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Why Gen Y Is Going to Change the Web

Written by Sarah Perez / May 15, 2008 11:30 AM / 105 Comments


Gen Y is taking over. The generation of young adults that’s composed of the children of Boomers, Generation Jones, and even some Gen X’ers, is the biggest generation since the Baby Boomers and three times the size of Gen X. As the Boomers fade into retirement and Gen Y takes root in the workplace, we’re going to see some big changes ahead, not just at work, but on the web as a whole.

There’s some contention over where exactly Gen Y starts and stops – some say those born 1983-1997, others think 1982-1997. In this week’s Entertainment Weekly, Gen Y is defined as “current 13 to 31 year-olds” and BusinessWeek says they can be as young as five. Regardless, we know who they are – they’re the young kids of today, the most digitally active generation yet, having been born plugged in.

How They’re Different

They’re Plugged In: The term “digital native” applies to most Gen Y’ers. Those in Gen Y grew up around computers, the Internet, mobile phones, video games, and mp3 players. They are web savvy multitaskers, able watch TV, surf the web, listen to music, and talk or text on their phones, often performing several of these things at the same time.

TV Isn’t King: Although you’ll find some Gen Y’ers obsessing over the latest episode of “The Hills,” and other shows, they aren’t watching TV as much as other generations do. Instead, Gen Y’ers spend more time surfing the net and using other devices, like iPods and Xboxes, even when it cuts into TV viewing. For them, TV is often just “background noise.”

They Don’t Care About Your Ad, They Care What Their Friends Think: Because they are immersed in media, both online and off, Gen Y’ers are marketed to left and right. But when it comes to making decisions, Gen Y tends to rely on their network of friends and their recommendations, not traditional ads. “Ads that push a slogan, an image, and a feeling, the younger consumer is not going to go for,’‘ says James R. Palczynski, retail analyst for Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. Instead, they respond to “humor, irony, and the unvarnished truth.” They’re also somewhat distrusting of ads, which is why grassroots efforts can also work. However, don’t get too comfortable, Gen Y doesn’t have brand loyalty – they’re quick to move the next big thing.

Work Isn’t Their Whole World: Sure, they’re going to go to work, but it had better be fun. For Gen Y, work isn’t their identity. It’s just a place. Gen Y sees no reason why a company can’t be more accommodating, offering benefits like the ability to work from anywhere, flex-time, a culture that supports team communication, and a “fun” work environment. They’re also not going to blindly follow orders just because you’re the boss. Sometimes dubbed “Generation Why?” they need to “buy in” as to why something is being done. Old school bosses may find their questioning insubordinate behavior, but they would be best to just change their management techniques and adapt. Gen Y hasn’t known much unemployment and they’re not going to put up with being treated poorly just for sake of a paycheck. (Bosses, your survival guide is here).

They’re Socially Conscious: Gen Y cares about the world. They pay attention to politics, the economy, social causes, and environmental issues. They think they’re a force to be reckoned with in elections and follow the candidates online on social networks. They read the news, but not in newspaper format, which is is going to hurt that industry even more as time goes by.

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