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Are some of us too old to build relevant media products?

By Jodie Hopperton

INMA

Los Angeles, California, United States

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The headline may not apply to you, but it probably does. This came up in a few of my conversations during a recent trip to London. Some stemmed from the same source: a conference looking at new technologies and what’s on the horizon.

Naturally for news product people, this means building for other generations. People who aren’t us. Does that mean that we are too old? 

While this is kind of funny, it’s also true. Not for everything. And not all new technology. 

As we’ve recently talked about targeting Gen Z, you need to have people native to the platforms you are planning on using. It’s important to understand the nuance. I consider myself an early adopter (my house is fully adapted to be a smart home, I usually have the latest Apple devices, and somewhere in a cupboard there is a VR headset collecting dust). But I don’t KNOW Snap. Or TikTok. I dip in and out. I haven’t grown up with it. 

But it’s not just different audiences or even different platforms. It’s new technologies. I understand a lot about the metaverse, a little of web3, and of course in this newsletter I have also written about AI and machine learning.

But when these technologies become mainstream, we need to find people who are truly native to them and use them on a day to day basis. And that’s likely not you and me. It’s more likely to be our kids. Just take a look at this chart (note that this is 2021 data. I suspect some of this has grown wider apart in 2022):

All differences shown in the DIFF column are statistically significant. The DIFF values shown are based on subtracting the rounded values in the chart. Respondents who did not give an answer are not shown. Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted January 25-February 8, 2021.
All differences shown in the DIFF column are statistically significant. The DIFF values shown are based on subtracting the rounded values in the chart. Respondents who did not give an answer are not shown. Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted January 25-February 8, 2021.

I tested the theory of being too old with other people. However Chris Duncan, CEO of Bauer UK, disagreed with me. He has seen many times that new technologies and processes internally can be adopted brilliantly by older age groups. It’s more about the individual willingness to adapt. And, of course, he is right. Age is not always a factor in adoption and the ability to understand something.

Maybe we don’t know what we don’t know. I just read an article by Axios on the use of emojis and how it can divide the workplace. The same emoji can be read very differently by people. We think we’re down with the kids, but we’re not. It’s not the technology itself. It’s how it’s used by different people. 

Now we are seeing new generations that are truly native to different things. We haven’t seen that before, at least not digitally. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that Facebook is for old people, Instagram is for middle-aged people, Snap for Millennials, TikTiok for Gen Z. Apparently a quarter of U.S. adults under 30 now get their news from TikTok.

Coming back to the conference that started this debate, Kara Chiles, senior vice president/consumer product at Gannett, commented to me: “We need less build-for and more build-with. During this conference, we had all these enthusiastic digital publishers in the room. We were lacking the group we need as part of the conversation: Gen Z. All of these efforts are about figuring out what this next audience wants, and they were largely under-represented in the room. Easiest thing in the world to do: Ask them what they want.”

So here’s where I landed: You need both. We need the people who understand the nuances of business, new technologies, and launching new products — those likely older with some experience under their belt — as well as the people who fully understand how to maximise the use of a platform of technology. Maybe this is one person but likely not. It’s helpful to have counter views and to look at all sides of a story.

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Jodie Hopperton

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