4 key perceptions of social media by a Gen Y focus group of one

Back in the days before the internet, the main stay of audience insight beyond surveys was the focus group. A gathering of relevant demographics in order to get feedback on products, adverts etc.

Now we have social data and insight. A magnificent cauldron of opinions, views, trends and sometimes plain weirdness. Sifted through monitoring tools, social gives us marketers a rich source of insight to inform strategy and content. And we love social data at immediate future.

But sometimes I think there is a bit missing. An element of why a person posts on social: what matters to them and how they perceive brands on social? In other words; the context. The flesh on the data that lifts us out of the numbers to understand the consumer better.

I had the opportunity, recently, to talk social media with a young lady. OK, just a focus group of one. But some of her views got me thinking. Her opinions do ground social media in the wider sense of reality and remind us that the audience on the other side of Twitter or Facebook is rather savvy.

Zoe is just about to turn 18. A Gen Y that has grown up with the internet and lived her teens connected on social media. Whilst no big spender yet (well not big ticket items like a house!), she is now making decisions about her future lifestyle. The perceptions today are the brands she could be loyal to, tomorrow.

Friends first and then the latest news

The primary motivation to be on social, is connecting with friends. It is interesting though, how that connection is not always on one platform. Zoe skips from Snapchat to Facebook Messenger and into Twitter. With groups and friends shifting quickly between the social channels, sometimes in mid chat!

She sees Facebook itself almost like a diary rather than a communications platform; only visiting Facebook to check out Birthdays and party invites. She doesn’t post on Facebook.

“Snapchat is like 5 or 6 different apps in one”, says Zoe, lauding the platform as the place for friends, gossip, celebrity and news. But Zoe has a passion for Twitter too (she has over 7000 followers). Especially when it comes to bands and artists.

According to Zoe, Twitter is where she finds things out first. Most recently, having waited months to a mostly socially silent Frank Ocean to announce his new album, she woke to find him trending yesterday morning and immediately rushed to buy the long awaited album. She connects with fellow fans here too. She met her now best friend after connecting via Twitter to attend a Halsey concert. She has real-life acquaintances and those she will never meet (too far away). Fellow fans all over the world. She spent last night talking to a Twitter friend in Cuba and the night before to one in America.

The social generation doesn’t know borders and doesn’t care about backgrounds. They connect over common interests and passions.


A place for every platform

Like Zoe’s opinion on Facebook, she has a clear view on other platforms too. Twitter is a mainstream for news on artists and celebs, but she also switches to Instagram, Kick, Tumblr, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat with the swipe of a thumb in the middle of conversations.

She plays along with some of the features too. Proudly telling me that she has a Snapchat Streak running for 144 days and counting (so not adverse to a little gamification). But she has a clear idea of what she values in each platform.

For instance of Tumblr she says; “Tumblr is where all the crazy people are. You find everything from fan fiction to creepy gifs. Somehow it is more acceptable to outrageous or different on Tumblr. Maybe it’s because the place is full of freaks, but it is the most fun, least judgemental social network”

Perfect profiles and real life accounts

Zoe has a very cynical view of those on social media. “I don’t need social to validate my life”, she says. Her view is that too many people are on social to tell you all about their perfect lives. Telling you about every moment they live from getting their hair cut to what they are eating.

It is one of the reasons she finds Facebook so ‘fake’. But she is scathing when it comes to Instagram too. She suggests that Instagram is Facebook a thousand times over. With people posting perfect pictures of their perfect lives. She tells me that many young people are obsessed about then getting likes. Jumping into FB messenger to ask friends for more likes and comments on their Instagram pictures.

Whilst Zoe doesn’t subscribe personally to this way of using social media, many of her friends do. She tells me that many have a perfect Instagram profile, but also a second ‘real’ profile where they post more normal pictures and talk to friends.

It seems Zoe and her friends are busy across multiple platforms and also with multiple accounts and profiles. And I mean busy, they are active on all these accounts fairly regularly – being perfect and real at the same time. They are a generation of publishers with a rather savvy idea of how to best present themselves as a brand too.

Sceptical of influence, but will still buy

Zoe has a friend who is paid to promote clothing. So I asked her what she thought about people being paid to influence. Like most people when asked if she was influenced by a social post, she said no (no one ever wants to admit it even when the data shows they do), but she said that if the influencer was authentic then she would be more likely to listen. And if she liked the outfit or product she would buy.

The key here was not about fame or popularity.it was about genuine people posting out relevant articles. Zoe didn’t care if they were paid or not. But she thought too many celebs just posted what they were paid to post. She and her friends were not fooled, she tells me. They ignore just those brands. But genuine profiles where the influencer has a passion for what they do and the promotion is relevant, well that seems to have an impact.

Brutal about irrelevant content

At best Zoe will ignore a brand that is connected with a celebrity. But should a brand approach her direct on social with irrelevant content then she is much more brutal. She blocks and reports adverts that are not relevant. And I don’t mean just relevant for her age (she has been getting alcohol brand adverts on social for the last 2 years whilst she is under the legal drinking age), but also those not relevant to the time of day, day of the week, or to whatever is going on in her life.

“Who wants to see a foot cream advert on Twitter two minutes before I am going out on a Saturday night”, she says. She wants to see brands that tailor content to her at the right time and with at least a modicum of understanding of who she is.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, Zoe is just a focus group of one. The insight could not be translated into action without more formal questions and a wider group discussion. But it adds flavour and the context to the data trends we already see.

What is interesting is the perspective Zoe has on social media. Her attitude to social, her scepticism of perfect profiles and brand manipulation, her assertiveness when it comes to irrelevant content and how much social is embedded into her life. This is the flesh on the bones of social data that gives brands the opportunity to refine and optimise what they do when trying to reach their future consumers.

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