ITL #538 Influencing Millennials and Gen Z: a fresh take on PR is required

9 months, 1 week ago

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Through algorithms, AI is shaping a generation that is distinct from any previous generation, and the PR industry must stay on its toes. By C. Lekha.



Back in the mid-90s, the introduction of the internet transformed the world. People who lived on opposite ends of the planet could instantly and cheaply communicate through email. In chat rooms, people began having engaging discourses with dozens of others with whom they had things in common. Gradually, where one lived became less relevant than what one stood for and was passionate about.

Then in the mid-2000s, social media upped the ante even further.

Online engagement increased manifold as people began using social media to shape global narratives, opinions and even foster revolutions. Then, a few years later, the mobile revolution took off as smartphones – which have the same processing power as supercomputers did a few short decades ago – became ubiquitous. With smartphones in their pockets, people began to spend hours online, giving rise to a new economy fueled by data.

We're now witnessing the birth of another revolution – one that may eclipse the previous two. This revolution is driven by artificial intelligence (AI). Today, when loneliness is at its peak, men and women are turning to AI-powered virtual girlfriends and boyfriends for companionship. The conversations they’re having with their virtual friends are as meaningful and deep as those they’d have with real partners! 

Throughout this incredible journey, something fundamental about human nature has changed: people have gradually begun abandoning groupthink and started embracing individuality, though different generations have embraced individuality at different rates.

Younger generations, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are more inclined towards embracing individuality compared to Generation X and Boomers. The former two are digital natives who grew up using technology. They’re comfortable using smartphones and have incorporated digital tools into their day-to-day routines.

The preferences of these younger cohorts have influenced the course and pace of global digital trends that have been evolving for nearly three decades.

Individualism unleashed

Across the world, nearly six billion people use smartphones. While the smartphones themselves aren’t too different, what’s on them varies – often drastically. The growth of digital devices has been fueled in no small part by the plethora of content creators and streaming content found online.

Even as tens of millions spend hours a day viewing and commenting on photos, videos, and tweets created by influencers whom they've never met, they also aspire to become influencers themselves! Online content and influencers are rapidly giving rise to new realities. Hence, access to free and inexpensive streaming content means that two people, who're similar in all respects, may have vastly different worldviews and perceptions.   

One 22-year-old man’s social media feed may be populated by news about an ongoing war, while another may show the adventures of young adults traversing different dimensions while doing their utmost to manage their friendships. Get these two in one room, and they'd be hard-pressed to have a meaningful conversation with each other! On the other hand, individuals whose social media feeds contain similar content will easily establish a rapport.

Guiding these social connections are AI and its algorithms – whose powers are spectacular: ByteDance chose to forgo a lucrative offer from Microsoft rather than hand over its prized algorithm, which has an uncanny ability to hook viewers. Most importantly, humans aren't in control of the new relationships that are being forged across the world, AI is.

Through algorithms, AI is shaping a generation that is distinct from any previous generation. Now, everyone, regardless of how unorthodox their views may be, can find and connect with others who share their perspectives. These individuals are less likely to adhere to authority; instead, they are shaping their own values and finding support in the knowledge that there are millions of likeminded individuals worldwide. These are global tribes with distinct ethos.   

This phenomenon has some parallels in the past. A century ago, with the birth of public relations, consumers were encouraged to use products that expressed their personality. Then in the 1960s, the advent of microprocessors made it possible to design products of even greater variety than before and individualism received another impetus. What is happening today far surpasses anything that occurred in the past. What once happened in the developed world is now, thanks to the mobile revolution, happening globally and is much more profound than anything that occurred in the 1920s and 1960s. This transformation is propelled by content, influencers, and AI. Together, they’re creating new realities and fictions around the world.  

What drives millennials and Gen Z?

More doesn’t necessarily equal better. This adage is very true in the context of online media and influencers. That’s because anyone with a smartphone and computer can post content and videos. Influencers – or rather wannabe influencers – are a dime a dozen!

It's those who have a remarkable talent besides content creation who’re genuinely powerful.

Such influencers have a connection and rapport with their followers. They have their followers' pulse at their fingertips and can compel them to buy or sell products and shun or accept ideas and ideologies. Their audiences are global and are united by an admiration for influencers, their views, and the lives influencers lead.   

The star power that Generation X and Boomers accorded to film stars, athletes, and musicians, Millennials and GenZ have bestowed on influencers.

While some influencers are charlatans and frauds, most aren't. And their devoted followers aren't part of a cult. Rather, in a world where traditional authority figures have become undermined, influencers, knowingly or unknowingly, have stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Millennials and GenZ’s trust in influencers isn’t misplaced. These younger consumers have their ears to the ground and are quick to spot a lie, which is why only the most scrupulous or talented people pass muster and become influencers. Their followers are tied to influencers and each other by a tacit understanding; an inner code with its lingo, and some shared myths about influencers’ lives.   

Tapping into their world

The power of influencers and the emergence of new realities isn’t lost on PR professionals. Over the past decade, the PR industry has actively engaged with influencers and those who create content which gives rise to new realities and compelling fiction.

However, in the coming decade, as individualism – propelled by vastly more powerful AI algorithms – accelerates, the PR industry will have to stay on its toes to understand the various new realities, identities, and subcultures that arise across the globe. Learning about the inner worlds of those who inhabit these worlds will prove vital for PR professionals in the coming years.       

 

  


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The Author

C Lekha

Lekha, Vice President, Corporate Communications & Brand Reputation at IndiGo.

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