What generation gap?

Age doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese – Billie Burke

Billie Burke might be a long forgotten American actress, but I think she was on to something here – and certainly within the context of online communities. One of the great advantages of working with people online is that all those visual cues, which stop us from interacting with people who are ‘not one of us’, are rendered impotent.

Can you imagine conducting a focus group with 20 year old students, sitting alongside retired 65 year old schoolteachers? We’re quick to make assumptions about who a person is by the years they have lived, and even more so by their appearance, voice, body language, etc.  We fall back on grouping people according to demographics, not attitude nor mindset.

But what happens when age really doesn’t matter. Concern for the evironment or wanting a better deal from your bank or enjoying a chococlate bar is not an age ‘thing’. Why can’t we have valid converations across the generations, not within them. Which, of course, highlights one of the benefits of using online communities.

We’re currently running a community for one of Australia’s largest financial institutions and our age range amongst the 150 community members is 19 to 69. Our youngest are students, our oldest are retired teachers and medical specialists, amongst other professions. The thing that holds them together is that they are all banking customers, and they all have ideas on how the banking industry can be improved. And their dialogue is made more interesting by the exchange of stories and experiences. By putting them together, we’re getting a richer understanding of their worlds at large, rather than narrowly focusing on the issues of their age cohort.

In another community we’re talking performance vehicles with members across a 43 year age range. Does this matter when they are talking about the love for their cars? Not at all. A 71 year old petrol head, loves the growl of their engine as much as their 28 year old counterpart.

It’s not to say we’re always going to throw the generations in together. But more often than not, lifestage, attitude or brand relationship is a better foundation on which to build a community than how old you are.

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