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Social Trends among the younger generation - opportunities?

I was recently at the Microsoft Global Accounts Summit, which is a high level meeting for the company’s top customers.  Among the fascinating agenda items was a presentation by Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft’s entertainment and device businesses (yes, he’s the guy responsible for much of Microsoft’s reputation for “cool” among some customer segments!). 

He made a very interesting observation about how different the younger generation is from those that came before in terms of how and with whom they network, socially.  To whit:

The generation of consumers growing up now is the most social generation in history.  When I grew up I had friends in the neighborhood.  We’d get together with people in the house.  This generation of kids have friends in the neighorhood, but their definition of ‘neighborhood’ is completely different.  Teens and people in their twenties have an average of 53 friends.  The fascinating thing is that 20% of them they have never met in person. 

These virtual friends open up all kinds of opportunities for changing the experiences people have with your products and service offerings, and I believe we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the implications of this.  Trends that have already been noted include the potential for viral marketing among loosely grouped bunches of people, the use of friend recommendations to enhance reputation or sell products and the evolving definition of who is a trusted source.  There are also major downsides that companies really need to think about before making potentially stupid moves. One I read about just the other day is that when you and your boyfriend/girlfriend break up, and you change your status on sites such as Facebook, it tells all your friends!  Imagine the multiplier effect of having all that heartbreak out there in public where everyone can see it. 

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