Photo by Catherine Taylor

This Wednesday, five media entrepreneurs gathered at NYU to discuss the biggest, most desirable market for all things tech: Gen Y (if you’re between the ages of 18-25, it’s safe to say that you, reader, belong to this lovely group). Joe Kessler, president of Intelligence Group/CAA, moderated the discussion, which included panelists Garth Holsinger (VP Global Sales and Business Development, Klout), Christina Mercando (VP Product, Hunch), Andrea Harrison (Director of Digital Engagement, Pepsi Co.) and Larry Griffiths (Shoutz Inc.).
Before the panelists arrived, Kessler explained the traits unique to Gen Y. They’re a group-oriented bunch drawn to Facebook and ensemble cast TV shows, who crave control of the social media outlets that cater to them. 70 percent of Gen Y-ers are plugged in while they relax at home, and two-thirds of them surf the net on their phones regularly. In other words, they’re constantly connected to technology, in essence creating a “sixth sense” essential to how they perceive, understand and react to the world. The challenge, Kessler explained, is meeting the expectation among young people that technology will integrate with their lives—not the other way around. He also touched upon the importance of sites like Pandora as platforms for demonstrating “good taste”—facilitated by filters and algorithms—that ensure that such integration occurs as seamlessly as possible.
One might think that sites that tailor content to users’ very specific tastes—sites like Mercando’s, for example—might create privacy concerns with audiences. Not so, she explained. On the contrary, Gen Y-ers are such big fans of sharing that privacy is almost a non-issue—a key dividing point between themselves and the baby boomers that created them. As Harrison explained, sharing also serves as a link between the viewer and what’s on the TV set (or computer monitor)—in other words, when we Tweet about a character on Glee or cast our vote via Facebook for a contestant on The X Factor, we are making a personal investment in the action.
This sharing can also be a powerful marketing tool, as Holsinger explained. Klout, a site that assigns users a score based on the amount of likes and re-blogs their content garners, often results in companies offering lavish experiences (upgraded rooms at the hotels, all-expense-paid flights) to users with high Klout scores in the hopes that the perks will be broadcasted across the cybersphere (in case you’re wondering, the only person in the world with a perfect Klout score of 100 is Justin Beiber). Griffiths discussed Shoutz, a video-Twitter hybrid launching this week that will allow celebrities, athletes and everyday folks alike to post 15 second videos in lieu of the standard 140 characters—providing yet another outlet for companies to target Gen Y consumers.
Before taking questions, the panel briefly addressed the next generation—Gen Z (today’s 10-13 year-old-crowd). They’re even more super-empowered, with a greater lack of recognition for social boundaries than their forbears. While companies have their hands full with Gen Y—and the multi-faceted hydra of social media challenges that comes with it—for the time being, today’s tykes are going to crave custom technology even more. The marketing game, then, is becoming insanely fast-paced and increasingly dependent on social media (and consumer tastes). Call it power to the people.