What Companies Should Know About Digital Natives

Left: Dr. Urs Gasser of Harvard’s Berkman Center, who focuses on Digital Natives.

I’m live blogging from Corporate Social Networking Conference in Amsterdam, and listening to Dr. Urs Gasser of Harvard’s Berkman Center, his website and twitter account (works with friend Doc Searls) who coined the term “Digital Natives”. In my opinion, the Berkman Center is the leading think tank in academia focused on the internet and impacts to culture.

[By age 20, kids will have spent 20,000 hours online –the same amount of time a professional piano player would have spent practicing –Dr. Urs Gasser]

The kids born after 1980 are often thought of as Digital Natives but age doesn’t always matter as the generation is defined on: access to digital technologies since birth, age, and have the skills to use the digital technologies. Those who come before these digital natives are referred to as digital immigrants. For what it’s worth, I’m right in between both, giving me a perspective of both worlds.

Key Characteristics of Digital Natives:

They interact with the peers across the globe: This impacts employers, brands, teachers, parents, as this first generation enters the workforce.

Always online: By age 20, kids will have spent 20,000 hours online –the same amount of time a professional piano player would have spent practicing Urs Gasser, paraphrased
Multiple identities, personal and social, shared online and offline (blurring): Online representation is the same as physical representation: what your clothes, friends, vehicles say about you.

Extensive disclosure of personal data: 35% of girls in US are writing a blog vs 20% boys. Opportunity for HR departments to learn more about their employees, but guess what? They Google you too.

Culture of sharing: The default behavior is information sharing, not only do they have the right to speak, but to be heard. Risk: breach of confidentiality is hip, digital natives are fans of wikileaks.

Creators, no longer passive users: This generation creates their own content and shares their opinion online, see the Forrester’s social Technographics to learn about the data.

Information processing habits: Pointed out that the second most popular social network was YouTube. They often ‘graze’ the headlines and don’t often read the full article. (I guess few natives will read this far? Prove me wrong in the comments). Opportunities: companies should allow natives to increase creativity to rip, mix, burn content to encourage interaction.

Peer collaboration, online activism: They often experience work with community builders, and are responsive to intrinsic motizations.

Learning through browsing: Yes wrestles with amount & quality of information, generational “multitakers”. They may not be able to identify qualified and expert sources. “If it’s online, it must be true!”

On a related note, this month, I’m starting a research paper on Social Behaviors of Generation X, which is a bit older than Generation Y, if you’re a brand or agency that has case studies of how you’ve reached Gen X using social technologies, I want to know. Email me at jowyang at Forrester.com

Pics from the event, at a converted industrial complex westergasfabriek “Western Gas Factory”, extremely hip venue.

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