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Socializing with Gen Y
Latest report from Forrester's "Designing for Gen Y Series" examines one of four approaches for engaging with Gen Y on the Web.
Posted Jun 19, 2009
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Forrester Research recently released the second part of its four-part series detailing how companies can reach Generation Y -- young adults between the ages of 18 and 28 -- online. The report, "Engage Gen Y Online With Social Interactivity," evaluated the Web sites of 20 large United States companies, from apparel retailers, automotive insurance providers, automotive, manufacturers, and wireless carriers. Findings served to determine best practices and missed opportunities when targeting this Web-savvy demographic.

This report is the fifth document of Forrester's "Designing for Gen Y Series," which began in November 2007 with "Gen Y Is Truly Different; Design Accordingly." Forrester has developed four broader approaches for reaching Generation Y:

  • Social interactivity (report published June 2009): Provide Gen Y with tools and easy-to-use methods of communicating and expressing themselves.
  • Immediacy (November 2008): Cut through the clutter and deliver value immediately, constantly, and consistently. At the same time, be vigilant in responding to customer feedback.
  • Gen Y Literacy (yet unpublished): Speak directly to them and in their language. Keep instructions simple and instead of wordy text, provide more images and fragments.
  • Individualism (yet unpublished): Allow Gen Y to personalize their interactions and customize their experience.

The social interactivity report focuses specifically on two critical capabilities Web sites must enable:

  • provide the ability to communicate with others; and
  • offer tools for self expression.

"The biggest difference [between Gen Y and the older generations]," Temkin says, "is that Gen Y is the first generation to grow up with digital technologies woven into their social fiber." Chatting, texting, and interacting via Facebook, are at the "core" of how this generation interacts, he says. "Since they started using these technologies at such formative years, their social connection with other people has been formed around digital devices."

Gen Y is anything but a passive participant on the Web. In response to that, Web sites typically have a "forward to a friend" feature, whether it's through email, or on social networks such as Facebook. Moreover, Forrester commends sites like AT&T that have public forums where consumers can engage in Web self-service or even chat directly with a company representative.

Still, Bruce Temkin, author of the report, highlighted missed opportunities when it comes to enabling communication. Women's retailer Charlotte Russe's "ShopTogether" feature is one of the few sites that offer "co-browsing" features. Friends are invited to shop together and chat simultaneously, an experience that, in effect, attempts to emulate the real-life shopping experience. In addition, consumers don't exclusively want to connect with each other. Temkin encouraged companies to give Gen Y access to the content creators, whether it's the reality stars on a television series or clothing designers themselves.

An "expressive bunch" with "fame-seeking tendencies," Gen Y appreciates tools that help promote its desire for recognition. This can be achieved with features as simple as opening up product reviews, to inviting consumers to share their stories on a particular topic (e.g., Toyota's "Stories from the Road"). The report also noted online retailer Zappos's approach of letting customers submit written and even video testimonials.

Where many companies have yet to take advantage of are ways of integrating the consumer creativity into the actual product design. This gives Gen Y a sense of collaboration and purpose in its interaction with the brand. Moreover, building off of Zappo.com's video testimonials, Temkin noted that brands can take the feature a step further and have users share how they're using the products in evermore creative ways. Finally, he encouraged companies to recognize and commend users for their participation, giving them motivation through recognition.

As Gen Y grows up, it will be interesting to see how digital persists into the next phase of their life. Temkin imagines that social interactions and entertainment will move toward a focus on careers and family, which inevitably elicit concerns around "risk aversion, investment outlook, and time allocation." Some things, however, will not change-namely, Gen Y's reliance on technology to solve their problems. Gen Y will not forgo solutions that will make them more efficient at work and in life, Temkin says. "I expect that technology will actually evolve with them to support and enhance their changing needs," he says. "They will become a much more powerful financial constituency over the next 30 [to] 40 years."

Consumers 18 and younger, Temkin says, are an even more extreme version of Gen Y, especially, Temkin says, when it comes to mobile. While Gen Y may be comfortable with texting, the majority of this group are likely to remember, or even may still own, phones with a dial pad. The first phones for the younger generation offer larger, touch screens and keyboards-all the better for faster and more texting. "Mobile," Temkin says, "will become an even more important connection for them."

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