We comfort ourselves by telling each other, “There will always be a place for face-to-face.” Then we get ourselves stirred up by reading studies, like the one CEIR did a few years ago, indicating younger people are simply not enjoying events as much as their baby-boomer parents and—face it—grandparents have. (It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea.)
A session I attended yesterday at the MediaNext conference in New York (organized by our sister publication Folio:) adds a little to the discussion that is, at best, confusing and, at worst, enough to scare you.
Betsy Frank and Barry Martin are “research and insights officers” with Time Inc. Their jobs are to figure out how Time Inc. editors can relate better to readers. Explaining one recent research project in which they used biometrics, they took a group of Digital Natives (people under 30 who presumably were born into a digital world) and another group of Digital Immigrants (people over 30 who had to get used to it), gave them glasses with video cameras built in and recorded every type of media they used during their non-working hours.
By media, I mean everything from reading books to looking at their smart phones to watching television. They also asked them some questions.
That’s how they found out that 54 percent of the Natives would prefer to send a text than have a phone conversation. A smaller 28 percent of Immigrants agreed.
The average Immigrant switched media (i.e. from smartphone to tablet to TV) 17 times an hour. The average Native? 27 times. In other words, almost every other minute the average person under 30 is shifting his or her attention.
It goes on, and the results probably won’t surprise anyone. The Natives are more fidgety; they have shorter attention spans; they’re less interested in stories with beginnings and endings than the Immigrants, etc.
At the same time, the results indicate that the widespread use of social media by Natives stems from their great interest in each other: Natives are interested in people; ideas, not so much.
So what does that mean for the events industry? The good news is that the Natives like people. Despite the misperceptions that the Immigrants have about the Natives, they do want to spend time with each other; they’re not glued to screens in isolation.
But they want to do it differently. They may not be happy to dutifully start at one end of a showfloor aisle and slowly stroll down it to the end and then back up the next one. They may not be willing to herd themselves into a ballroom for a general session.
However, they want something. Frank and Martin’s best advice to Time Inc.’s editors about how to engage their Native readers: “Make it quick, make it easy and make it emotional.”
It may not be the advice their Immigrant editors want to hear, but it’s what they’re going to have to do if they want to keep their publications alive.
So, the question for us in the tradeshow industry: How do we “make it quick, make it easy and make it emotional” for our Native attendees?
Michael Hart is executive editor of EXPO Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.