I was sitting on a playground bench surrounded by Instagramming 10-year olds when I realized I had fully internalized the Edelman mandate to Show Up Differently.
It occurred to me that where we Show Up Differently as PR practitioners is as important as how – where do we focus our attention so we can best unearth insight? I believe the best way to be consistently creative is to stay connected to the world around us, to be relentlessly focused “out there.” That’s what allows us to detect patterns in cultural conversations and consumer behavior, turn them into insights and help solve client problems in inspired and inspiring ways.
I wasn’t trying to solve a client problem that afternoon on the playground. But I couldn’t help but notice the completely different and (to me) bizarre way my son and his friends were using Instagram. Forget the filtered shots of sunsets – these kids were all about meme screen grabs and increasing their follower counts. They had hacked the artsy photo-sharing platform into an emoji-fuelled social game.
This made me wonder if there was a bigger pattern to uncover about tweens and visual communication. Additional research confirmed my playground suspicion: Generation Z in the West and their Post-90s counterparts in Asia do seem to be transforming language through their use of visual-centric mobile and social sharing.
According to Pew data, 95 percent of U.S. teens are online. Texting is the most popular online behavior, followed by social networking. Similarly, the top online activity for Post-90s kids in China is chat, with 80 percent communicating in an oblique (to adults) emoji/text hybrid called “Martian Language.” Visual-based texting platforms are a global phenomenon, with new players cropping up all the time – from Line, Jongla and WeChat in Asia to Kik and Lango in the West.
Our kids are as fluent in emoji-speak as they are in their native tongues, conditioned to engage the world around them through visual sharing. My son and his Snapchatting tween cohort already control $43 billion in spending power in the U.S. alone. What happens in a decade or so when they come into full financial independence?
Asked another way, how do you market to a consumer for whom words have become obsolete? I don’t have the answer, but I know I need to stay out ahead of the question. By continuing to Show Up Differently – on playgrounds and elsewhere – I intend to do just that.