Monday, July 23, 2012

The internet for young and old

There's a new television commercial running for State Farm Insurance which plays off the phenomenon that some believe that everything which appears on the internet is true.  And, there was a recent blog post, authored by a recent college graduate, who opined that all social media managers should be under the age of 25 as it is this group who truly understands this relatively new form of communication.

Now, on first glance, one might react and ask "what do these two things have in common?"  The answer is, "a lot."  Both are misguided points of view.  And, they are points of view which appear to originate from two opposite ends of the audience spectrum.

Let's first break down the comments of the 20-something about social media.  As you would expect, this writer, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, was skewered in the comments section of her post.  One response, which I particularly liked, was by a reader who suggested that advancements in technology are happening so rapidly that using this logic means the writer would have a career life of, oh, say five years or so.  Others happily piled on, and not all of the respondents were baby boomers like me who may have simply taken offense at this young whipper-snapper's point-of-view.  No, the respondents used logic and facts to explain why this editorial opinion was rather absurd.  As I read the responses, and re-read the post, I wondered "How many young people, starting out in business, actually agree with this writer but understand the career suicide that a voiced or written opinion like this would cause?"

The myth that all things on the internet are true is most frequently represented by e-mail missives I receive from an older family member.  The most recent group e-mail contained a column written by a conservative "journalist" and credited to have appeared in the Wall Street Journal.  I had the time so I did some quick checking--using the internet, of course--on this writer and his published work, and discovered the piece in question first appeared in 2010, on his blog.  It did not appear in the Wall Street Journal or any other mainstream publication or website.

My point in all this is that users of digital communications have a wonderful tool at their fingertips but one that can be mis-used so, so easily.

We know that the vast majority of information appearing on the internet has not gone through a copy desk or editing desk.  Suggesting then that the internet is the highway for all things factual and true is horribly misguided.  Likewise, a belief that only young folks "understand" social media or any other form of digital communications is bent as it is the older demographic who is most quickly adopting sharing outlets like Pinterest, Facebook and Tumblr.

As marketers, it is our job to understand consumer behavior in this vast new digital world.  It's easy to use one's personal bias as the basis for a point-of-view; it's harder to dig, find facts, and utilize real consumer insights to tap into the true, targeted potential of what digital has to offer.

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