“If you want to know what teens are doing on social media, ask a teen.”
This is the subhead of a terrific interview I heard not long ago on a podcast called Too Embarrassed to Ask. The show aims to answer questions about consumer tech like which iPhone should you buy and do you really need an Amazon Echo. In this particular episode hosts Kara Swisher (Kara is my favorite person) and Lauren Goode invited Kara’s 15-year-old son, Louie, to join them to talk about how he uses social media.
Here’s what struck me most about their conversation. Rather than guess whether teenagers think Facebook is for old people or what teenagers are really doing on Snapchat, they decided to go to the source. Louie is smart and funny and seemed more than happy to explain how he and his friends use their phones.
I’m getting ready to head off to Houston on Thursday afternoon for Quilt Market. I remember reading the class description for fall Market last year and seeing a class called “Digital in Diapers: Targeting the Millennial and Generation Z.” It was taught by Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender, professional retail strategists who travel to trade shows and business conferences to speak and teach.
This is a clip from that talk (given at a different venue).
A talk like this isn’t without value, but I also think there’s a more straightforward way to find out how people who are younger than you approach retail: ask them. What if instead of this talk, or even better, in addition to it, there was a panel of women and men in their late teens through early thirties who enjoy sewing as a hobby and are willing to talk openly about their consumer behavior. How powerful would it be to hear from them directly about how they find DIY tutorials, where they turn to shop for supplies and on what device, and how they view their local quilt shop.
I revisited this topic again last week when the New York Times ran a really interesting piece about corporate executives who seek out mentoring from the young people who work for their companies. “As technology has changed the way businesses run, it has also put power in the hands of digital natives, and left older, less tech-savvy executives angling for ways to keep up,” writes journalist Kevin Roose.
We’re at a moment of particularly dramatic upheaval for all companies. In just twenty years everyone and everything went from off-line to online and it’s definitely lot to keep up with. My bet, though, is that older and younger generations have had a communication gap from time immemorial. There’s always been a certain sense of bewilderment and lot to learn from each other.
This brings me back to my own business. The Gen Zs that I interact with the most are the Wellesley College students who come to my house to babysit for my children. I remember back in 2005 explaining to Claire, our very first babysitter, that I had a craft blog that I was working on while she was taking our baby out for a walk. At that time Claire didn’t know what a blog was. I’m absolutely sure that things have changed and I’m hoping to strike up some conversations with our crafty babysitters now about how they access information, where they shop for supplies, and why.
My guess is that all of us have young people in our lives, relatives, friends, or colleagues to whom we could turn to and ask questions that would shed light on our businesses and marketing efforts. There’s certainly a lot to be gleaned from studying macro trends and looking at the results of big studies, but a lot of understanding can come from simply sitting down together for a conversation.