Blog post written by John Lanahan, LaunchCapital Analyst based in San Francisco

After reflecting the last few days on what I would write about for my first blog post and quickly realizing I’m not an expert on, well, anything, I figured I knew enough to talk about one thing: myself.  More specifically, my generation: those 20-somethings roaming big cities, a few years removed from college still acting like they’re in college, the generation that is more likely to identify the song “My Generation” as the song by Limp Bizkit, and not The Who; but most importantly the generation that has grown up with cell phones, social networks, and instant gratification.  How can businesses large and small adapt their marketing messages to the generation that has a 4-second attention span?

You’ve seen us and you know who we are – we’re the ones walking down the street, headphones in, head down… looking at our phones, texting, tagging, tweeting, tumbling,, but God forbid certainly not actually talking on our phones! Just as we change, advertising to us needs to change with us.  How effective are billboards when our heads our down looking at our phones?  How can you possibly expect us to watch a commercial when all our shows are DVR’ed?  So how do you get your message across?

Get us talking. 

Social networks have given us a really big microphone, a very loud microphone to shout a message that can go viral and reach millions of people in a matter of hours.  The best way to reach out to our generation is to turn us all into unpaid marketing interns… er, I mean, brand advocates.

Social media marketing has been around long enough now that companies know this already, right?  RIGHT?? So many times I’ve seen companies who force traditional media marketing into social media platforms.  “Awesome there’s a banner ad on my Facebook page with a link to my site! I have 1,000 people who ‘like’ me! Social media!  Sweet!”  What does that even mean? How are converting those ‘likes’ into sales? Are people actually talking about you or is your fan page buried somewhere way down on the user’s profile?

To borrow a term coined by Gary Vaynerchuk in The Thank You Economy (if you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing out), companies have to play “ping-pong” for their message to be heard.  Start real conversations with real people.  Someone rips your restaurant on Yelp?  Reach out to them and give them a meal on the house to try you again.  Someone says they love you on Twitter? Send a quick note saying thanks. We’re used to making purchases online and in big box stores, where the interaction between business and consumer is minimal.  Cure our ADD with a little personalization, and I promise we’ll not only pay attention, we’ll tell all our friends about it too.

One word of warning: don’t fake it.  I’ve heard many times from friends working at advertising agencies that clients tell them, “Make me one of those viral videos”. *Cringe*.  That statement alone indicates you have no clue about social media.  Things need to grow organically.  Just like you can spot a fake, so can we and we will call you on it – or maybe worse, ignore you altogether.  Pull us into the conversation and keep us engaged, don’t push things on us.

We realize social media can be a scary place for businesses.  There’s little control over your message, it’s not an established marketing platform, and there’s no clear-cut ROI.   But that’s short-term thinking.  Show our generation an ad and we’ll think about you for a second.  Engage us in a conversation and we’ll become long-term advocates.

Oh, hold on, I just got a text…