“No matter how cool you are, at some point you’ll find yourself sounding like your parents.” So warned Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Michelle Manafy, director of content at FreePint and editor of the forthcoming book, Dancing with Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation Transforming the Way Business is Done. The digital native has had a life-long immersion in digital technologies. The rest of us are known as digital immigrants. By the time they finish college, kids today will have spent more than 10,000 hours playing videogames and more than 10,000 hours talking on cell phones.
Manafy shared her fascinating insights on the obstacles and opportunities presented by this generation. Here are her three keys to understanding the emerging digital native.
1. They are all about public opinion and living their lives publicly. It’s public opinion not private lives.
Manafy provided some amusing examples of this, including a site called Ijustmadelove.com and gang members who actually Tweet about their activities and law enforcement who monitors this! We’re seeing the rise of a truly communal generation who will share all aspects of their lives. The use of social sign-on by sites allows users to sign in with an existing social identity, such as Facebook or Twitter. This creates a sense of community engagement.
2. This generation is about knowledge sharing not knowledge hoarding. If organizations don’t tap into this share knowledge, they will miss out on what digital natives can offer. She offered a number of interesting examples:
quirky.com – a place for social product promotion – ideas are rated and voted and one is chosen to be brought to market
Local Motors – a new American car co with all cars designed in an open community process
Pro Publica – an example of collaborative journalism
DigitalKoot – a Finnish cultural heritage project
Big companies are involved too:
P&G Connect – the company’s developer network
IBM is increasingly social in its innovation processes – it added My Developer Works to its developer network and reports that 70% of visitors to site come from outside of IBM. The developer of this site said “I came to realize that knowledge shared is power.”
Manafy says that people tend to focus on the marketing and promotion aspects but it’s more important than that. “If we can embrace this open knowledge sharing culture it will fuel a new era of innovation for us.”
3. This generation is interested in interactions NOT transactions. The new social capitalism is based on ratings and reputations. If you don’t provide a forum, your customers will find an outlet for their concerns, such as the unhappy United airlines customers who created a site to complain.
Manafy urges us to truly engage our users – listen, respond, react. The PBS Digital Nation Project sought viewer input on a documentary and attracted an incredible range of responses. She also talked about some engaging library projects. The Hennepin County Library has an amazingly successful program of community contributed booklists – it fosters a sense of engagement and reaction. The Library of Birmingham in UK seeks to provide a platform for knowledge exchange, provision of digital services, and leverages mobile technologies (QR codes, GPS, and augmented reality).
So, if we want to succeed in business these days, we’re going to have to think more like digital natives.