Survey Results: Digital Natives Definition & 3 Surprising Subscription Habits

Are you wasting time with email marketing? 50% of Digital Natives might say yes

If you’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street protests, you might be shaking in your boots about the future generation of consumers—do they expect everything for free? Surely they can’t expect jobs if they want everyone to work for free, can they? Thankfully you’re likely already giving away plenty of free, valuable, information on your website—right?

Well, have you been wondering how the next giant generation of consumers—those mysterious “digital natives”—prefer to subscribe to your free content online? When we asked a few non-digital natives in an informal survey, they pretty much told us that the current generation of twenty-somethings are a bunch of social media-crazed web-niacs that don’t even use email anymore.

Stepping back from the ledge, I can tell you that those somewhat dramatic reactions are only partly true, but I guess we all have our own preconceived notions.

Fortunately, in August Mequoda conducted a “Digital Native Study” that asked fifty 24-30 year-olds about their media consumption habits. If you’re curious what the appropriate digital natives definition is, it’s a person who has grown up with digital devices (computers, cellphones, etc.) and has not had to adapt (those who have adapted we call digital retreads). Nine of them volunteered their answers on video (see below). The results of this study (conducted in person and online) told the following story:

50% of digital natives prefer to subscribe to their favorite brands on Facebook

This means that when your loyal magazine subscriber, book buyer, or free report download-er wants to get more information from you, they’re most likely to click on your big “F” button to get it. The best part about what we learned from this survey was that these subscribers have no delusions about what they’re subscribing to—they expect promotions.

Even better, those surveyed who chose Facebook (the whopping 50%) subscribed for the promotions. Everybody loves a sale, right?

Thankfully, building your following on Facebook offers many of the same benefits as building your email list. In fact, social media claims 60% “market share” on click through rates. Email only accounts for 31% (source: FastCompany). Imagine if you could build a Facebook list as large as your email list?

Coming up in a supposed unexpected second place is the email newsletter. If you thought the younger generations had inbox overload like the rest of us—you were apparently wrong.

70%+ of Digital Natives subscribe via Email and Facebook (if they really, really like you)

In fact, according to a question that asked participants to give all the ways they’d subscribe to a single brand, Facebook and Email were chosen as the top platforms for subscribing to one of their favorites.

In fact, our results showed that at least half of these digital natives would subscribe to at least three feeds or marketing channels for a single brand. Even more, we were shown that the moment after purchase, or after they’ve put their trust into you by giving you their email address, is the best time to get someone to subscribe to all of your lists.

In other words, you might want to start adding “Follow” and “Like” buttons to your thank-you pages while subscribers are most in love with you.

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64% of Digital Natives unsubscribe from email first

Unfortunately, all of those email marketing blue skies and dancing unicorns took a nosedive when we asked which platform the digital natives would unsubscribe from first—in the instance that they were getting too many updates from a company.

Email newsletters had a strong (and annoying) first place on this one, bringing in 64% of the vote.

So in terms of taking a step back and breaking it all down, these are the results of this section of the survey (more sections to come):

  • If a customer / reader / peruse-r likes your stuff, they’ll subscribe to you everywhere you want them to.
  • But if they had to choose only one, they’d choose Facebook.
  • And when you start annoying them with too many updates, their inbox is too precious to waste.

That’s not so bad, right? In fact, from another question in our survey, results showed that 92% of digital natives said that they do subscribe to email newsletters, in general. It’s just unfortunate that email is expensive to send, has a lower click-through rate and takes a heck of a lot more formatting.

Your biggest obstacle is creating a list (aka “likes”) on Facebook that matches that of your email list. No bounce rates to measure, no spam filters to get through—this is all looking clearer now, aye? In fact, the equivalent of your email open rate is now your Facebook click-through rate.

Your new strategy: Get people to sign up for your free newsletter (with a free white paper, perhaps?) and immediately usher them over to your Facebook page while you have their attention. This way, if you lose them in email, you still have their attention on Facebook.

So how about another strategy? For those coming in via Facebook instead of your website, how about asking them to “like” your page before they get access to a free white paper? It’s a low-risk transaction for most consumers; Much less threatening than asking them to give up their email address. Promising more free white papers (or other free products) when they stay subscribed will ensure that they stay on your list in the same way that people stay on the lists of their favorite retailers—for the sales!

And since you waited so patiently, here’s a video to this portion of the Digital Native Study:

What’s your reaction to this survey? Let’s discuss in the comments.

    Amanda M.

    I absolutely agree with everything you’re saying. The trouble is that if the future generations decide Facebook (or some other future platform) is where they choose to subscribe to you, you’ll need to cater to that. You can’t force people to love email, even if it is the best and most direct way to communicate with your users.

    B2B businesses will have an easier time keeping customers in email, but B2C businesses are facing an audience that’s using Facebook messaging to communicate with their friends and family instead of email, so for them, email is becoming obsolete. My brother who is heading off to college soon, has never used email to get in touch with me, we communicate solely through Facebook, as do he and his friends. He surely has an email address needed to sign up for accounts, but his generation just doesn’t see it as a daily communication tool like ours does.

    Social media is still just another “list” though. I just think it’s important to pay equal attention to both in order to prepare for the future.


    Good information, and thanks but Facebook has a lot of problems from a marketing standpoint.

    Facebook owns the platform, it’s not like your list that you own. If Facebook can change the rules of the game anytime they like. (As they are currently doing so people see more family/friends and less page related content.) Facebook can also MySpace at any time. There is always a danger building your house on a platform you don’t control or have any real rights to.

    Facebook is like marketing on a crowded street corner, everything is loud and competing for the users attention. You’re just another voice among the clutter. Email is intimate and quiet, just you and the reader in a shared space. This allows for a lot more flexibility in how you communicate.

    Your competition can follow your every move on Facebook, it’s all out there in the open. Not only is it easy to see what you are up to, but the response your fans have to your actions. There is no private failure or success on Facebook, your fans and competitors are all watching your every step. Even if your competitors subscribe to your email, they have no idea what your open rate or click rate is, or what people are responding to.

    You can’t segment and test on Facebook. Every time you make a move it’s swinging the bat at your whole entire list with no idea of the outcome. There is no opportunity to refine or split test.

    And finally, you flat out can’t reach everyone on Facebook, there is no guaranteed delivery. You can put out a post but then if you want the best shot at having it read you need to pay for sponsored stories… every time! Email is free after the monthly service fee. Once you own an email you can market to it as long as you like without paying every time.

    We like Facebook, and we use Facebook, but it’s a completely different animal from email and should be approached with both eyes open as to what your getting for your investment in time and money, as well as what the risks are.



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