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Purpose - Service managers and researchers are especially interested in Generation Y’s social media usage because it may be a harbinger of how people will behave in the future. The purpose of this paper is to review what we know – and don’t know – about Generation Y’s use of social media and to assess the implications for individuals, firms and society. The paper describes a conceptual framework for understanding Generation Y’s social media use, its antecedents and consequences. The paper concludes by outlining a research agenda to address unanswered questions about Generation Y’s use of social media.
Design/methodology/approach - The paper distinguishes Generation Y from other cohorts in terms of systematic differences in values, preferences and behavior that are stable over time (as opposed to maturational or other differences). It describes their social media use and highlights evidence of intra-generational variance arising from environmental factors (including economic, cultural, technological and political/legal factors) and individual factors. Individual factors include stable factors (including socio-economic status, age and lifecycle stage) and dynamic, endogenous factors (including goals, emotions, and social norms).The paper discusses how Generation Y’s use of social media influences individuals, firms and society. It develops managerial implications and a research agenda.
Findings - Prior research on the social media use of Generation Y raises more questions than it answers. It (a) focuses primarily on the United States and/or (at most) one other country, ignoring other regions with large and fast-growing Gen Y populations where social-media use and its determinants may differ significantly; (b) tends to study students whose behaviors may change over their life cycle stages; (c) relies on self-reports by different age groups to infer Gen Y’s social media use; and (d) does not examine the drivers and outcomes of social-media use. Our conceptual framework yields a detailed set of research questions.
Research limitations/implications - Gen Y is distinguished from other generational cohorts in its intense exposure to the Internet from a very young age. Further research is needed to identify enduring Gen Y traits and their influence on social media use. Also needed are studies investigating how Gen Y’s goals, emotions and norms influence – and are in turn influenced by – its social media use. Most studies consider Gen Y as a single homogeneous cohort; some compare and contrast Gen Y with other cohorts. However, there is significant heterogeneity within Gen Y’s social media use due to individual level factors identified by our framework.
Practical implications - Gen Y’s chief purpose for social media use is communication. We consider broad categories of social media usage (contributing, sharing, consuming or searching for content, participating, and playing). Social media offer opportunities to strengthen customer relationships by encouraging customers to engage with their brands and by fostering online brand or user communities, which can strengthen brand equity and increase customer lifetime value. Service industries traditionally rely on younger workers to fill their customer-facing positions. Hence, Gen Y’s use of social media also has implications for customer-employee interactions and for how firms hire, manage and motivate employees.
Originality/value - One of the great challenges in generational research is that many studies are cross sectional and do not distinguish between the effects of age versus generational cohort. A limited number of studies have used longitudinal methods (that distinguish between these two effects). They confirm some generationally enduring traits. However, Gen Y’s characteristics are often discussed in overly broad, even sweeping, terms – ignoring intra-generational differences. This paper provides a conceptual framework for considering the antecedents and consequences of Gen Y’s social media usage. It identifies unanswered questions about Generation Y’s use of social media, as well as practical insights for managers.
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