee, whether you offer them a meal or not.

-We need to rethink the way we interact with and serve our communities. If we want to get people to participate in the community, we need to be in the community participating.

-We need to meet them in their element, as people. Take Walmart's social networking effort. They entered the scene as "Walmart" and were berated for their questionable business practices. If you can enter it as a person, looking to learn, teach, and change the business you represent you can use this criticism to your advantage. Criticism can lead to change, which can lead to acceptance in the community.

-We need to improve our image and become more visible to our community and online. Image is almost, or more, important to Generation Y than products and services. A great example of this is the iPod. There are devices out there that do what the ipod does, but better and at a more reasonable price. The Apple image is what they care about though, if it isn't an iPod, it isn't as cool.

At least here at Maine State CU, we have a terrible Internet presence. The site was created years ago and has never been updated. The Internet is changing by the day, if we want to stay relevant, we need to keep up with all the changes and advances in web technology. Having a "friendly" front page is becoming as important as having a friendly face at the teller window.

So, there you have it, my view of Generation Y, from the mouth of a Generation Y blogger. I'd like to here how you view my generation, what we do, and how we behave. In closing here's a short film staring a friend of mine who is a film student at The Art Institute of Boston. It is a commentary on Generation Y and their dependence on technology. Social creatures behind the monitor, but apathetic and disengaged while in public or outside of their own little Gen-Y world.


Robbie Wright said...

Andy, great post! I'm in much the same boat you are, albeit just a few years older, and it is very refreshing to see a CU be open to these types of dicussions. Many executive teams I've talked with aren't nearly that open to being taught anything by a twenty-something.

Your points are spot on. Gen Y won't participate in focus groups, let alone actually come to a building for one. And the point about Apple's image is great to. We won't always go for the best (most expensive) or the value; we'll go for what fits us the best. Keep up the good work and keep us informed of what's going on in Maine!

Andy said...

Thanks Robbie, I was incredibly surprised at the executive response to this. They might not have understood all the web 2.0 stuff, but they certainly understand that its something important and they've showed a lot of interest in learning. Its refreshing to see leaders who don't use lack of knowledge as a reason to avoid exploring a new venue for discussion.

The VP even showed up at all 4 sessions!

Mike Templeton said...

Awesome work, Andy! Congrats on taking the initiative to challenge your management team to think in a new way.

I think part of the problem with upper management's understanding of the Gen Y culture is that they don't realize how large and influential we are today. Most of these managers have been in this business for years and still see Gen Y as a group of young kids in high school, whereas in reality Gen Y is the new workforce and the new population making decisions.

The CU movement was big with older generations, but no one has done anything yet to pass on that legacy and those ideals. Its up to today's CUs to adapt their way of doing business to match the way the world works. Large corporations are having an easy time adapting, but that's because these Gen Yers are working for those big corporations. I can't imagine that working for a credit union is topping the average Y's want-to-work-for list.

The best part is that it's not too late to change those perceptions. Common Wealth CU's Young and Free campaign is changing young peoples' perceptions every day in Canada. Now it's time for our (U.S.) credit unions to do the same. Get your CU involved and differentiate yourself.

CurrencyTim said...

Excellent post Andy. Your new voice in the Credit Union blog-o-sphere is a very welcome addition. Keep it up. I know you are going to make a difference.

Ben said...

I'm with you, Andy. Speaking of causes, what do you think XYZ Credit Union could do become a cause-oriented place or at least communicate it to Gen Y members?

Jeff Hardin said...

Andy: What Tim said - thanks for creating this space and for sharing your thoughts.

It's good to see a credit union allowing a younger person to share his/her perspective. It will be fun to watch and see where this is headed, both in the case of MSCU and CUs as a whole.

Andy said...

@mike Thanks! CU's certainly aren't topping the list of great places to work or be involved with. I think we've got 2 or 3 tellers that are under the age of 30 and the rest of the MSCU staff is 40 or older. Common Wealth and Vancity are truly leading us into a new era of the CU movement. They have found a way to engage this demographic, which has been nearly ignored, into the limelight of their credit unions. Its time to get out there and make some changes!

@Tim Thank you! I've been following both the Currency Marketing blog and the Young & Free program for a while now and I have to say, you have an incredibly unique and powerful view of the movement.

@Ben My personal view on this is that the only way XYZ Credit Union is going to become cause oriented is to look around the community you serve. What do you think needs to be improved? What are people talking about, complaining about, excited about, and get involved in existing volunteer efforts. Make a point of being a driving factor in getting people out in the community, tangibly affecting the place that they live. Even if its creating some sort of consolidated list of local volunteer opportunities and spreading the word about them to your membership and community. Become a source of information for people looking to lend a hand. A blog is also a great way to let people outside the walls of your CU get a glimpse of the internal efforts you are already making.

@Jeff Thanks, I really enjoy your blog! Things are changing rapidly. Sometimes I'd love to have a crystal ball so I could see where all of this is headed...but that would take all the excitement out of it!

Tony Mannor said...

Andy, congrats on rocking the foundation of the "Old School" with this post.

I am 33 years old and am still seen as a "Punk Kid" when giving presentations to a room full of 60 and 70 year old board members or executives. Don't sweat it though, you are definitely right in your assertions.

I think the confusion is that the execs and BODs don't know what social media is or what technology is out there. The best examples I can give are dating sites and google (since pretty much everyone has used at least one of the two).

I explain that I haven't cracked a phone book in about 7 years. If I cant find the info on google then that company either doesnt want my business or isn't established enough to fulfill my needs as a consumer. I can buy a url today and by tomorrow get listed on google. There is no excuse for not developing a web presence.

I am preparing a post on CES2008 (Consumer Electronics Show for those who don't know) and how the technology there proves that social media is not a "Passing Fad" (like 12 years of social media activity isn't proof enough).

You keep doing your good work and know that it is GEN Y that will be buying new cars (likely alternative fuel or hybrids) in 5 years and homes in 10 and if the credit unions don't start learning how to communicate with this bunch, they will be out of luck and out of business.

And don't forget that voices like yours is what will keep the CU movement moving along in the direction it has to in order to survive.

Andy said...

Thank you for your comments! My goal since day one was to shake some things up around here.

Social media certainly isn't going anywhere fast. It is too entertaining for too many people for it to fade away.

It even took ME awhile to see that all of a sudden, most of my friends are graduating college, getting engaged, and going into business, so I can see how its hard for the older generations to comprehend. My sister just entered her freshman year of high school. When did that happen?!

Also, did you attend CES? I've always wanted to go.

Anonymous said...

Andy, brilliant presentation. You have management material, that is for sure. Very well-reasoned and organized.

I do want to point out that there are a number of credit unions that are outstanding places to work. Last summer I had the honor of presenting a webinar from the boardroom of Spokane Federal Credit Union, which was featured as a Top 200 Place to Work in the entire state of Washington.

Also, I've seen the game room on the bottom floor of multi-billion dollar DCU (Digital Federal Credit Union) here in Massachusetts, and you wouldn't believe it. Video games, pool tables, etc. I think they have foosball and air hockey too.

Mike Templeton said...

I want to jump in and clarify my earlier comment. I did not intend to insinuate that all CUs were not great places to work, but rather that many are not doing what they need to do to attract younger talent. Spokane FCU and Digital FCU both sound like the kind of place I would love to work at. ;)

Andy said...

Its great that a few CU's have seen the importance of drawing in young people as employees. There was a quick conversation on twitter the other day between Caleb Chang, Mike Templeton and myself about having a Wii or other gaming system in the lobby for people to use while waiting, or having them in the break room for employees to use.

A great example of this is T-Mobil's call center that just opened a couple years ago just outside Waterville. They have break rooms with TV's game systems, pinball machines, etc. They seem to have great employee relationships. My girlfriend actually just got a job there and so far she's been very happy with the working environment.