Digital generation: The Y-fi hotshots

They’re tech-savvy multitaskers, natural networkers and canny consumers. Vision explores how brands and employers must adapt if they want to get the attention of ‘Generation Y’

Their moral values may be fairly similar to their elders’, but having used mobile phones, computers and the internet since childhood, ‘digital natives’ have an inherent ability to incorporate new technologies into their professional and personal lives. “The definition of a digital native suggests these are people born after the general implementation of digital technology,” says Tania Gupta, Digital Media Consultant at Socialize, the UAE’s first dedicated social media agency and training house, based in Dubai.

“Digital natives have attitudes defined by pervasive connections and the availability of participatory technologies and mediums,” she adds. “The prerequisite of having a digital presence is a digital identity. These are individuals who are living their lives in two realms: in real life and in the digital realm. Their values are related to issues such as privacy, creativity, piracy and activism.”

A 2011 study carried out by the technology company Johnson Controls to evaluate the lifestyle of the new generation entering the workplace found that technologies and the internet have permeated all spheres of their lives and are omnipresent. This should come as no surprise given the amount of time digital natives spend on the web. The majority of them surf the net between two and four hours a day, while a quarter of them do it from four to six hours a day.

Addictive technologies

Out of the 2,800 respondents surveyed in Germany, the UK, the US and China, 74 per cent thought that new technologies were addictive, 61 per cent felt cut off from their friends and that they were missing out on a large part of their life without technologies, 55 per cent said that without technologies they can’t keep up with life and 77 per cent believed that it was important to have advanced technologies in their workplace.

“Digital natives are inseparable from any form of technology that provides them with constant updates on happenings in their lives, their communities, their societies and the world in general,” says Gupta. “The average digital native starts and ends their day reading the latest status update on social media. It’s a culture of sharing – sharing what one is doing, who one is with, where one is and perhaps even what one will do next.”

In the workplace, these attributes make Generation Y particularly valuable. These information junkies need to be always ‘on’ and have a natural ability to multitask. They can process vast amounts of information simultaneously. They are natural networkers, communicating fast and efficiently. Digital natives are skilled in the art of sharing: their experiences and opinions are made public in real-time through updates, tweets, pictures and video via social media. They enjoy working in a team, which enables them to collaborate with different generations.

Because the new wave of office workers uses collaborative technologies, they are able to work in virtual teams, allowing them to spend less time at their desks. Unlike previous generations and notably baby boomers, digital natives are willing to swap higher pay for more free time as they aim at a better work-life balance. This does not stop them from being ambitious, committed and enthusiastic, but work for them does not just pay the bills, it has to be joyful and fulfilling, too.

Employers will have to adapt to these new constraints by offering more flexible working hours, better and more technology and by enhancing internal communication and teamwork. Professional network LinkedIn surveyed more than 7,000 professionals globally for its Office Endangered Species study and asked what they expected to be work staples. The respondents selected tablets (55 per cent), cloud storage (54 per cent), flexible working hours and smartphones (which tied at 52 per cent). They expected desk phones, tape recorders, fax machines, Rolodexes and standard working hours to disappear by 2017.

Brand loyalty

When they consume, digital natives also do it differently from previous generations. Selling to them is a process where they need to feel empowered. Do it right and they will stick to the same brand for years. “Unlike their predecessors, digital natives came to age in the post-internet era and will not be completely satisfied with hard selling. The selling is an act of gaining loyalty,” Gupta argues.

Brands wishing to appeal to digital natives must give them content that is creative, engaging and share-worthy, enhancing positive experiences.  Gupta believes brands that step away from the traditional and the conventional are the ones that reach them. She cites the most recent example as Red Bull’s Stratos mission on 14 October, when the Austrian stuntman Felix Baumgartner climbed 128,100ft in a stratospheric balloon and made a freefall jump, rushing towards Earth at supersonic speeds before parachuting to the ground.

According to the UK web analytics company Matraxis, which measures social media activity, there were more than eight million concurrent live streams of the Stratos mission on YouTube, on Facebook the official pictures posted by Red Bull gathered 29,000 shares, 216,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments in less than 40 minutes of being posted, while on Twitter there were “millions upon millions” of tweets supporting the event and sharing in the excitement of Baumgartner’s jump.

“The event was live-streamed to millions of people through technology intricately connected to their lives, such as smartphones, computers and tablets,” says Gupta. “Each brand needs to create a story around their customers and allow them to come up with a narrative about their experiences with the brand. It’s about empowering them through conversation and giving them a sense of ownership. They want to discover the brand for themselves as opposed to being told why they should buy the product. Digital natives have their eyes everywhere and that’s where brands need to be, too.”