• Millennials digitally vet agents by using Yelp, Facebook and Zillow, and many people wonder if Facebook will continue to be effective.
  • A generational trend is one that is unique to the generation and is likely to persist.
  • A life cycle trend is one that will correct over time, as a generation reaches a different point in its life cycle — Facebook will likely fall on the life cycle side of the spectrum.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years speaking to real estate audiences about the evolving expectations of millennial clients.

Much of this conversation centers around the way millennials digitally vet agents online by using tools such as Yelp, Facebook and Zillow to research agents before reaching out to them.

Toward the end of the presentation, I invite the audience to ask their questions about this generation.

There is one that almost always pops up: “My 17-year-old tells me that Facebook is lame and is for old people now. She spends all of her time on Snapchat and Instagram. Is Facebook the best place to connect with millennial clients?”

I like to answer this question with a series of other questions.

“Does your 17-year-old own a life insurance policy? Has she ever purchased a baby stroller? Does she regularly buy wrinkle cream?”

Life cycle trends vs. generational trends

Can we conclude from the inevitable “no” answers that life insurance, baby strollers and wrinkle cream are going out of style? Of course not.

All we can conclude is that your daughter has not yet reached a point in her life where those items are important to her.

In generational research, this is what’s known as a “life cycle trend,” as opposed to a “generational trend.” A life cycle trend is a trend that is likely to correct over time, as the generation reaches a different point in its life cycle.

A generational trend is something that is unique to the generation and is likely to persist throughout its development.

For instance, this generation’s aversion to working in the same job for more than a couple years is likely a generational trend. This generation’s relative lack of interest in baby strollers is almost certainly a life cycle trend.

Some trends are harder to discern as definitively generational or life cycle. For example, a growing debate among generational theorists is whether this generation’s relative lack of interest in marriage and children is a life cycle trend or a generational trend.

What about Facebook — is it a generational trend or life cycle trend?

Smart people might disagree on this, but I believe it will be a life cycle trend. Here’s why:

College students built Facebook for college students

First, consider the roots of Facebook. It was initially started as a way to connect Harvard students with each other. In many ways, this is still its most logical use case.

When you first arrive at college, you have two pressing social needs: to quickly make and manage dozens — or even hundreds — of new relationships and to find a way to efficiently keep in touch with your high school friends, who are now likely scattered across the country.

Facebook offers an elegant solution to both of these needs. For this reason, we find that many kids who find Facebook “stupid” or “pointless” in high school immediately understand its utility in college. And they soon become avid users in college.

Of course, don’t expect your kids to admit they were wrong. They’ll just slowly, begrudgingly start using it more.

Email R.I.P.

When I was entering college (way back in 1999), tech analysts were predicting the end of email. Their logic? High school students used email less than any other demographic group.

Apparently, they had mistakenly identified email as a generational trend, when it was a life cycle trend. To this day, few high school students use email regularly, though tech analysts have stopped reading too much into this.

Don’t get me wrong; social media is always changing. Facebook today is very different from Facebook five years ago. And the popularity of Snapchat tells us something about this generation’s shifting expectations for social media — for enhanced privacy, exclusivity and immediacy.

Who knows? Maybe over the next couple years, we’ll see Snapchat-esque functionality embedded into Facebook.

No matter what shape Facebook takes over the next several years, it’s still the best place to spend your time now. It’s where homebuyers are being social and doing prebuying research.

And, it seems likely that by the time your kids are old enough to buy homes, they’ll be old enough to appreciate Facebook.

Casey Wright is the founder and CEO of Wright Brothers Inc., a Web development company dedicated to the residential real estate industry. You reach Casey on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Email Casey Wright.

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