Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it’s not real

Several weeks ago, I attended a San Francisco Public Relations Round Table Lunch featuring Kit Yarrow as a guest speaker.

Kit Yarrow, if you don’t already know, is a consumer research psychologist, author and professor at Golden Gate University. Her latest book, Gen Buy, takes a look at Generation Y’s purchasing behaviors and what makes them tick.

Kit’s presentation was insightful and as a card-carrying member of Gen Y, most of her findings rung true for me personally. However, Kit made a passing reference about the lack of depth in social media interaction that got me thinking.

There’s a prejudice, primarily among older generations, against digital communications. Interactions that take place via social media or text message are viewed as less meaningful than face-to-face or verbal communication. I disagree.

Gen Y understands how online forums, instant messaging (remember ICQ?) and online gaming opened up our worlds. It allows us to find people with similar niche interests and expand our social networks beyond the people we meet “in real life.” For Gen Y, “virtual” does not mean simulated – our activities in the “virtual” world are very real to us. We’re the generation that pays real money for virtual gaming goods. We’re the generation that “meets” the president on Reddit.

We prefer to communicate digitally because we communicate differently, not because our relationships lack depth.

1. We grew up in the age of multitasking and digital communications facilitates this. We can switch seamlessly from work projects to GTalk to Facebook to Twitter. We hold multiple conversations across multiple platforms.

2. Because of the volume of our communications, we need our conversations to be archivable and searchable. If we forget what time an event starts, we don’t need to pester the harried host with a phone call. We just pull up the details on Elite or Facebook. Joining a project midway and need to catch up? Have relevant emails forwarded to you and read through the email threads to get a better idea of the project’s progression and current status.

3. Digital communications allow us to share in the banalities of each other’s lives, and we LIKE it. Some may scoff at mundane status updates about what one had for dinner or what one wore to a party, but think about your conversations with your closest friends. Aren’t those conversations about nothing in particular?

4. Our vocabulary now includes multimedia. We use pictures, animated gifs, emojis and video/audio clips to creatively convey our thoughts. Digital communications enable us to enrich our conversations with more than just words. An exquisitely selected meme is worth a thousand words.

The same principles apply to companies.

1. Companies should have a multi-platform approach to reaching audiences. – Your audiences will be spread out across different channels online and offline. Pinpoint those channels and prioritize resources accordingly.

2. Make your information easily searchable. – People often conduct their own online research. Facilitate their search by optimizing content on your own channels and have an active online presence.

3. Talk with your audiences. Listen to their stories. Share your stories. – Provide behind-the-scenes details about your product or company. People appreciate getting to know their favorite products and companies. Have a meaningful presence on social media. Don’t wait until you wish you had a Twitter audience or Facebook page to support your brand during a viral crisis. Don’t miss opportunities to have your brand’s fans and supporters affirm you on a daily basis.

4. Communicate visually and creatively. – Consider an infographic to display content in a shareable way or a cleverly captioned image to make your point.

So if I don’t ever call you, it doesn’t mean we’re not friends. It just means I prefer to text or talk online. Similarly, if you feel disconnected from your audiences, it’s not because they have nothing to say. You may just not be listening in the right places.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *