Same world, different planet!

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28 January 2021 by Team ITG

Team ITG’s Head of Strategy, Claire Roshanzamir, explores how to effectively engage with ‘Generation Z’. the digitally native demographic born into immediate information and unfiltered communication.

I’m sure, like us, you were glued to Tim Peake talking about his amazing experiences for Team ITG’s Stronger Together programme. A truly inspiring hour watched by over 6,000 people and counting. 

But we were also fascinated by the very deliberate side-show. Specifically, what happens when you play the same content to kids, adults and businesses at the same time and let them react to it together.

Our choice to include schools in our programme was very considered – having young voices in the mix, with their different views and styles, is essential to us. It always has been, which is why we have invited schools to every one of our major events over the last few years. The kids are always honest, unedited and keep us on our toes, making sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously.  

This time, in the thick of lockdown, obviously everything we’re doing has to be delivered virtually. And rather than film, edit and polish – we still always choose to go live. We believe in the power of a shared moment; of watching something together, reacting to things at the same time. When Tim put his pictures up in the session, messages were coming hard and fast. People (young and old) had goose bumps, felt emotional, were in awe…at the same time. Yes, live events mean you need a little on-the-fly chat-management and tech wizards on stand-by – but it’s real. It matters.

The kids in the event gave us amazing insight into how their world of communication works. Like us, they’ve been adapting over this last year. Like us, they’ve had to shift pretty much everything online.

But this world of quick-fire, always-on and public communication is the only environment they know. So, given an opportunity to post on a chat forum, they’re on. Not necessarily with a thought-through point or question – with a constant stream of what’s in their head. Zero filter in place – just constant chatter.

From the Tim session, of the 1527 comments, 1364 were from the school kids. I think we can all guess that about 99% of the interactive emoji use was theirs too!

Of course, we had to filter some – given the magic of a chat facility that is anonymised, it’s too much of a temptation for some. But the majority were just happy to chip in, genuinely but frequently, with a hello, or a thought or a reaction.

There’s a model behind this behaviour. It focuses on the shift in thinking we are seeing in society, especially in our young people, moving away from being controlled and careful to a more immediate, open way of thinking and social media has exploded this shift.

To use all the right terms, it’s a change from Closed, Selective, Controlling thinking (CSC) to Open, Random, Supportive thinking (ORS). This means we are moving away from conscious, careful articulation of what we think to a more random, free-flow stream of thinking.  We have to be open to everything coming at us, we have to be adaptive and accept the disjointed way that things are arriving with us and we have to recognise everyone else is doing the same thing. It’s called Networking thinking or ORS.

This all comes in the context of our networks never having been bigger because of social media. This shift in thinking has had to happen, because interestingly there’s science out there that says the size of our contact lists and networks is now completely at odds with how many relationships our brains can calmly and consciously deal with.

A study by Robin Dunbar, a British Anthropologist in the 1990s, showed that the magic number our brain size can comfortably maintain is about 150 stable relationships, i.e. we have some type of social contact with 150 people. And when you dig into this a bit more, this number is actually a part of a bigger set of numbers. According to the theory, the tightest circle has just five people – loved ones. That’s followed by successive layers of 15 (good friends), 50 (friends), 150 (meaningful contacts), 500 (acquaintances) and 1,500 (people you can recognise). We can handle people coming in and out of these layers, but our brain needs adjust so that the rough number is still the same.  

But social media means that the number of people we are all interacting with is far bigger than this – far bigger than the brain can actually process rationally and selectively. So, we have evolved away from the Careful thinking approach (CSC) to a far more open, random style, trusting everyone around us to be doing the same.

The younger members of our community, of course, have the biggest social networks of all. They also have never known life without the internet, and its always-on, immediate chat, so they have never known anything different than this explosion and volume of digital relationships, which for them are often seen as important as real-life physical relationships.

Social currency is being seen, it’s being followed, it’s a legitimacy of who you are and what you think. The more provocative or funny or eye-catching you are, the more status you get. 17% of 11-16 year olds now want to be a social media influencer when they grow up, outranking teacher and vet (albeit maybe not an astronaut!); whilst one in eleven are aiming to become a YouTuber.

And interestingly they are bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘multi-tasking’. Kids are having these short, but constantly backwards and forwards, conversations at the same time as gaming or moving between multiple platforms. They’re constantly in flow. What’s more, they’re switched on to techniques to dodge the censors and filters, so that they remain in control and don’t get interrupted.

So – our Tim Peake chat makes complete sense. And when we plan our media schedules, our comms strategies and our targeting we should keep this in mind. For example, does your content lend itself to a two-way conversation, or are you just talking at people? How will your brand manage this new barrage of self-expression? Are you ready for Network thinking?

As our deliberate inclusion of the kids shows, this is the future of how communications are evolving. The constant stream of reactions, points of view and opinions in real time represents a challenge to some audiences who aren’t comfortable with the different styles of communication happening in the same place, same time. But we have to embrace it, because it’s here and it’s only going to accelerate. Especially at the moment, when lockdown is making all of this behaviour more extreme.

Our kids, thankfully and brilliantly, share our world – but when it comes to the intensity of their always-on conversations and life under the lens, they’re definitely on a slightly different planet. And one we can learn from.

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Article by Claire Roshanzamir – Head of Strategy

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