Lifecasting social media platforms: a millennial explainer

Do you know what Peach is? Are you on Peach? Should you be on Peach?

If you have never heard of Peach, chances are you are of a certain age. Chances are you are over the age of 25. If you have heard of Peach and you are also over the age of 25, chances are that you spend a lot of time on Twitter. Peach is a new social networking app. Two weeks ago it was talked about, whispered, suggested — ‘are you on Peach? You should get on Peach’ — and as of last Monday, it’s already been declared dead. Such is the life of fledgling social media apps. But whether Peach’s death knell has really tolled or not is too soon to tell. It could grow in popularity to become a Periscope, or go on to become a behemoth, the likes of an Instagram, Snapchat, or Vine. So what determines if these apps live or die, and how much attention should you be paying?

Lifecasting and affect

There are some important things to know about these apps. In terms of use, these apps are used for what is known as ‘lifecasting.’ Lifecasting is basically constantly broadcasting your life through digital media. This would be opposed to say, sharing news stories or other content that doesn’t pertain to your identity. Obviously the two can overlap, but the focus is on the person doing the posting and their life, interests, likes, etc. What sets these specific apps — Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and Peach — slightly apart from the others, is that they are much better at communicating ‘affect.’

Affect is the parts of human experience that are difficult to put into words — such as emotion and intensity. The visual and video aspects of these apps make it much easier and quicker to communicate feelings that are difficult to get across with just text. Peach actually takes this one step further, in that when typing your status update you discover how to share certain gifs, photos and emoticons, and other content. It asks you to think in abstract feelings to produce a visual or interactive element. So the question then becomes, if you’re in public affairs and trying to spread your content, which ones should you use? And when do you use it? Whose lifestyle are you targeting and what kind of affect are they looking to communicate? To do this, you need to understand online demographics. Let us break it down for you.

Millennials: from Money to Mini

Social media tools are a young persons’ game, generally considered for millennials. But labelling them as such is a little problematic: ‘Millennial’ has become a catchall for a very wide age range because no one has come up with a term for post millenials that has stuck (people are trying to make ‘Generation Z’ and ‘The Founders’ happen, but short of making them sound like a dystopian young adult novel, it’s really not happening). The group referred to as ‘millennials’ now spans people who are in their thirties all the way down to kids in their early teens. This group of people can and should be broken into subsets based on their social media activity when thinking about which platforms are appropriate for your delivering your message.

1) Money millennials:

For lack of a better term, I’m referring to the oldest millennial group as ‘Money.’ Whether this age bracket is actually within the millennial group is debatable — these are people in their early thirties who got the Internet in their teen years and got Facebook in their early twenties. They are reaching an age where they are making big investments — like houses and cars — and making big decisions — like having children. Moneys have firmly established their purchasing power and are in a more stable position — both in life and finances — than the other subsets. In Internet parlance, this group has come to be referred to as ‘olds’ — which is basically anyone who doesn’t know what the next big ‘it’ is. If you don’t understand the last sentence, then chances are you are in fact an old, but if you want to double check you can find out for sure here.

Social media platform of choice:

Facebook Primarily, this group uses Facebook and stays off of most other social media platforms. Furthermore, their interactions on Facebook more closely reflect how they interact with each other via phone or in person than the rest of the age groups discussed here. There isn’t much Internet slang, there aren’t many memes, and a third-party can probably decipher the conversation without much pop culture or Internet context. Most likely, their feeds are full of new babies, new homes, new furniture, brunch, and more adult upscale restaurants.

2) Medium millennials:

Medium millenials are currently experiencing a wave of nostalgia as they realize that they are approaching ‘olds’ status. The Mediums remember a very brief time without Internet, but practically their entire lives have been shaped by it. They are mid-to-late twenties, and they cut their teeth on dial-up Internet, MySpace, MSN Messenger and LiveJournal. In today’s digital age, the three platforms that I just mentioned are kind of like the ‘I walked uphill both ways to get to and from school’ of social media. Facebook was a giant new tool near the end of high school or the beginning of university and they enjoyed a blissfully long period on the platform before their parents and great aunt decided to jump on board and comment on their activity.

Social media platform of choice: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Medium millennials are still big Facebook users because, like the Moneys, their enduring online social circle was built on the platform. However, Medium millennials have adapted to online culture and language, which is why they have adopted newer platforms like Twitter and Instagram. If you look at demographic numbers, this group still is one of the larger users of Facebook but the way that they use Facebook is different. For both Mediums and the next group, Facebook has become an organizational tool, the easiest way to plan an event and communicate with a large number of people at once.

3) Most Millennials:

The Mosts are the group that participate the most in the bulk of activity that is associated with the catchall of being a millennial. They have never known a time without Internet, and Facebook was a normal part of their teens. They effortlessly get a high number of likes on an Instagram photo because their entire social group uses the app constantly. They are late teens — think seventeen, eighteen, nineteen — and early twenties. They have no nostalgia for clunkier platforms and the way they engage online is different from their older counterparts. Their posts are more prolific and their lifecasting is more constant.

Social media platform of choice: Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter

As early as 2013, reports were saying that teens were tired of Facebook. The younger you get on the millennial scale, the less likely they are to engage with established social media platforms. A Pew study found that part of the reason they shy away from the platform is because it mirrors the structure of their real-life social status too closely. In other words, the same adult presence in their real lives exist online, and there are pressures to be professional, or at the very least, constantly appropriate or presentable, lest a future employer conduct a quick Google search or be connected to you on through friends of friends. On Facebook, you are still likely to come into some kind of contact with people you are looking to avoid.

Snapchat, on the other hand, is direct ephemeral communication. You can take a photo or a video, add text or scribbles using the drawing tool, and choose the specific people you want to send it to. The content that you sent disappears after the person has viewed it. It is more spontaneous and less curated than other tools used for lifecasting, such as Facebook or Instagram. The Mosts did not experience the growing pains that the Mediums did with the Internet — learning that content that you create is online forever. They have grown up knowing that you will be judged on your online image. The desire for a platform that allows for temporary content that does not need to be perfectly prepared for a (fully) public audience is a reflection of their growing digital awareness.

Snapchat also lends itself to teen experiences. Although there are no actual rules on how you should or shouldn’t use Snapchat, it keeps track of how often you use the app by awarding posts and also displaying your three ‘best friends’ (people with whom you interact the most). Brands, news outlets, and other companies get their advertising in via ‘stories.’ Stories present content in a visually-engaging way, combining graphics, video, sounds/music, and interactive elements like quizzes. An important distinction with Snapchat’s advertising is that it’s a separate section of the app: your actual user experience is not interrupted by ads (except from Snapchat itself). Snapchat users have to actually decide to navigate their way over to the corporation or (Internet) famous person’s story. But also equally important are that regular users can create their own story — basically a collection of their Snaps.

4) Mini Millennials:

Minis are today’s teens. They are around 12-16 years old and they dictate the next big Internet thing. They think Facebook is lame and for the olds, and their social interactions online and offline are not siloed the same way they are for other millennial groups — one does not exist without the other. The Internet is a place for expression, genuine communication with one another, and is a real space for identity-building. They are constantly looking for spaces that fit their changing needs.

Social media platform of choice: the newest thing available, Vine, Youtube

I know you’re probably thinking that everyone uses YouTube, but the way Mini millennials use YouTube is vastly different. It’s probably closer to how everyone else used to watch TV. They aren’t just finding clips and searching for specific moments: Minis are subscribing to channels and are fawning over YouTube celebrities. Can you name a single YouTube celebrity? They are a regular part of the Minis’ online existence.

And then there is Vine. Vine is another beast entirely. Be warned. Vine is for experts. Vine is not for the faint-of-heart. Vine creates six-second videos that loop continuously. Vine stars display impressive technical knowledge, dramatic flair, or excellent comedic timing to get their message delivered in six seconds. They are very expressive, often odd or quirky, and take a lot of personality. Vine is now pumping out new talent the way YouTube used to — like, for example, Ontario native and pop recording star Shawn Mendes, whose six-second videos launched him into the spotlight in 2013 and landed him a spot as one of Time’s 25 Most Influential Teens in 2014.

Vine advertising doesn’t even officially exist, in that Vine doesn’t show ads on its platform. What do exist are brands and organizations that contact Vine stars and contract them to make videos on their behalf or featuring their products. In February of 2015, Twitter acquired Niche — a company that connects parties interested in advertising with social media stars. Organizations have recognized their knowledge deficit when it comes to this extremely technically savvy demo and has decided to outsource their outreach to the experts themselves.

Affect and Lifecasting, today and tomorrow

From this list, it would seem that anyone over the age of 16 is old online — which isn’t untrue. While the Internet is for everyone, the newest social media platforms are generally a young person’s game. The newest platforms are spaces for teenagers to work through their evolving identities. So if you’re looking to play the game, part of it is about being the coolest thing going, and it’s also about understanding and mimicking the actual social interactions that are taking place through these platforms. It’s also about whether you need to play the game at all.

If you’re in public affairs, you probably don’t need to worry whether or not you’re old or whether or not you’re cool. Focus on your target audience and rest easy on the teens — they may know how to use the newest platform, but they’re fickle. In terms of the next big thing, the youngest millennials will have already gotten tired of it before their older counterparts have even signed up. Have you seen The Social Network? At one point, Mark Zuckerberg’s character is fighting with his CFO about getting advertisers and monetizing the site while they’re having lunch with Napster creator Sean Parker:

Eduardo Saverin: Hey, you know what? Settle an argument for us. I say it’s time to start making money from The Facebook, but Mark doesn’t want to advertise. Who’s right?

Sean Parker: Umナneither of you yet. The Facebook is cool, that’s what it’s got going for it. Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah. Eduardo Saverin: You don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool.

Mark Zuckerberg: Exactly.

They understand this better than anyone and they jump ship as soon as something stops being cool. Ads aren’t cool and most users are going to resent the presence of advertising on any new platform, even if they understand that ads are part of the way these platforms stay afloat. If you’re not trying to reach these demos, or your content doesn’t align with the newest medium, it could just be a waste of time and money. There is nothing wrong with sticking to Facebook if that is where your target audience spends its time. In the long run, most of us were better off not trying to be the most popular kid in school. There is a time and place for using these platforms, and for most public affairs campaigns they probably aren’t necessary. So what’s Peach? Do you need to know? It’s up to you. But remember, trying to be cool is usually the easiest way to achieve the opposite anyways.


Photo: “Two Peaches” by peter burge, Creative Commons license 2.0