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Digital-Marketing Series: 9 Ways to Reach Digital Natives (and the Rest of Us, Too)

by Ann Handley  |  
November 4, 2008

Last night I pestered my 11-year-old to go to bed. It was getting late, and she was up past her bedtime. "Mom, one more minute... please," Caroline begged. "I want to finish this blog post."

She was writing the latest post on a new blog she co-writes with her friend Laurie-Maude. Modeled on the Disney TV show iCarly, the "CLM Show" is a text and video blog written on the Vox platform—so they can control the distribution. (They don't want the more icky boys at school to have access to it, for example.) They produce the 10-minute video "shows" each Sunday afternoon using my Flip video camera, and they update the "behind the scenes" in text posts throughout the week. They alert their fans about new episodes via email.

I would guess that two sixth-graders' writing, directing, and producing their own video show really isn't that unusual today. YouTube is stuffed silly with kids on camera and behind it, too. But, nonetheless, it's pretty amazing, isn't it?

Caroline's comfort with social media tools and her innate knowledge on how to use email to drive traffic surpass that of most grownups I know. It even surpasses her older brother's; just five years older, he isn't nearly as digitally fluent as she is.

Is that because Caroline and Laurie-Maude attended last month's Digital Marketing Mixer to learn how to integrate social media and email to further their brands? No.

Is it because they've solicited advice from me? No (although I did suggest the Vox platform and walked them through YouTube uploading).

Rather, it's because they are digital natives. They seem to intrinsically know this stuff, and they have an easy confidence with it that even I—with my love for it and immersion in it—lack. Around 11-year-olds, I'm like my partner, who grew up in Lebanon and moved to America when he was 10. Although his command of English is better than most people's—he's an editor, after all—he nevertheless lacks a certain comfort with American culture and language that natives possess. He'll always be an immigrant, just like I will be (and maybe most of us will) with digital media.

Much has been written about how this new generation of digital natives experiences the world: how they learn, live, relate, think, connect, fantasize, play, process, and communicate. One of the best descriptions I've ever read on the topic was based on an article written a decade ago by visionary Marc Prensky, who argues that new media and technology have inherently changed the way Digital Natives think, often in positive ways. In his article, Twitch Speed Learning, Keeping up with Young Workers, Prensky identifies 10 ways that digital natives "think differently" (and it's nicely charted here).

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Sonny Gill Tue Nov 4, 2008 via web

    Great points Ann!

    Taking these 9 points internally within a company, it's what's separating traditional media people and the digital natives (those using Twitter, Plurk, etc. and using it right). The reluctance to allow digital natives to implement new media specific strategies within their brand and company. The reluctance to let go and give some freedom and actually put a face to the company. Like you said, no one wants to be talked at, but rather talked to as an individual with a voice, but companies are finding it tough to open up and ditch their corporate 'mumbo-jumbo' in way of just being real.

    Ultimately, it's the digital natives role to educate and build acceptance among traditional media minds (internally and externally) of new media and demonstrate that either you evolve with it or get left in the dust.

  • by Janine Libbey Wed Nov 5, 2008 via web

    Sonny's makes a good point about companies being hesitant to use new media. I just came back from a marketing association lunch on social media and one of the first questions asked was, "How do you measure ROI?". It's important for the laggards to realize that some metrics can be used with social media, and that they remember that some forms of traditional media do not provide a clear ROI.

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