Meet the 97ers: the social digital generation

Emma Mulqueeny lifts the lid on the generation that has grown up with social media.

The '97ers' – young people born in 1997 or after – have grown up only knowing a world of social media. Now aged 18 or 19, they are a ‘wave’ which will soon be entering the workplace in numbers, according to Emma Mulqueeny, CEO of Elbi Digital, speaking at last week’s UKSG conference.

The 97ers have five key characteristics which set them apart from previous generations of young people, argues Mulqueeny.

Firstly, they have ‘ruthless moments of concentration’, typified by their use of impermanent social media services such as Snapchat which demand that you focus in the moment, or miss out altogether.  In working with the group, therefore, the challenge is determine how best to engage that concentration, taking them on a journey to hear the story that you want to tell them.

Secondly, the group is intensely tribal. Each individual 97er will be both a community leader and community member; an expert in some things, and a learner in others. They will make choices – for example which workplace or university to attend  – based on whether they want to join that particular ‘tribe’.

Leading on from this, they are also ‘relentless researchers and natural conspiracy theorists’. They gain kudos in their social groups from the ability to prove other people wrong, and so will put effort into detailed research – for example, finding out as much as they can about who they will be working for, or with, when applying for jobs. Openness and transparency are essential: “if you’re not open and transparent, you’re not real”.

Mulqueeny describes the group as “multi-cultural global citizens – borders don’t matter, and geography doesn’t matter”.  And the 97ers are informed data traders – “they totally understand the trade of data for ‘free’ services – they never expect something for nothing and they don’t give something for nothing.”

As a consequence, Mulqueeny sees a difficulty in getting the 97er group to engage with philanthropy, because they don’t see it as transparent: “They won’t do anything if they don’t trust you, if there’s no feedback loop, and they can’t trade their data for free stuff – even if they want to help”.

Mulqueeny also made some startling predictions around intellectual property. “IP makes no logical sense to (the 97ers)”, she explained. “It will be dead in 10 years”.