Teenagers and young people spend their lives on social networks, surely it follows that ‘social media listening’ is the best way to find out about their lives, interests and aspirations – unmediated and in their own words.  But this isn’t what we’ve observed.  Social listening can tell you about brand mentions and offer some limited sentiment analysis, but on any subject outside the brand world the insights are severely limited.

Our recent research on the social media lives of young people shows why. Generation Z don’t hold meaningful conversations on public platforms. They will share and like content within their filter bubble, but only in line with their public personas.  You end up listening to a carefully curated point of view – it’s like eavesdropping an interview. Look at the top social networks for Generation Z: Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. Instagram is a stage. It’s for following people and curating a personal brand.  For most of the young people we speak to, this makes it a passive network. Young people are worried to post anything that is ‘off brand’ on their Instagram.

Facebook is still widely used, but it’s for news content and video discovery.  Young people are more comfortable sharing content than originating status updates and comments.  Gen Z know their parents are on Facebook and keep things strictly PG. Twitter is seen, at best, as a real-time news feed and at worst, confusing, insular and cliquey.

“Twitter is seen, at best, as a real-time

news feed and at worst,

confusing, insular and cliquey.”

That means that all the meaningful conversations, questions and recommendations between friends (where the real insight is) happen in private groups. Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger. How do you get the insight that young people share in their private conversations?

Latimer has developed two answers to this problem:

Get young people in the room and (to a certain degree) get out of the way. Creating the space and conditions for young people to talk, create and argue in person is the best way to facilitate real social listening.

Use the structures of social media that young people love and curate dedicated digital communities to discuss and create – but away from their carefully managed social media identities.

In short, social listening projects are often mining for insight in barren land.  The best way to listen to the candid conversations of Gen Z is to cultivate the conditions for them to occur within your earshot.

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Tom Kenyon

Author Tom Kenyon

Tom Kenyon is Director of Innovation and Strategy at Latimer. He has worked as a youth-focused innovation strategist for major broadcasters, social enterprises and foundations including BBC, Nesta and Jamie Oliver Ltd, for more than 10 years.

More posts by Tom Kenyon

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