OPINION1 October 2011

Going native

Features

Paul Hudson of Intersperience explains five things researchers need to know about the Facebook generation.

Paul Hudson of Intersperience explains five things researchers need to know about the Facebook generation.

Many young people today have never known anything but the world of mobile phones and social networking. These digital natives will have a major influence on future products and services, but researchers can struggle to engage with them. Paul Hudson of Intersperience shares some of the findings from the agency’s Digital Futures study of 8- to 25-year-olds in the UK.

1. Just because they are online doesn’t mean they only want to interact online

The continuing rise in the popularity of Facebook has led to the automatic assumption that the most effective way to engage with digital natives is online.

However, our research showed that this generation does not want to communicate solely online, with 67% of 18- to 25-year-olds saying they like to talk to friends face to face, while only 28% like to chat online. Among 8- to 18-year-olds, 55% said they like to talk face-to-face and 35% online.

When it comes to communicating with companies, 18% of 8-25s said they would not use any digital methods. The implication of this is that a wholesale shift by the business community to online communication would not be effective with this generation.

2. The mobile internet is important, but is used differently from the fixed internet

Some researchers see mobile as the best way of reaching digital natives, as their mobile use is ubiquitous and smartphone adoption is rising fast.

However, when we asked 18-25s what they would most like to use their mobiles for in future, the answers focused mainly on personal – not commercial – use. Half said their primary activity was social networking status updates. Playing games also scored highly, however – underlining an opportunity to engage with digital natives via surveys with an interactive gaming element.

Understanding how people use the mobile internet is also vital – it is characterised by short bursts of activity. Our research showed that ten minutes is the maximum most people spend using the mobile internet at a time, mainly for problem-solving, finding small pieces of information and location-based enquiries.

Mobile apps have a strong appeal as a research tool which enables instant and cheap feedback, but in practice response rates are low. Apps can work well in some situations but not all – few people will tackle a 50-question survey on a mobile.

Mobile apps are best suited to niche research tasks such as mystery shopping or diary-based studies and if they include direct questions, they should be short and simple.

The topic of intrusion is already an ethical minefield and could well become a legal one if, as seems a real possibility, lawmakers restrict commercial use of personal data from social media sites

3. They are no less savvy about personal data than their parents

A common misconception about digital natives is that they are naive about disclosure of personal data online. But our research with 8- to 25-year-olds revealed that they are generally smart about these issues.

In fact, younger people are keenly aware of the value of personal data and know they can choose to withhold it or use it as currency. They are also highly selective about who they want to share data with and on what terms.

When we asked 8- to 25-year-olds what they would do if a website asked them for personal data, 32% said they would close it and not return to the site, 30% said they don’t like to give personal data to websites and 20% said they would only give data for something in return. An arresting statistic is that 22% said they would give false personal details.

The implication for research is that digital natives do not surrender personal information easily – but incentives can work.

4. They resent corporate intrusion into their social networking space

The issue of corporate intrusion (of which research is often seen as an example) into social networking sites is one that prompts fierce debate. The overriding objection young people have to corporate intrusion on social networks is that their social space is personal and they want to keep it that way.

While lawmakers grapple with the complexities of social media, many regard the social networking arena as fair game for research activity. Consequently the use of scraping or harvesting software to extract personal data for research is growing.

To a large extent the public are unaware that this is going on, but it remains a contentious issue, sparking outcries in several instances where it has come to light, especially when it involves the use of data obtained from tracking people’s friends online.

But the practice continues, encouraged by a tendency for companies to regard ‘fans’ of their brand as a ready-made focus group. From the user’s point of view, hitting a ‘Like’ button does not necessarily equate to tacit consent to engage in market research, and such activity may be resented.

Researchers may take steps to disguise data, stripping out identifying facts about individuals, but the practice remains controversial.

Likewise, some companies regard Twitter harvesting as no more contentious than collecting information from newspapers, as it is publicly available, and there are numerous examples of companies using Twitter to react to criticism or improve service. But this does not necessarily mean corporates are welcome there.

We asked 8- to 25-year-olds how happy they would be if companies were to use their Facebook information. None were happy about the idea of companies using their status updates, only 12% were happy for comments to be used about something they had bought, and just 15% were happy for comments to be used regarding a service they had received – not exactly a ringing endorsement for companies to engage in these activities.

The topic of intrusion is already an ethical minefield and could well become a legal one if, as seems a real possibility, lawmakers restrict commercial use of personal data from social media sites.

5. They don’t always find online forums engaging

An increasing number of online forums have been created with the specific aim of engaging more young people. They have worked to a limited degree – younger people do use forums, but tend to be less active in brand-sponsored activities such as research communities. The most vocal demographic on forums is 30- to 40-year-old males.

This is because younger people value their anonymity, which makes them reluctant to disclose personal data, and their attention is focused on their own community, which overwhelmingly means Facebook.

Tactical ways to overcome these barriers include looking anew at how you drive people online. Historically this has largely been done by email, but digital natives tend to favour Facebook.

Intersperience has used Facebook and mobile apps to deliver invites, information and access to online research communities for brands including Iceland and Matalan. The advantage is that you are communicating with people in their own space and on their terms, allowing them to participate in a way that fits their lifestyle. Combining this with incentives resulted in better engagement and higher response rates.

Paul Hudson is chief executive of consumer researcher Intersperience. He began his research career in 1998 having previously been a consultant at Nestlé. Read more about the Digital Futures study at intersperience.com

1 Comment

9 years ago

A really thought-provoking piece, this, and a refreshing change from the Facebook love-in that seems to be happening across the board in marketing and research. It's been very surprising, particularly over the last 6 months, to see how common sense sometimes goes out the window when it comes to social media and mobile use. Neither is magical, mystical, or operates outside normal rules - consumers still follow the same tendencies and have the same needs, and use such media accordingly. Favourite point (which illustrates this very well): "But the practice continues, encouraged by a tendency for companies to regard ‘fans’ of their brand as a ready-made focus group. From the user’s point of view, hitting a ‘Like’ button does not necessarily equate to tacit consent to engage in market research, and such activity may be resented." Not enough people remember this simple fact; if I could tattoo this onto the forehead of every media planner I meet, I would... ;c)

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