If you want a marketing lesson in communicating effectively, try teaching 35 middle school students as they play Minecraft and text each other about last night’s Twitter drama. “Geometry? #schoolsux !” Teaching taught me a few things about how to connect with an audience that’s permanently plugged in. Not only has technology changed the way we connect with one another, but I’ve seen first-hand how it has reshaped the way the digital generation thinks.
After much pondering, watching and listening, here are 5 things my students taught me about how to survive a world run – or soon to be run – by digital natives (the millennials).
Marketing Lessons from the 8th Grade
Keep my Attention: In a world of 60-second YouTube clips, kids’ attention spans have changed. “#Boring!” Expecting the same results with the old practices won’t cut it. Our world is interactive. Just look at this toddler for proof. Her brain is wired to interact with digital content. Isn’t a magazine just a broken iPad? Not only do we need to have something valuable to say, but we need to rethink how we connect with a generation that has a different operating system.
Be a Trendsetter: Any 13-year old girl will tell you that staying in touch is the best way to stay cool. While nothing can compete with meeting face-to-face, ways to connect across multiple channels are constantly changing. Cool kids are on the edge of the latest social media platform. They organize group presentations using texts and consider their gaming groups their best friends. Being aware of the latest tools is a must for any company, unless you prefer playing on the swing-set by yourself at recess.
Don’t Waste my Time: I’m a huge public library supporter – but let’s face it, many answers are now at our fingertips. “#Googleit.” With unlimited information online, working smart means sorting through the clutter, deciding whose voice to trust, and using critical thinking skills to evaluate it. So be a curator of your favourite content; a human filter with a unique point of view. People will thank you.
Don’t Dismiss our Games: Volunteering in a computer lab at Regent Park Focus, I watched a 9-year old boy who was failing most of his classes patiently learn how to code by watching YouTube videos. “Why do my homework when I can create a computer game?” Gaming has many benefits, from skills-building and strategic thinking to improving confidence and mood – and it’s a thriving industry. Don’t believe me? Watch this TED talk on how gaming is improving our world. And always finish your homework!
Foster our Creativity: Kids’ creativity is boundless. I was amazed by how quickly my students learned how to use Google Sketch-Up to redesign their inner-city neighbourhood, then share it with networks around the world. Remember: surprise people with your creativity, or offer them a startling new perspective, and they’ll repay you with their attention.
Certain cornerstones of success remain timeless: relationship building, hard work, creativity, and the ability to communicate and persuade, to name a few. Still, bridging the digital generation gap won’t be easy. We need to adapt our practices to new ways of thinking and interacting. Organizations that figure out how to do this will become true future leaders. Out there, somewhere, is an 8th grader just waiting to surprise us with the answer.