The Net Generation and the future of social media marketing

social media innovation

I saw Don Tapscott speak at SXSW and was inspired to read his excellent book Grown Up Digital.  Through extensive research, he identified the new norms and expectations of the “Net Gens,” the first generation to grow up entirely digital. How has this changed their outlook, their lifestyle, and their expectations of society?

It’s a fascinating perspective and I began to think through the implications for marketing. Clearly, understanding these norms is essential to the future success of our organizations.  So here are the trends he identified with a few of my thoughts on the impact this might have on social media marketing.


customized iPhoneThe Baby Boomers take technology for what it is and hope it works. Net Geners make the technology theirs. They want options.  They love to customize, and even the option to customize makes a product more attractive.

  • Impact – Have you noticed how people decorate their iPhones?  What would it look like if your readers could customize their experience with your blog? Customize exactly what they see from your RSS feed?  Why would they want your news stream when they can create their own? Ho do we enable our content consumers to determine HOW, WHEN and WHAT they receive from us?


While there is an unprecedented amount of content on the web, there is also an unprecedented amount of unreliable content — spam, phishers, photo shopping, inaccuracies, hoaxes and scams. Net Geners have a high awareness of the world around them and accept few claims at face value.

  • Impact – The irony is that the web is not as faceless and anonymous as we thought. The rising generation can sniff out a fake. There is little room for error.  However Net Geners also are apt to forgive companies who apologize and try to make up for mistakes.


Net Geners care about being honest, considerate, transparent, and living up to commitments. There may be some truth in pegging them as a narcissistic generation but they also care about community, close relationships, and security. The one exception here is an entitlement mentality when it comes to content. Next Geners do not want to pay for music, books and movies, even when they know it is wrong to go around the system.

  • Impact – Net Geners live a double standard. While valuing honesty, they have been conditioned to steal content and think it is OK. This is the gathering storm — content publishers who depend on copyright protection for their livelihoods versus an entire generation who will not pay for it. The implications for the future of the arts and all content creators is vast.


Working together comes natural for a generation accustomed to chat groups, multi-user video games, and file sharing. They bring a culture of collaboration to work and the marketplace. Ubiquitous access to the web via mobile technology makes them feel they have a constant friend in their pocket. They value contributing to product design, and feedback unless they feel a company might misuse it.

  • Impact — To win loyalists to our content marketing efforts, how do we involve this generation in the process?  What does open-sourced company content plan look like beyond one-off contests and promotions?  Collaboration is an opportunity for creativity, engagement and unprecedented loyalty.


Net Gener’s expect work to be play. At Microsoft’s campus, employees can play baseball, volleyball or soccer. There is a private lake, a gym, and 25 cafeterias.  Xbox consoles are everywhere. They even sponsor whale-watching excursions.  There is also an expectation of constant connection to web entertainment, even on the job.

  • Impact — “Entertainment” is a value I have been talking a lot about in my classes. How do we institutionalize “fun” as a content strategy?  How many of our companies even think about being “more entertaining?”  Three quarters of Net Geners agreed with this statement: “Having fun with a product is just as important as the product doing what it is supposed to do.”


marketing speedGrowing up wired means this generation is used to instant response.  They have an expectation that their lives and careers will progress at the same fast pace as their online lives.

  • Impact — To this group, delays of any kind result in irritation, creating an overwhelming expectation of service providers. If your typical service response to a complaint on Twitter is more than an hour, you’re going to lose customers.


This generation has been raised in a culture of real-time innovation. Favorite mobile devices and apps improve — sometimes dramatically — every few weeks. Net Geners live to stay current. Owning the newest device contributes to social status. To stay cool, you need “new.”  They are addicted to ideas and contributing to the latest innovations. Anything short of the leading technology is considered passe. Many teens I know will not even watch a movie if it is more than a year old.

  • Impact — You can already see the impact on consumer electronics where product life is measured in months or even weeks. If you are in an industry that is slow to innovate, is this an opportunity for differentiation and competitive advantage?

These trends are coming at us fast and are probably already showing up in your marketplace. What ideas do you have to capitalize on this information and re-invent yourself and your company?

Illustrations courtesy of BigStock photo and Microsoft.

The link to Grown Up Digital is an affiliate link.

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