Frontline presented Douglas Rushkoff’s documentary Generation Like which examines how important social media is to our teens and how their digital world is dominated by the number of “likes”, “retweets”, and “shares”.
One teen interviewed by Rushkoff summarized the essence of her generation with five simple words – “it’s all about the like”.
According to a Pew Research Study conducted in 2012, approximately 95% of all teens in the United States are online. Teens are connected via their devices to their circle of friends and each day they post photos and comments while ingesting a steady constant flow of digital information.
Even kids at young as 8 years old have social media profiles and compete with their older siblings for “likes” on YouTube or Facebook.
What is different about Generation Like (kids ages 12 – 17) is that they are the first fully intergraded social media generation. These pre-teen and teens do not know a world without Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. They are digitally smarter and savvier than previous generations and most teens have a better understanding of social media than their parents.
Teens use the same social media marketing techniques that they have learned from corporate marketers. Using this knowledge, they develop and leverage their social media self brands with the same level of marketing proficiency as professionals. They are constantly posting content, curating their image and building their circles of influence.
Social media networks have replaces shopping malls of the 80s and 90s as the primary place for teens to hang out with friends. When online, they feel empowered and have the freedom to speak their minds.
The positive side to the teens’ social media engagement is that they are taking advantage of social media networks to jump start their careers before they enter high school or college. Teens increase their social media profile currency value by building a strong following with thousands of likes. This currency can be used to earn free products, endorsements or cash payments from corporations seeking to tap these teen communities.
Taylor Oaklay is a good example. He created a nonsensical YouTube channel in 2007 and then built an amazing self brand around his channel. Taylor perfected his social media skills and gained a following that exceed millions on the Internet by the time he entered college. He now appears as a guest host frequently on TV shows, is a freelance reporter for MTV and conducts corporate workshops educating social media marketers on how to develop a successful social media campaign.
What teens do not understand is the motive behind these social media networks and the corporate marketing machine. “Facebook is not a benign utility” it is a for-profit company with very demanding shareholders who seek a return on their investment.
Frontline examined the great lengths corporate marketers will go to create illusion of organic buzz around special events, new movies and product launches that are targeted teens. The Hunger Games movie franchise was used as an example. In reality, the buzz around the movie was a highly detailed sophisticated social media marketing campaign. Yet to the teens, it was real and they participated in the game of resharing information to earn badges and mentions from the actors.
Our teens play a social media game “king of the mountain” with marketers, who are also pushing the boundaries to see who (teens or marketers) can create content that wins the most “likes”. The marketers know what they are doing, but do our teens realize what is really happening and how they are working for free?
Companies need teens to sell products to their peers and award this loyalty with free products and mentions online. Generation Like has no idea what “selling out means” and when asked by the Rushkoff no one knew the definition or at least they pretended not to what the phase meant.
What was missing from the Rushkoff’s documentary was a discussion on how this social media race to gain the most likes could or would have negative consequences for our teens in the future. There was no mention of what may happen from posting inappropriate images especially for young girls.
Danah Boyd a Principal Researcher for Microsoft, stated “kids today have less mobility than they have historically. The kinds of trouble that we may have had when we were running around with our friends is now taking place in a very traceable, very persistent environment. So we have to recognize that that changes the dynamics.”
As parents, we do not know the consequences or potential problems our teens will face in the future as a result of their social media activity. While being mindful of the potential consequences, creating a balance and allowing space for our teens to grow and mature is equally important.
For the past two years, I have been researching, interviewing, writing and speaking about our digital transformation and its impact on us and our kids. After repeated requests, I have written a book for parents.
“You Posted What! How to Help Your Teen Use Social Media to Gain an Advantage for College and Future Employment” is about how to help your teen use social media networks responsibly, how to take advantage of non-profit platforms to explore career options and understand the potential consequences that can occur from posting content (photos, comments, videos) online.
The book is being pre-sold via a GoFundMe campaign and will be published in May.
I’m also in the process of writing two more books in this series about digital education and careers.