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.
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.