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  • James Skinner

Why Millennials Care About Social Capital

I was fortunate enough to spend some time this past Summer working for a Fortune 500 company based in North Carolina. It wasn’t unusual for me to have many meetings during any given work day. Because of my busy schedule, I didn’t think too much about one of my scheduled meetings on the topic of consumer trends in retail. However, during that meeting, I walked away with great new insight on my peers within the millennial generation.

The presenter of the meeting held the strong opinion that people have overgeneralized where millennials like to spend their money. You’ve probably heard the statement that millennials like to spend money on experiences – not things. This statement is used as one of the primary differentiators between millennials and earlier generations of people – particularly in the U.S.

The reality, as I discovered in the meeting that day, is that millennials are after something more than a good experience. I would like to take the opportunity to amend the older misleading statement to the following: Millennials spend money on anything that can be connected to a share button. In other words, many people in the millennial generation spend money where they think they can make gains in social capital.

"Millennials spend money on anything that can be connected to a share button."

I must also confess the truth that the idea of social capital existed long before my Internet savvy generation of peers. Society needs social capital to effectively function. While social capital has always been a need for the individual and for society, the difference that separates millennials from older generations is speed of satisfaction. With the rise of the Internet, and more importantly mobile connected devices such as smartphones, our social networks deliver communication in real time wherever we go. Unlike previous generations of people, Millennials and Gen Z are spoiled by this instant communication that holds the capacity to immediately satisfy our personal need to boost social capital.

How do I confirm this theory? First, there is evidence found in research that supports the idea that the human body releases dopamine (what makes us feel happy) whenever we get affirmation from other people. People feel better when they socialize with other people! There’s hardly anything new here. However, my generation grew up with the resources to gain social capital in real time from people around the world.

Here’s where I cite the impacts of social networking on my peers. I have several social networking accounts including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At one time, I was a regular user of Snapchat, but I’ve since deleted the app from my phone (more on this later). There have been multiple instances where I would browse photos my friends have shared on Instagram only to find them mysteriously vanished moments later. Why? I liked the photo. It seemed like a good experience that someone was trying to share. My educated guess is that people delete content from social networks if they don’t meet or exceed their expectations in affirmation. I’ll make it much simpler: My peers couldn’t care less about whether they thought the picture was worth putting up. They let society decide whether it had any worth.

"I’ll make it much simpler: My peers couldn’t care less about whether they thought the picture was worth putting up. They let society decide whether it had any worth."

As previously mentioned, I used to be a pretty regular Snapchat user until I reached the realization that most of the content that I shared and what I watched daily was just garbage. Snapchat messages mostly consisted of pictures of food, alcoholic beverages, unauthentic “funny” faces with filters, and dogs that are apparently very good boys. From my perspective, Snapchat was actually detracting from living in the moment and truly enjoying my experiences – something contrary to how most Millennials see their social behaviors.

I’ll leave my readers with these final words of advice. First, try to put down your smartphone and be more in the moment. Second, social networks are the perfect places to extend your personal brand, but try to keep it somewhat authentic! Finally, for those looking to make some money, it appears that Millennials and Gen-Z are willing to spend quite a bit of money on ways to make quick gains in social capital. If you have an idea that can be easily and feasibly connected to that share button, you’ve got a great chance of striking some big bucks.

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