Today’s teens and young adults are the first generation to have come of age after the rise of the social, mobile web, so the avenues through which they interact with media are by definition new and different.
What does it mean to grow up with access to billions of people and virtually endless amounts of information in your pocket? It means that digital natives maintain higher levels of connectedness with their social circles, and they expect equally high levels of engagement and interactivity from publishers.
Content is consumed primarily on a communications device, the mobile phone, and, as such, it needs to be communicative–an interactive exchange between publisher and user, rather than a passive, lazy narrative. This is why the term “selfie” has become representative of this digital generation. A selfie is, after all, one part self-portrait and one part social sharing.
And the smartphones we use to take selfies and enjoy interactive content represent the pinnacle of personal. We carry our phone closer to our bodies than anything else. We accessorize it. We customize its interface. We keep it on us 24/7. The term #homescreen is a consistent trend on Twitter because the apps we own and the services we use are more than just tools–they’re a sort of virtual, definitional selfie.
When was the last time you asked a stranger to take your picture for you? What would be the point? When you take and post a selfie, you’re doing more than just capturing the moment. In essence, you’re celebrating having your command of the moment, and you’re inviting your social graph to share in the celebration.
In this context, interactive digital content functions as a selfie, too, since it engages and surprises users. It provides insight into your self-definition and preferences–for relationships, celebrities, politics, sports and so on.
And interactive content is eminently shareable. Like selfies, people interacting with and sharing digital content want reactions from others. This is why polls, shareable video content, flip cards, quizzes and other interactive formats have become social media sensations, and it’s why the results are shared so often–by having engaged with interactive content, the sharer has actively uncovered and revealed aspects of his or her identity.
Selfies and interactive content serve this purpose, too. “A texting conversation might fall short of communicating how you are feeling, but a selfie might make everything clear in an instant,” James Franco noted in a 2013 New York Times op-ed. We share content online because we feel it supports the self-images we all craft.
Ultimately, most of what we do with contemporary media products boils down to (borrowing YouTube’s tagline) “broadcasting ourselves,” but in a deliberate way. The products that resonate most with the selfie generation are those that the user engages with directly.
This is why interactive content is so magnetic. Quizzes can provide personality insights. Polls can help a user determine where they stand on an issue relative to others. Countdown lists allow publishers and creators to express an opinion. The video content you share on your social channels give your circle a close look into what makes you tick. And they all encourage sharing and participation in a playful manner. Like the selfie, digital content is predicated upon self-reflection and social interaction.
The biggest media breakouts of 2016 are likely to be products that enable engagement in even more personal, interactive and social ways. The way that people tell stories—on Facebook, in messages, through video—is changing. And the way digital natives engage with online media on a personal and social level, like the selfie, will undoubtedly shape how publishers and individuals present themselves online
Publishers should not be stagnant; adoption of interactive formats is key to their ability to stay relevant in an age of declining attention spans and growing need from consumers to engage with content in a manner that enables self-reflection and social interactivity.
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