Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The shifting summer holiday paradigm

I started running again recently. There are myriad reasons why it's good for me, not least the fact that I get to run in places that I wouldn't normally have occasion to visit. My running coincided with the beginning of the summer holidays and as I huffed and puffed around the back streets I dragged past a bench that I've gone past many times before. You've probably seen loads of benches like it. Someone, or some body placed it there years ago, but you've never seen a single person actually sat on it. You've probably wondered why the hell it was ever built in the first place.

On that particular night though there were three kids sat on and in front of it, about 14/15 years old chilled out, enjoying the early evening sun (yes there was sun this summer) and just having a very pleasant looking time. Three days later on the same route I passed the same bench, but this time there were 5 or 6 kids hanging out. Same vibe, quiet, chatty and relaxed. There was a mix of boys and girls and
they looked pretty cool (what do I know, I stopped being able to read that barometer years ago). It had a lovely feel to it, not so much incongruous, as unusual that this was where they'd chosen to be. Granted it had a little bit of greenery, some shade from the sun with the trees, but nevertheless it was basically in the middle of a suburban sprawl with no shops nearby, no real 'entertainment' on hand, just a bench as a focal point and few opinions.

My running's continued sporadically over the summer holidays and rather than varying the routes as is my normal practice I've been following the same pattern and as the weeks went by the size of the group that was gathering around this previously unloved bench grew to around 20. I started to enjoy running past it. It was convivial, quiet, considered and above all fun.

Then it began to change. As I ran past it seemed slightly more fractious. The group was bigger, there was alcohol, it was rowdier, there were factions, the conviviality had gone and as I ran on, two of the original kids I'd seen weeks before were walking away.

I went on holiday at the end of August, returning at the end of the school break at which point I resumed my slow painful fitness regime. When I ran past everything was different. The original kids had gone and had been replaced by a completely different group of individuals. Obviously I'm looking at this as the parent of kids not a million miles off this age, but they were oiky, 'orrible, oily individuals.
There was a lot more drinking, a lot more shouting and the original spirit was gone. Come yesterday evening, two days after the schools had gone back there were four kids left drunk and surrounded by litter.

The bench was over. The cool kids had moved on. The spirit had disappeared. The paradigm had shifted. I’d like to think the cool kids had found another anonymous bench. If I’m honest they’re probably back at school, but it suits my romantic side that they’re all happy chatting in Pleasantville just a few streets away.

Now inevitably this whole episode has led me to muse on the nature of social networks, their adoption and possible future abandonment. I watch brands pour millions of dollars/pounds through specific channels and often think ‘I really hope they don’t ruin this’, because if they do their audience won’t stick around they’ll just move on elsewhere, not only that they’ll switch that brand off ‘FOREVER’ because that’s the choice being online gives you.

Facebook popped up out of nowhere 5 years ago, 515 million users on the late majority are still ploughing in, with brands following in their hoards, but there’s really no reason to believe that Facebook won’t go as soon as it came.

Facebook’s sudden disappearance is unlikely, but it’s important to understand when the cool kids leave and where they’ve gone, because they’re the ones who’ll spark the next big thing and as a brand you need to know about that and be prepared to act upon it. I’m not going to go into how in this post as that’s a whole different issue and in fact the answer may be, ‘do nothing, hang back’.

The point is, you have to be fluid, you can’t be too brash and you have to consider the huge range of variables that may open up to you through digital channels and be prepared to embrace them. Concentrating in just the one area and using it and abusing it for every last drop of value is a dangerous game and can ultimately leave you in the wilderness, with a bunch of ‘friends’ that left for a better bench long ago.

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