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Integrating Your Church’s Website and Assimilation Processes [a Whiteboard Sketch]

Whiteboard Sketch

If you’re like most churches, your website is chalk-full of information about the various ministries and opportunities people have to get involved within your congregation. But, how do you know if your website is set up to help you move people through your assimilation process? Above is a sketch of some of the ingredients you’ll want to make sure to include in your website to help you achieve your assimilation goals. Let’s take a look at who is using your website, what goals you have for them, how to get them to take the steps toward those goals, and how you’ll know if you’ve succeeded at using your website to drive your assimilation goals.

Who is Using Your Website?

The three groups of people who will find themselves on your church’s website are:

  1. Prospective Attenders/Guests
  2. Attenders
  3. Members/Promoters

As you organize your website, you’ll want to keep in mind how accessible information is to each of these groups of people. You may place more emphasis on one group over another, depending on your goals, but no group of users should go overlooked. 

What are Your Assimilation Goals?

First, let me acknowledge that every church has a different approach to assimilations. Depending on the size of your church, welcoming people into the body can be a rather simple or a rather involved process. But, let’s just assume for a moment that your goals are to welcome guests and get them involved in your church. For today, we will define “assimilation processes” as just that – moving someone from feeling like an outsider to feeling like an insider in your church.

Here are some goals you may have for guests at your church:

  1. Attend on a weekend (Does online attendance count?)
  2. Return on a weekend
  3. Join a small group
  4. Serve in a ministry
  5. Become a member
  6. Love your church so much they talk about it to their friends & online

These goals can be summarized into driving prospective attenders/guests to come into your church, and driving those who have already been to your church to take further steps to get involved. Now, how does your website play into these goals, and how can you know if it’s working?

How You Can Leverage Your Website to Assimilate Guests

First Point of Contact (P.O.C) = Website (or possibly Social Media)

Where do they start? Chances are, people who are thinking about attending your church found you either by driving by one of your locations, Googling churches in your area, or hearing about you from a friend. Either way, they are going to look you up online before they step foot in your door. These are your “Prospective Attenders/Guests.” So, what do you need include in your website to get them to come in?

Whiteboard Sketch_Prospective Attenders

First, they are going to need to know who you are, some about how long you’ve been a church, what you believe, where you’re located, what times your services take place, who is on staff, what you’re studying, and what other fun things your church has going on. Check to make sure you have a clear About Us page, Service Times listed somewhere obvious, Locations listed somewhere obvious, and information about your staff, current series, and calendar readily accessible. 

If your regular attenders and members are promoting you on their social media pages, it’s also possible that someone’s first point of contact with your church will be one of your social media pages. So, you’ll want to include About Us information on your social media page, location information, and service times. The most important ingredient you’ll want to include on your social media pages to get guests to come in is PERSONALITY! Don’t forget to post funny pictures of your staff or pictures of transformational moments at events. 

Second Connection Point = Attended on a Weekend / Attended Online

Whiteboard Sketch_Return on a WeekendLet’s say they come in after exploring your awesome website! Great! Now what do they need in order to be able to keep attending? Your assimilation processes probably already outline this step – a phone call, a welcome note, an email, etc. But, what about your website? Does it help them want to come back again? I recommend including a place where they can listen to past messages and submit forms to inquire about small groups, serving in ministries, and becoming a member. 

Third Connection Point(s) = Join a Small Group, Serve in a Ministry, Become a Member

Whiteboard Sketch_6These are probably goals you have for people in your church, your “Attenders”. Obviously, the in-person connections they have with people while at church are going to play a larger role in getting people into small groups, ministries, and membership. But, your website has a role to play as well, so don’t over look it. 

Join a Small Group

If you want people to join a small group, what information do they need? I recommend having a list of groups and a form to submit that expresses their interest in joining a group, so someone can follow up with them. 

Serve in a Ministry

If you want people to serve in a ministry, you’ll probably want to have a list of ministries, a web contact form, so they can have someone follow up with them, and you’ll want them to observe the ministry in action. In my opinion, pictures and social media of that ministry in action can help along that process, but they really will need to come in, meet a staff member, and observe, if you want them to stick around. 

Become a Member

If you’re looking to get people to become members, you’ll want membership information online, possibly a video explaining the membership process, and a form to submit interest in becoming a member. 

Fourth Connection Points = Invite Friends to Church (and promote on Social Media)

Whiteboard Sketch_7One of the ways you can tell if someone as moved from an outsider to an insider within your church is if they are inviting friends and promoting your church on their social media pages. I call these people “Promoters.” According to Gary Vaynerchuk’s book The Thank You Economy, sharing about you with their friends is their way of saying thank you for the great experience. The great thing about Promoters is that their conversations cycle back around to reaching Prospective Attenders/Guests! 

You can also fuel this online promotion through your church’s social media pages as well. Give them something to share! Use hashtags, make sure you have a user-friendly username, and create fresh, creative, entertaining content. 

How Do You Know If You’ve Succeeded?

My advice is to set metrics and monitor your web metrics. 

For Prospective Attenders/Guests, look at:

  • Referral Sources
  • Landing Pages
  • Exit Pages
  • Their flow through your site

I would recommend playing a game and watching your web hits and comparing them with weekend attendance. Watch which pages people visited, and single out service times, locations, about us, staff as probably first or second time guests. Watch social media views and shares and compare with weekend attendance. And, qualitatively, try various types of content shared on social media channels and slider images to see if this affects attendance. Compare to the same weekend last year for clearer insight. 

For Attenders, look at: 

  • Views of small group pages
  • Views of ministry pages
  • Views of event calendar and event registration pages

Then, monitor your internal database to compare the views on these pages with the actual number of people who joined groups, started serving, or became members. 

For Members/Promoters, look at: 

  • Shares on your social media pages
  • Referral sources (to see if other new people are finding you as a result of online sharing)

Then, continue to post valuable content to make yourself more visible online. 

There you have it, the whiteboard discussion of how to leverage your website (and social media) for achieving your assimilation goals. What questions do you have? Have thoughts on how this could be improved? What do you need to add to your website to make it better serve Prospective Attenders, Attenders, and Promoters? Share below. 

Refresh Your Marketing Perspective: 7 Transformational Books to Grab Today

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Print Isn’t Dead!

No matter where you find yourself in your marketing journey, there is always more to explore of this fascinating field. Because marketing technology continues to evolve and  customers continue to adapt to new uses for the Internet, staying up-to-date with current marketing communications trends can be an intimidating prospect. So, many of you, myself included, have resorted to reading briefs (see: SmartBrief.com &  iab.com), attending webinars/downloading guides (see Hubspot.com, Adobe.comVocus.com, & Unbounce.com) and following blogs (see Social Media Examiner, A List Apart, Social Media Today, Adage.com, & Moz.com). While this information is absolutely valuable in developing your marketing skills and insights, I do believe that PRINT IS NOT DEAD. After exploring quite a few of the books related to this field, here are the ones I recommend ordering/downloading, opening, and quoting to your colleagues.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 6.58.56 PM 1) Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

This book is a great exploration of how to leverage the existing conversation taking place amongst your customers (i.e. the “groundswell). It suggests that categorizing consumers by their media use as “creators,” “critics,” “collectors,” “joiners,” “spectators,” and “inactives” can help companies better engage and spread brand awareness amongst target audiences. The brilliance of this book is in its exhortation to listen, then talk, then energize, then support the “groundswell.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 7.06.24 PM 2) Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, EBooks, Webinars (and more) that Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley and CC Chapman

By reading marketing blogs online, you obviously understand the importance of great content, which can educate, build trust with customers, boost search engine optimization (SEO), position your company as your industry’s leading expert, raise brand awareness through viral buzz, and build an online fan base. The greatest contribution this book has to content marketing as a whole is its insight into how often to post content on the various platforms (i.e. social media platforms, blogs, video platforms, and even in print). In addition, Content Rules, provides inspiration for those who don’t know what content to produce next.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 7.18.15 PM 3) The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

I love The Thank You Economy because it takes an approach to marketing, and more specifically social media, that is based entirely on relationships. Vaynerchuk has proven through his online business, WineLibrary.com, that social media takes us back to the world of yesteryear, in which customer loyalty and sales are based on relationships rather than just products. The greatest contribution this book offers to the industry is its insight into how staff management affects employee satisfaction, which drives employee-customer interaction, which drives loyalty.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 7.26.07 PM4) Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik

Avinash Kaushik is basically the world’s leading expert on web analytics. While his blog, Occam’s Razor, is a goldmine of helpful and current analytics insights and tools, this book breaks down the basics of web analytics with a broader perspective. He includes the necessary vocabulary, concepts, strategy, and tactics behind web analytics. The ultimate goal toward which Kaushik drives is helping companies identify and leverage website visitors for improved sales and conversions.

reaching out in a networked world5) Reaching Out in a Networked World by Lynne M. Baab

I stumbled across this gem in a used bookstore in Milwaukee, and it has blown my mind! Written in 2008, Lynne Baab, explored dozens of churches and analyzed their approaches to marketing communications – everything from bulletin fonts to website layouts to the way the pulpit’s communication did or didn’t line up with their print communications. This book will be maximally pertinent if you work at a church or non-profit. However, one of the greatest contributions this book offers is Lynne M. Baab’s commitment to visual communication. As our society shifts from verbal to visual communication, Baab suggests some helpful tools and frameworks for thinking about visual communications.

the brand gap6) The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

This extremely quick read clarifies what a logo is, what it is for, and why it is important to have a consistent graphic style at your organization. Neumeier sheds light on how to begin building a consistent brand for your company by establishing a consistent, recognizable graphic style. This book uniquely contributes to the marketing communications conversation by clarifying the purpose and true intent of the logo.

 

hey whipple squeeze this7) Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan

This book plays off of advertisements of yesteryear and the-envisions what marketing creative strategy should look like today. As technology and culture have shifted, marketers are being forced to think ever outside-the-box to find ways to “cut through the clutter” and provide memorable and actionable messages to customers and prospects. The greatest contribution this book offers is its sparkling ideas for going outside old-fashioned marketing to reach and entertain customers.

 

Beyond these books I have already read and recommend, here are others that are on my reading list for this fall:

Finally, for those of you who are interested, here are the required readings for my program. Many of these books are quick-reads, not just textbooks, so I highly recommend taking a look and reading through as many as you can! Good luck and happy reading!

Have some other marketing books you love? Share in the comments below!

Social Media Good to Go? What about your Social/Local Listings?

Image Credit: HubSpot

Image Credit: HubSpot

Which Social Media Sites Matter?

If you had to list the key social media sites that will make or break your company’s social media presence this year, what sites would you list? Let me guess: Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Maybe LinkedIn, depending on your industry. Some of you may even include Pinterest, YouTube, and/or Google+. While these social media sites should absolutely be an integral part of any brand’s social media strategy, the trick is finding time to make your presence on these sites amazing while still maintaining healthy listings on lesser, location-sensitive sites.

What Are Social/Local Listing Sites?

Social/local listing sites are social media sites organized to help users identify the location of a specific company. These sites include:

There are various other location-based social media sites. Some include rewards programs that your clients can redeem when they check in, share about you online, or make repeat purchases. Regardless of the amount of resources you decide to invest in location-based social media channels, it is important at least to maintain correct information on the sites listed above.

Why Do Listings Sites Matter?

Because of the way search engine optimization (SEO) is taking shape lately, it is becoming increasingly more important to have location-based social sites set up with accurate information about your brand. Now, if your business is in manufacturing, chances are that digital location-bases services will do you little to no good, since you are not trying to drive traffic into your business. But, say your company is a fitness studio, a church, an entertainment center, or a clothing store, you may want to do everything possible to guarantee that people who look for you find you. According to Google Places:

More people search for businesses online than anywhere else, so it’s important to make sure your local business listing can be easily found on Google.com and Google Maps. With Google Places, creating a great listing takes just a few minutes and doesn’t cost a thing.

Listing sites are significant primarily because 1) they drive traffic to your website and 2) they increase your search engine rank, which can potentially send more people to your website in the future. In addition, many of theses sites have historically seen high quantities of mobile traffic, as customers and prospective customers search for directions, specific businesses near them, or phone numbers for these local listings.

Here is an interesting infographic developed by Nielsen that sheds some light on the significance of Yelp, specifically:

Neilsen-Survey-Yelp

Today’s customer has grown more sophisticated and comfortable with using the Internet for transaction. Many have become comfortable selecting businesses based on others’, even strangers’, recommendations. Not only are consumers willing to listen to a complete stranger’s advice, but often they will listen to a recommendation and make a purchase almost immediately.  The wonder of listings sites is their ability to feature recommendations in the same place as business information with quick access to directions and phone number, which can drive traffic right in your doors!

How Do I Manage My Listings Sites?

Step 1: Find your page(s). It is possible that your company doesn’t have any listings created at all. But, if you’ve been around for a while, chances are, a listing has already been created for your location. Here are two tools I recently fell in love with that help identify your brand’s listings:

Step 2: Claim your page(s). Create a log-in if needed, and submit the information necessary to gain ownership of the page/listing.

Step 3: Merge your pages (if you have multiple listings for the same brand). Merging will help ensure that people find the right location and will help Google more readily identify the accurate listing and pass that information on to prospective visitors.

Step 4: Edit your page. Add pictures, video, address, phone number, logos, and any other pertinent information for people to discover your page, understand what you are about, be convinced of the validity of your brand, and find your business.

How Much Time Does This Take?

Though managing your company’s listings on a number of social media sites sounds like a peripheral social media task to those who are focused on targeting and content creation, I advise you to take a second to make sure your listings are healthy.  Before we go on, let me define what I mean by “healthy” listings:

  • There is only one listing for your business. (Trust me, I see duplicates all the time, and they don’t help your brand.)
  • Your listing uses your proper company/brand name.
  • All your company’s information is accurate (including address, phone number, email, etc.).
  • The logo featured on the listing is up-to-date.
  • Photos on the site show your company’s location as it looks currently.
  • The number of comments on your listing are growing as people talk about their experiences at your company.
  • If possible, comments left by customers have received the proper replies from you (whether positive or negative, that will boost your brand reputation).

Once each of your listings is healthy, you have relatively little work to do. I recommend checking your weekly statistics and seeing how that site is or isn’t driving traffic to your website and to your phone number or directions. Most listing sites will enable administrators to receive automatic emails with these statistics. I would monitor these statistics and continue to tweak your information/description for maximum traffic-driving. And, if someone comments, respond if it is pertinent. Other than maintenance and possible responding, keeping social local listing sites up-to-date is relatively easy, leaving you time to keep focused on your primary social media channels.

How do people typically learn about your local business? How have you used Yelp or other listing sites to drive traffic to your location? Share in the comments below.

Seven ‘Aha!’ Questions to Launch an Explosive Social Media Strategy

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Image Credit: Trendhunter.com

 

Social Media is Exploding! What Now?

The world of social media is young, but it’s ever-expanding. Dare I say, it’s explosive? As this field continues to expand, you’ll find yourself increasingly lost as to what to do next. You may find yourself asking some important questions: Should I pursue this new social media platform that everyone’s talking about? Should I stick to the most popular social media sites because that’s where the people are? Should I post the same content on all of my social media sites, or do they need to be treated differently? Before your mind explodes trying to keep up with this ever-evolving digital field, ask yourself these seven questions first. These seven questions will help ground you, so that you know where you’re brand stands, so that you can get creative and leverage social media to accomplish your company’s specific goals, rather than just trying to keep up with your competitors.

Question 1: What is your current social media position?

Before beginning a social media plan for your brand, the first question to ask yourself is – “Where do I stand in the social media sphere?” Based on this, you can decide why a social media plan or a revised social media plan will be beneficial. Here some additional questions to consider:

  • What social media channels am I on? (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Yelp, Google Places, TripAdvisor, CitySearch and blogs)
  • How many fans/followers do I have on each of these channels?
  • What are the fans/followers doing with my content? How many comments, likes, shares, views, etc. am I generating with my current content?
  • What are my competitors doing on these channels?
  • What type of content is getting the most attention?

Question 2: What are my objectives?

Before moving into any planning, it is best to outline about three key objectives that you want to achieve. Objectives will most likely fall into one of these four categories:

  • Awareness – make more people aware of the brand
  • Engagement – increase participation with your social media content
  • Action – generate clicks, online sales, etc.
  • Recommendation – generate more word of mouth as people recommend your brand to others

These objectives should be SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related. One example of a social media objective is: “Boost user-generated content by 25% within the next twelve months.”

Question 3: Who am I trying to reach?

Once you have established an idea of where you’re going in the social sphere, the next step is to get to know your target audience. Typically, audiences are divided up into the following age groups: 18-24, 25-34, 35-49, 50-64, 65+. Doing some research on your selected age group(s) will help you develop a “persona,” so you have a mental picture of who you are talking to. Once you know who you’re talking to, you’ll have a better idea of what they need and when/how to reach them.

In addition, I recommend exploring your demographic’s “technographics profile,” which you can easily locate on Forrester’s website. Understanding the computer and social use of your target audience will help understand if you can expect your target audience to interact with you online or just listen and observe. I also recommend taking a look at PEW Research’s Social Trends Articles, which can help you identify the tendencies of your target audience. The questions you will want to ask about your audience include:

  • What makes this group unique?
  • Are they “Creators,” “Critics,” “Collectors,” “Joiners,” “Spectators,” or “Inactives” on social media (see Forrester or a summary on George Van Antwerp’s Blog Enabling Healthy Decisions)?
  • Which channels are these individuals using most frequently (This may require a bit of outside research, but there are many blogs to help)?
  • Anything else noteworthy about this group’s connection/interest in your industry?

Question 4: Which social media channels will we focus on?

Since excellence requires focused, concerted effort, I recommend focusing on just three social media channels to begin. As of January 2014, according to eBizMBA.com, the top social media channels are:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google+
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • A Proprietary Blog
  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
  • Vine
  • MySpace

While I suggest having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, a blog, and Instagram, as well as on Google Places and Yelp, if yours is a location-based business, I do not think it is necessary to establish a presence on each of these channels immediately, as it may cause your initial social media efforts to become diluted and less explosive.

In order to select the most effective channels, consider:

  • How many people in your target audience are using that social network? (see eBizMBA.com for stats)
  • Does the channel offer space to feature your logo, URL and other branded content?
  • Does the channel allow you to post the type of content you would like to feature (i.e. links, videos, pictures, etc.)?
  • Does the channel allow users to respond to your content?

While these criteria are very broad, they will help eliminate at least a few channels, narrowing down the scope of your concerted social media effort. Then, select your three channels and list the pros and cons of using each channel to be sure it’s the right fit for your objectives. I also recommend seeing if your competitors have been able to use this channel effectively. Look for an example of something they have done effectively there to get an idea of what might work.

Question 5: What tactics will you employ to achieve the above objectives?

Now that the target audience, objectives and social channels have been selected, the decision remains how best to achieve the objectives. Thus, tactics must be outlined. I recommend starting with just four tactics – four things you plan on doing to reach your objectives with your audience on your channels.

These tactics can be anything from producing a potentially-viral video series, to developing brand ambassadors to post content about your brand (see Ford’s Fiesta launch), to partnering with an organization or industry to generate social conversation around that organization/industry’s events, to hosting a challenge, giveaway or competition, to pursuing celebrity endorsements. Either way, these tactics should be specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. How many brand ambassadors will you pursue? What will you give away? What celebrities you pursue to represent your brand? How will this fit within your selected channels and your objectives? Write each of these plans down as if you are pitching them to someone who hasn’t heard the idea before. This will help you iron out the details and make sure your tactics align with your larger objectives of, possibly, awareness, engagement, action, and/or recommendation.

Question 6: How will you measure if you’ve been effective?

I recommend setting two quantitative metrics, two qualitative metrics, and two ROI metrics. These metrics will help you determine if you’ve succeeded or not. Quantitative metrics could be anything from reaching a certain number of followers to boosting shares to a certain percentage of views. Qualitative metrics include things like what people are saying about your brand and if it’s positive or negative and what people are talking about with regard to your industry. ROI metrics include looking for earnings associated with posts or content. Ask yourself: What is my rationale for selecting these metrics? If I achieve these metrics, will I have achieved my objectives completely?

Question 7: What’s Next?

After you have established your explosive social media strategy and implemented your answers to these questions, what mountain do you want to climb next? Are there farther-out social goals toward which you can aim?

If you have any questions or would like help putting together your strategy, send me a message, and we’ll get you ready for an explosive social media strategy of your own. Good luck in the wonderful and expansive world of social media!

Stay On Top of Your Game in Marketing: Lynda Tutorial Videos

 

Tutorial Video

Image Credit: HubSpot

Quick Learning for the Busy Professional

If you’re like me, you are busy, but staying on top of your game is important to you. That’s why I think you’ll be interested in a video tutorial service I recently discovered. It’s called Lynda.com, and it has tutorials on everything from graphic design to resume development, from leveraging Google Analytics to its full potential to establishing a branding strategy for your company. Basically, it’s your new how-to friend for all marketing communications software systems.

Lynda.com’s tutorials range from minutes of quick tips to hours of course tutorials, all of which are surprisingly practical and relevant. And, the site is mobile-friendly, if you enjoy learning on the go!

Lynda-banner

Here are just some of the software systems you can learn about on Lynda:

In addition to practical software tutorials, Lynda.com offers more strategic big-picture tutorials covering a broad range of topics.

Here are the topics I have found particularly helpful to stay on top of my game the marketing field:
  • “Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals”
  • “Google Analytics Essentials” & “Google Analytics Tips”
  • “Designing an Infographic”
  • “WordPress Essential Training”
  • “Creating an iPad app with HTML 5”
  • “Web Semantics”
  • “WordPress PlugIns: SEO”
  • “Web Design Fundamentals”
  • “Digital Publishing Fundamentals”
  • “Creating an Interactive PDF Magazine”
  • “Digital Publishing Fundamentals”
  • “Designing Websites from Photoshop to Dreamweaver”
  • “SEO Keyword Strategy in Depth”

This is just to name a few. Now that it’s on your mind, take a second and consider how your company might benefit from furthering its understanding of some of the areas listed above. It may be worth the investment. The site does cost from $25/month up to hundreds of dollars per month, depending on what your personal or company’s needs are, so you should evaluate beforehand if you’ll leverage this resource.

No, Lynda.com didn’t pay me to write this blog. I’m just a fan, who has had a great experience and benefitted from this site, and as a marketing reference for you, I wanted to make sure you knew about it, too. 🙂

Whether you subscribe to Lynda.com or you search YouTube.com or iTunes University for courses and tutorials, I encourage you to find ways to keep learning and strengthening your skills in your field. 

I read an article by a role model of mine this week, Carrie Dorr, founder of Pure Barre, who delineated the difference between the important and the urgent. She choses each day to work on what is important rather than letting what is urgent dictate her work. I encourage you to do the same. Though productivity is good, learning may be better, as it will increase your productivity in the long-run.

What do you think? What are you going to read up on or watch a tutorial on this week?

Who’s Up Next after the Millennials? Everything You Need to Know About the ‘Digital Natives’

Teens using cell phones and headphones to communicate with friends

Meet the Digital Natives

No doubt, you’ve heard it said that the Millennial generation is a scary generation with its unprecedented social media usage, narcissism, selfies, and post-modern paradigms. However, few discuss the generation emerging on the coattails of this slightly scary generation. Allow me to introduce you to either your new best friends or your worst nightmare – the Digital Natives.

With new technological norms, accelerated communication, and hyper-connectivity, these kids are getting older younger. Known as “Generation Z,” the “Net Generation,” or “Digital Natives,” this generation grew up “bathed in bites and bytes,” as the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning puts it. Here are some facts that three different articles* published in 2010 in the  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning share about these Digital Natives that you should probably know as a marketer:

  • Digital Natives were born between 1996 and 2004.
  • Digital Natives, unlike previous generations, grew up with their own laptops or desktop computers.
  • Nearly all Digital Natives received their first cell phone before graduating middle school (many before graduating grade school).
  • For Digital Natives, technology use is assumed.
  • Digital Natives do not prefer personal digital assistants (PDAs) or tablets, probably because these devices offer limited applicability for students. (Perhaps the use of these devices will grow as this generation approaches the workforce.)
  • Digital Natives take advantage of mobile technologies for communication, socialization, gaming and education.
  • Digital Natives are known for being connected and aware of marketing placement and messages.
  • Many Digital Natives confessedly would prefer to send text messages than make phone calls.
  • Digital Natives have enormous spending power even in today’s economy.
  • Digital Natives are heavily influenced by word of mouth

A Generation of New Social Rules

The entire social structure of Digital Natives is built around the technological prevalence in our culture. According to Solomon, “Teens need to acquire independence, so they try to break away from their families. However, they need to attach themselves to a support structure, such as peers to avoid being alone.” Thus, the technology available to the Net Generation has provided a way to embrace the tension teens feel for autonomy versus belonging – they can be independent and far from friends and family, yet still belong with their friends via text messages and social media. Similarly, this generation highly values sincerity and “struggle to reconcile their view of how the world should be with the realities they perceive around them.” Solomon calls this “idealism versus pragmatism.” Technology has shaped these values as well – through technology, teens can post whatever they want in the name of “sincerity” or “authenticity” and at the same time manage their profiles to present their “ideal selves” to the public. How, then, should marketers reach these individuals?

Solomon’s Four Rules for Marketers When Communicating with Digital Natives

Because Digital Natives value sincerity, marketers would be wise to follow Michael R. Solomon’s advice about speaking to the teen market:

Rule 1:
Don’t talk down

Rule 2:
Don’t try to be what you’re not. Stay true to your brand image

Rule 3:
Entertain them. Make it interactive and keep the sell short

Rule 4:
Show that you know what they’re going through, but keep it light”

This generation has grown up exposed to numerous brand messages and has grown very good at tuning the noise out. Thus, marketers must be strategic in message placement and approachable in tone in order to tap into this audience.

A Generation of Content Generators

Because of constant connection to friends and information, this generation is constantly creating content. According to Bennett and Maton’s article*:

“They create – and re-create – it. With a do-it-yourself, open source approach to material, students often take existing material, add their own touches, and republish it. Bypassing traditional authority channels, self-publishing – in print, image, video, or audio – is common”

And, given the existence of Web 2.0, this generation has more opportunities to generate and broadcast content than previous generations. However, Solomon demonstrates that only a minority of Digital Natives are generating graphics, audio, or video. Instead, many use technology to connect with friends via social media and to participate in digital games, but most do not use technology for academic purposes or to generate content to contribute to blogs or wikis due to a lack of familiarity with these channels. Smart marketers will leverage word of mouth and involve Digital Natives in content creation and social media spread of brand messages.

A Generation with Technological Disparity

As with any generation, there are wide varieties and personal preferences within the Net Generation (a.k.a Digital Natives). In fact, Bennett and Maton’s article* states:

“It is clear from this recent research that there is significant variation in the ways in which young people use technology, suggesting that rather than being a homogenous generation, there is a diversity of interests, motivations and needs.”

Some people within the Net Generation  lack exposure to technology due to their family’s financial constraints. Bennett and Maton* explain, “Young people grow up with different histories of access to technology and therefore different opportunities.” Indeed, some researchers “argue that access to information on the Internet has served in many ways to broaden the gulf between the world’s haves and have-nots, so one of the ethical concerns that will need to be addressed in the years ahead is how to make this technology accessible to everyone,” according to Deffenbaugh’s article*. Wise marketers must mind the Digital Natives who may not have as much access to technology, remembering that though they have less digital access, they may still have some spending power and should still be targeted.

A Generation of New Moral Issues

Unlike previous generations, the Net Generation will face identity issues. Deffenbaugh suggests that there is a new “tangled web of ethical and social issues that every digital native will have to navigate over the course of his or her lifetime.”  With a wide range of resources available online, this generation will face new plagiarism issues, collaboration issues, and reality versus cyber identity issues. Thus far, Digital Natives have not excelled in leveraging technology for maximum educational benefit: “Internet is the primary, if not exclusive, research tool for digital natives, with Wikipedia serving as their first and sometimes only resource when writing papers,” says Deffenbaugh.  But, on the upside, this generation will have access to more educational resources, wider reach to global collaboration with students in other countries, and increased efficiency of research due to search engines. Educators and marketers alike are continuing to refine ways to leverage the internet to reach the Net Generation.

A Generation Not That Different

Sociologists explain that “A key feature of the conception of young people as ‘digital natives’ is the apparently insurmountable gap between them and the less technologically literate older generations” as seen in Bennett and Maton’s article*. Though some researchers argue that Digital Natives are vastly different than previous generations, other researchers explain that generations cannot be so extremely different when people within them were born only a couple years apart (Jones and Czerniewicz*). Thus, Digital Natives can be argued as having many of the same traits as Millennials. Marketers must keep in mind that both Millennials and Digital Natives have similar patterns and can be targeted similarly.

Due to the drastic shift in technology in the past thirty years, this generation has a different culture, a digital culture, beyond that of previous generations. However, researchers argue that a couple years does not make that big of a difference in culture. Thus, like the Millennial generation before them, Digital Natives are heavily influenced by word of mouth, wonderfully, immediately connected, and prepared to share their opinion with the world. Your marketing communications approach will decide whether you make these Digital Natives your friend or your worst nightmare.

*Referenced Articles

Bennett, S. S., & Maton, K. K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5), 321-331. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00360.x

Deffenbaugh, D. G. (2010). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives – By John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. Teaching Theology & Religion, 13(4), 381-384. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2010.00655.x

Jones, C. C., & Czerniewicz, L. L. (2010, October). Describing or debunking? The net generation and digital natives. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. pp. 317-320. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00379.x.

Solomon, M. R. (2011). Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.