ROI Of Social Media For Gen Y Audiences (And How To Convince Your Boss)

June 25, 2008 at 6:41 am | Posted in Blogging, Books, Communication, Facebook, Forrester, Generations, Li, Charlene and Josh Bernoff - Groundswell: Winning in, Marketing, MySpace, Net gens, Online marketing, ROI, Second Life, Social Media, Tweens, Twitter, User generated content, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments
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Generation Y – roughly those aged 13-29 – are among the strongest consumers and influencers. And while social media like Facebook, delicious, and Flickr have garnered media attention, many businesses are still wary of dipping a toe in the social media water.

I argue that we can gauge return on investment (or influence) for Gen Y by looking at their buying power and online behavior and therefore that it is imperative that (most) businesses participate in social media. Plus, I will give you the research to back up these assertions so you can prove it to your boss.

Flashback: Ohio

Growing up in pre-internet Ohio, I spent a good chunk of my allowance and lawn-mowing money on comic books at the local pharmacy. If they were sold out of my usual books, I was SOL until the following month. Scarcity of goods required that I go where they were (and quickly!) or I would miss out.

Fast-Forward: Today

Now, post-internet, these stories sound quaint. Given a bank account, any kid can get any comic book from anywhere in the world. So what does this have to do with social media and Generation Y?: proximity to resources.

Today, consumers expect businesses to come to them. Long gone are the lazy summer bike rides to the pharmacy – today, young people expect to be able to spend their money just about anywhere. And where are they? Online, in general, and on social media, specifically.

Maybe this shift isn’t a surprise to you, but let me prove it with research (easily printable for timid bosses or humbugs).

Gen Y By The Numbers

  • Buying Power: “Among 13 to 21 year-olds alone, over $120 billion was spent in 2007…The group’s income is predicted to rise through at least 2017, when it will approach $3.5 trillion.” (The Harris Poll and Javelin Strategy & Research via eMarketer.)
  • Influence: “71% have influence over parental decisions about cable, DSL or dish-satellite services…62% have influence over which HDTV set and programming package to buy…70% feel their expectations and demands are far greater than their parents’ for rich media experiences…and on-the-go broadband access.” (Motorola via MarketingVox)
  • Online Consumption: “The group is very comfortable shopping online. One-half of consumers under age 24 made an Internet purchase between April 2007 and February 2008.” (Nielsen Online via eMarketer)
  • Social: “One statistic that jumps out is that young men and women are very likely to be Joiners, with around 60% participation in social networks, more than twice the level of participation of average adults.” (“Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Li and Bernoff, pg. 46)

Simply put, Gen Y are very powerful consumers. Plus, they are more social online than any other group. Facebook isn’t a fad. You cannot bury you head in the sand and wait for a return to the good, ol’ marketing funnel. That model is gone. Long live the new model.

Convincing Your Boss: Relate It To What S/he Knows And Emphasize ROI And Cost

The change is scary for everyone, but come on – this fits into an old-school model your boss will understand. S/he knows to target an audience and speak their language. S/he knows you go to where your consumer hangs out. The key to pitching a social media strategy to an old-school boss is to relate it in an old-school way.

Here’s another leg up on your rivals in the company: with a social media strategy, you will have the ROI to prove success rather than just conjecture. Web metrics and communication being what it is online, it’s likely that you will have more information than you can handle about your progress than less.

Finally, social media is cheap. Like, dirt cheap. I have worked in print publication and direct mail. That world is slower, less precise, and loads more expensive. Plus, if things change between the writing and the printing, you are stuck with useless package filler. Online is better.

The Gist

In other words, to convince your boss to partake in social media, speak his/her language. You do it with consumers all the time. Turn your methods inward and go for it.

Sidenote: If your boss still reacts negatively to social media, this is a useful sign that your company is not acknowledging the passing of time. Get off that sinking ship quickly!

While I have fond memories of biking to the pharmacy pre-internet, they are not memories so fond that I want to go back to them. I understand that while those times were nice, the times ahead are probably going to be nicer. Hopefully your boss will too.

Have you convinced an old-school boss to partake in social media? Feel free to suggest other tactics in the comments section. And if you like what you just read please consider signing up for email updates below.



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  1. One thing you do not discuss however is the effectiveness of advertising on social networks. If the tweens and teens are not in a purchasing frame of mind when they’re on Facebook or Myspace than your ads may not be worth the money you paid for them. It’s all about the click through rates.

    Instead of looking for direct response, social networks may be better places for branding.

  2. The most important concept that any business can understand — broken into two parts: your reach is the entire Web and people expect you to find them.

    The notion isn’t radical (you spell it out nicely), but convincing people that this is the way of the Web is — and moving forward with application is tough…for traditional businesses.

    Great post.

  3. […] in addition to their efforts on Twitter and Facebook. They understood that they were required to go to where their customers were, instead of expecting customers to come to […]

  4. […] ROI Of Social Media For Gen Y Audiences (And How To Convince Your Boss) […]

  5. Did you catch WorkFastTV’s recent interview talking exactly about this topic?

    They’re using social media in 13,000 of their stores and 22,000 employees using the system!

    64% of their retail employees are age 16-25, so its a no-brainer.

    But the big part is that ‘Corporate’ backed the effort – from the ground up.

    Joel Katz
    Religion and State in Israel

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