“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.
I’ll have to check out Kara Swisher’s podcast – I used to read her blog religiously back when I worked for a tech company. There’s another great podcast called How to be Less Old. They talk a lot about social media but also pop culture and the hosts are hilarious! Each week they have a teenager or twentysomthing on the podcast (and occasionally an older guest) and discuss various topics. I highly recommend it!
That’s an awesome premise for a podcast. Thanks for the recommendation!
In this same vein, I listen to Who Weekly podcast. It’s totally silly, but it has actually helped me come up with some marketing ideas.
Cindy Cummins says
We engaged the power and knowledge of these young people as an integral part of DIYStyle! If you want to know what is going on in their world and use it to better your business and industry don’t just ask them….employ them. Get them involved. You would be surprised at how much they have to contribute. Now I have to go check out the podcast “How to be Less Old”! Seasonded pro’s and young newbie’s CAN work together successfully and build this industry. 🙂 Thanks for bringing this up Abbie!
Martha Oskvig says
In my former photo products business and on my community education advisory boards, I always had “teen advisors” groups ~ they volunteered so many interesting ideas quarterly with just the simple offer of payment in pizza! Membership for the groups was a two-year role with a change of participants in alternate years, so we had some comfortable with the format while infusing totally new perspectives with younger attendees.
Allison Dey says
If it weren’t for my daughter and a couple of other 20-something friends of mine, I wouldn’t know about any new music, new movies, new TV shows. I don’t have a TV, listen to radio only in the car, and don’t have a cell phone. But I do often watch movies and shows on my laptop when I stitch and download music I check out on iTunes or Amazon so I like to be in the know. But what I found sorely lacking for my business was all the phone stuff once it became the center of the known universe. Not interested in having one, not wanting another bill and preoccupation in my life, and not needing it as a phone, for internet, or anything other that maybe Instagram and video, it wasn’t worth it. My online business has not taken off, needless to say. But what I did do was go local and in person – and I asked. I asked teens, I asked retired folks, I asked millennials. And then I started making finished goods, kits, and classes that spoke to them. And suddenly, though I live in a town of only 8000, I am starting to build a monthly income that by end of next year might well be enough to live on. Relevant information isn’t just in the Cloud. It’s also on the ground and in the stories of our neighbors. Good topic!
That’s a great point, Allison. Just simply asking people can be so informative and although it’s obvious, it’s also easy to overlook.
Christy S. says
What a wonderful reminder that we need to look beyond our age group for news ideas and inspiration. When I was teaching high school, I had my foot in both worlds — the young one and the mature one. It is what I miss the most about leaving that career. Now, I am creating my products and business around a customer who looks way too much like me (but with more money, of course!).
Your post is a kick in the sewing machine for me. I need to start asking younger people what they are looking for in their home decor and see what I can adopt that fits my artistic style.
Thanks so much for this, Abby. Great topic and a good thing for my to-do list!