Young and emerging adults are lost, the conventional narrator goes. Out of work, at professional and personal dead ends, overly-dependent on parents and isolated from the “real world.”
For further elaboration, an episode of HBO’s “Girls” should do it.
Or look to our presidential candidates, who are in an increasing tight race for probable voters, and so are talking less about student loans these days and far more about Medicare.
A new study of this group suggests that this stereotype is far off. Parents and politicians alike may be missing how engaged these older kids and young adults are because their social consciousness, like their social life, is flourishing online.
The findings come from a report produced by the Intelligence Group, a company that studies youth trends and behaviors primarily for the business community. The report certainly seems to have crossover interest for parents as well as vote-seekers.
Researchers asked 900 young Americans questions related to their social awareness, activism, and political leanings.
The majority of the group reported high levels of interest in political and social issues, but also strayed far from traditional methods of expressing themselves in these realms.
Two out of three think that “a person on a computer, being aware and spreading the word” can create more change than “a person on the street, rallying and protesting.”
When subjects were given a list of 18 ways they might show their commitment to a cause — from making a donation to signing a petition to buying a cause-related product, the top choice turned out to be pressing “Like” for a cause on Facebook.
“This generation seems to be greatly misunderstood, and for those looking to connect with them ... it is critical to understand that Gen Y cares deeply about the world around them, even if they have their own unique ways of expressing it,” said Joe Kessler, president of the Intelligence Group.
I asked Kessler to talk about how these answers may shed light on the true social consciousness of young adults and also how their online connectivity might affect the current election. Here’s our Q&A:
JD: Your report suggests this age group is more involved and aware of political issues than many of us in the broader population think. Is there any evidence to suggest it will change their voting patterns?
JK: The most likely impact will be a continued increase in voter participation among this generation and those even younger when they are eligible to vote. Registering to vote, especially, is the type of action that is tailor-made for Gen Ys. They can do it online, they can share it through social media, and it makes them feel as if they’re making a difference, which they value highly. A
And while many who register may not get out to vote ultimately, it’s fair to assume that the more people who register, the more people will vote.
JD: What does this report suggest would motivate this age group to vote?
JK: The Obama campaign has employed many of the best methods for engaging Gen Y and motivating them to vote so, therefore, it’s no surprise to us that Gen Y votes for Obama by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Chief among those is engendering a dialogue rather than speaking “at” them. Also, they are adept at using the platforms Gen Y favors in the ways they’re intended to be used. And, finally, they invite participation in their campaign in ways that Gen Ys value. A prime example is Obama’s recent unannounced appearance on Reddit, where he hosted an “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) session and took down the site. Another is how they hold online contests in which supporters can participate in otherwise exclusive high-ticket fundraising events. They use social media to not just lecture, but to engage, and they understand that young people consume and share information in real time, so it’s important to be there, on the platforms they favor, as constantly as possible. We think of President Obama as the first truly social presidential candidate, and he has the 99 Klout social influence score to prove it (higher than both Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber).
JD: Does young adults’ use of technology obscure their energy because the older age groups, who hold more power, are unaware of it?
JK: One could argue that the impact of this generation on issues and elections will increase proportionately with the general understanding, and use of technology as a cultural force for communication and social action. In other words, their dependence on technology means that the true impact of their social consciousness is yet to be felt. And at a time when legacy publications like Newsweek are abandoning print to go all digital, the time for Gen Y to meaningfully impact the national dialogue is clearly upon us.
JD: Any more takeaways from this report?
JK: In most cases, political campaigns are really just learning how to engage young voters, so they need to not be afraid to experiment. But they might consider taking a page from the best-in-class companies and brands that have successfully engendered loyalty from Gen Ys by embracing the key cultural and social forces that drive them, rather than just reading and reacting to polling data. First, I would say, stay true to yourself. Marketers label this “authenticity” or “transparency,” but whatever you call it, Gen Ys can sniff out insincerity like no others, and given the real-time nature of their tech-driven interaction, will abandon you faster than you can possibly strategize to regain their trust if they catch you being phony.
Two, they expect collaboration, so invite them into a dialogue and give them the means to truly participate. Don’t just talk “at” them.
And, three, empower them to learn. They believe that knowledge, in and of itself, is power, so before you go about trying to persuade them to adopt your point of view, give them the information they need to shape their positions for themselves. If you do that, it’s far more likely that your position will be heard and considered.
One last point for politicians…If you think you are moving the needle with Gen Ys through traditional television advertising alone, you’re wrong. For one thing, they are increasingly consuming visual media on their own time and in their own ways as emerging digital platforms are giving them the power to do so. But, more importantly, they develop their opinions, about everything, largely from the recommendations of the people they know and trust. So, you’re more likely to move them by joining that circle of “friends” and family than you are by trying to “sell” them through time-anchored TV ads.