What PR consultants need to know about ScreenAgers, brand trust and reputation management

If I stated, “the weather’s changeable” you’d probably accept it without challenge, as every day the weather changes. If I asked you to find two snow flakes exactly the same, you would probably agree that’s an impossible challenge. However, if I told you that ScreenAgers know more about digital, media and social and than you (or me) I expect you would, in the politest way possible, move on and find something wholly more agreeable to your views. We have to learn to overcome our inbuilt and significant preference for news that plays to our fears (TED talk) and views that confer with our own views and opinions (Obliquity); we have to think outside of our comfort zone. ScreenAgers don’t have our old models to hang onto; it is worth seeing where they are going, so we can tag along.

Yes, there are new rules for engaging in a digital world that build on the social ones handed down from previous generations (33 new digital rules); but generally the digital age in which we live is creating change. This digital age is making things faster (PEW) and there may well be just too much information (Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice).  How we are dealing with it is widely debated (Nicholas Carr), and some business models and indeed businesses are being cast aside, think Encyclopaedia Britannica and Kodak this year. There are some very contentious issues that we love to debate: privacy, trust, identity and reputation management are the obvious ones that cross marketing, PR, brand, technology, law, regulation and economic boundaries.

Whilst we sit about debating our own personal views, the ScreenAgers are a group of savvy young communicators who have jumped into the fast flowing digital stream and learnt to swim. While they perfect their techniques, we are still deciding if it is safe, if the water’s the right temperature, how deep it is, if we’re insured, what to wear, who’s already in, what the risk is, and who will teach us about this unknown!

Given this change, what is the ScreenAger’s view on branding and trust and what can we learn from them?  Some primary research was undertaken in Q4 2011 by ScreenAgers Trust Model; and the output is quite uncomfortable for hard line traditionalists who still hang onto their management theory from a 1990s MBA. Even the father of corporate strategy, Michael Porter accepts he was wrong about profit being a primary driver (HBR) and his value chain ideal has been tossed into the bin (HBR).

Our findings suggest that ScreenAgers understand privacy and they understand brands. ScreenAgers ‘get’ that they are the product, and advertisers are the customer of their free services. In terms of trust, they have an expectation that brands will exploit their data, and indeed expect them to do so, if they want the brand’s free services and personalisation. However, their willingness to share (share infographic) about goods, services and products is built on trust (45%) and experience of the brand (35%).

The survey looked at what ScreenAgers trust, and the results showed that they understand the balance of what data should and can be collected.  They have expectations of who should get what data; and as regards analysing data and creating value from data for personalisation or customisation, they have strong views on who is good at it, and who is not.

So the message from this research appears to be that there needs to be clear alignment between brand promise and brand delivery, if you expect ScreenAgers to share with you and share your message. A refreshingly honest lesson for PR consultants to think about.

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