Gen Y Women: Sharing it all online

Think of middle school. One brave girl sports something new. A fashionable mom sends her teen to school with an updated look on her 16th birthday. Someone else imitates what she saw in a magazine. Women have always been highly susceptible to what other women think –it’s not new. What is new is how we’re sharing that information, and who is getting it.

For this 80’s child, middle school was in the late 90’s, so those trends included Calvin Klein t-shirts, matching nylon windsuits, white collared shirts under preppy sweaters, and the dawn of layers with The Rachel haircut.

A new study circulating by Pop Sugar media (download it here) surveyed 1,018 women from ages 18-49. I’d also contend that we have more common references than ever before, with TV shows, movies and products aimed at higher-earning, independent women.

(Maybe Black Friday isn’t the best day to reflect on the consumerism of my female peers. But hey, I gotta do something to keep myself away from the call of special deals.)

Redefined peer set

One of the most telling discoveries in the study is that Gen Y women conceive of their peer set in very different ways. It’s no longer bound to those people you see or talk to on a regular basis. I can keep in touch with the lives of my friends in Arizona in the exact same way I did when I lived there – through Facebook status updates and photo posts.

Characters from the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

I also have an easier way to reach out to women I wouldn’t normally talk to regularly because social web removes physical and mental barriers that happen in real life. I can follow smart ladies I’m inspired by and reach out to them only when I have something good to say. I joke with my aunts in Colorado, get tips from my mom’s friends in Nebraska and restaurant recommendations from my globe-trotting friends.

An important aspect of this new peer set is people Gen Y women have only met online. Bloggers, top tweeters, industry gurus, authors and artists are all looped in to my daily lifestream (now if only I had the tech to synch all my sites and gadgets – fodder for another post). I frequently attend events and seminars, then stay in touch with presenters online.

Judgments about Truth & Authenticity

PopSugar cites:

“Gen Y women have been inundated by advertising since birth, growing up in an increasingly cluttered and fragmented media landscape. It is a generation that is highly media and marketing savvy, conscious of advertiser attempts to market to them.”

So, we’re accepting of peer views and skeptical of reviews that may be biased. The key that the study misses is that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to bring a perspective to bear – after all, we’re all human and can’t help having an opinion. Just be open about sharing it. I’d rather just have you reveal your bias and be done with it, instead of trying to guess what perspective, sponsor, or affinity you bring with you in your writing or reviewing.

Accessibility of Trends & Ability to Express Ourselves

Ladies of Sex & the City

While social media allows Gen Y women to extend social circles also gives us quicker access to trends and an openness of mind that a bigger worldview allows. It’s not just that we are more individualistic because we’re risk takers or more confident women than generations before – it’s that our society is more open to letting us share it.

Part of being able to spot trends is a greater degree of acceptance of individuality. While in the early years of women at work, it was all about fitting into the boy’s club, now uniqueness and innovation are key ways to distinguish yourself from the pack.

I think PopSugar’s observation that “Consumption of new media, such as blogs, reinforce Gen Y women’s perception of themselves as more individualistic than earlier generations,” may be true, but it ignores the social norm shifts of the last decade or two.

It’s not just  accessibility of information via blogs, but our cultural openness to sharing, that makes online social networks an ideal forum for women.

Older Gen Y Women vs. Younger

PopSugar hones in on one important distinguishing factor about Gen Y trendsters: Age does matter.

“Younger Gen Y consumers (defined as 18–22 by Forrester Research) are the demographic most concerned about image and lifestyle trends. One in five, or 21 percent, agrees with the statement ‘I like to show off my taste and style,’ compared to 16 percent of older Gen Y (defined as 23–37) and 8 percent of the total US average.”

Ladies of The Hills

Younger Gen Y women are more likely to share superficial trends like fashion, celebrities or TV shows – though those simple points of reference are crucial entry points to create the common points of reference that relationships develop on, no matter your age.

As I’ve seen, older women will continue to use all tools available for lifestyle needs (like time management or career mentoring) and get really good at forging meaningful connections, faster.

With more mature interests come mature online usage, i.e. social causes and fundraising.  (Ignore that aunt that just discovered Facebook and subsequently Farmville – as she deepens her understanding and familiarity with the tools, her usage will mature.)

The study briefly caught onto this, citing, “Respondents also men­tioned Gen Y women’s impact on social issues, their ability to discern the difference between more long-term trends and fleeting fads, and their likelihood to spend time in social venues.”

More time spent face-to-face with other women than our male counterparts is another indicator that online sharing will be high-touch – frequent and personalized.

Multimodal Mamas

As everyone consumes more online content, Gen Y women have quickly adapted a “multimodal” usage pattern –merging media, devices and sites into one big lifestream of constant usage.

I’d maintain that women who are your classic multitasking warriors – working moms, globetrotting sales consultants, etc. – are probably the best equipped to handle streams of information coming from everywhere at once. The rest of us may need help synching.

The Scary Part: An Opportunity?

One throwaway line in the study was really an eye-opener for me – the rest really wasn’t a surprise, rather validated my own online usage patterns and network structure. It quotes author Rob Frankel from his work The Revenge of Brand X:

“Boomers bought stuff because they needed it; Xers buy because they want it. Gen Y . . . are easier targets, because they have grown up in a culture of pure consumerism. They’re more likely to buy because they see buying as a part of life.”

I am guilty of this. I know many other women who wouldn’t like to admit it, but we recognize that our social lives often revolve around consumption – dinner clubs, shopping dates, in-home parties, swapping deals. However, Gen Y has also been hit especially hard by the recession, with unemployment for young people higher than the already skyrocking national average.

Intergenerational group from the movie The Secret Life of Bees.

What kind of mentality switch will happen for Gen Y women who reject the ‘just charge it’ mantras that lead our moms and grandmothers into economic hardship? Will it be a hippie revival of ‘less is more’?

I’m hopeful that it will mean more lasting change. Gen Y is already known for more involvement with issues like AIDS, education, poverty – maybe the rejection of consumerism with all its online trappings will mean using sharing tools to mobilize awareness of world issues, not just the next big makeup sale.

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