From The Horse's Mouth: College Students' Search And Social Behavior
Media Post Blog
Dec. 8, 2009
by Laurie Sullivan
Meet Beau Hennings, a freshman of environmental studies at the University of Utah; Mitch Sturges, a senior majoring in music and voice, at the University of Utah; Katie Hathaway, a sophomore studying linguistics and computer science at the University of Utah; Meghan Hekkers, a senior studying English and French at Westminster College, in Salt Lake City; and Thinh Doan, a junior in biology and premed at Westminster College.
These college students participated in a panel discussion on search and social at last week's MediaPost Search Insider Summit. I realize a panel of five doesn't quite make a broad trend, but marketers need to pay close attention to the future of media and how 20-somethings and those slightly younger view technology, specifically search.
There's no doubt there's a generational divide. In a previous panel, Kristine Sherliker, lead communications manager at Unilever, had mentioned that 25 is the average age of product managers at the consumer products goods (CPG) company. She also pointed to a distinct difference between product managers age 25 and 45, in the way they use social technologies.
These particular college students said searches on Google lead them to retail sites, such as Amazon, where they buy products. They tend to rely on Google to research items first. Although Hennings and Hathaway tend to buy most products online, they don't trust Amazon's consumer reviews.
Unlike Hennings and Hathaway, Hekkers will search for products in Amazon. When searching for textbooks she searches for the ISB number for text books in Amazon, but then compares prices with Barnes & Noble, and Textbooks.com. Doan tends to buy his textbooks at eBay's half.com.
The group also admitted to making online purchases regularly, at least once weekly. The items tend to run the gamut, from hard-to-find mountain-climbing gear, to DVDs. "I bought my laptop straight from the manufacturer's Web site," Sturges said, explaining that he might go to the store to look and feel the product, but buy it online, especially from companies he has bought from before.
Hathaway might go into the store to ask questions, but tends to buy most products online, including clothing. If while walking through brick-and-mortar retail stores she finds the same products online for less money, she will still buy them online right there. "I shop online with purpose; I usually know what I'm getting the person before hand," she says, admitting typically giving friends DVDs of movies and TV series, or books. "If I were to get my brother a Batman belt buckle, I would search on Google, and then click on the first three or four sites returned."
Hekkers shops for everything online, except for food and clothes. In her most recent purchase, searching, researching and shopping online allowed her to buy $250 in textbooks for a little more than $100, she says.
Nearly unanimously, the group points to Twitter as an annoyance, rather than a benefit. Most of their friends don't use Twitter. Some will get news from Twitter, such as the passing of Michael Jackson, or the infidelity of Tiger Woods, but they don't want to read the minute-by-minute descriptions of people brushing their teeth or going to the bathroom. Hennings doesn't think status updates from friends are the same on Twitter as on Facebook. It's not about the mundane things people do, but rather related to "funny stuff," he said. "I have enough of my own stuff going on. I don't feel the need to follow up on everyone's every move. It makes for less personal interaction when you see them, because you would already know what they do every moment of the day when you see them."
Ironically, Sturges, the senior majoring in music, is the only one of the group who syncs Twitter and Facebook status updates. So, when posting a comment on Facebook, it appears simultaneously on Twitter. He relies on Twitter more for news, and Facebook more to connect with friends.
Sturges's social media habits could reveal some behavioral insights, especially after Google's announcement Monday. Yesterday in Mountain View, Calif., Google demonstrated how Twitter status updates, or tweets, will appear in real time in search engine queries. The insight found in the tweets could give marketers one more behavioral piece of data to target display and paid search ads.