As I mentioned in a previous post, I am working with some US colleagues on a proposal for a panel session on Boomers, for the October 2009 BlogWorld & New Media Expo.

I’m also working with colleagues in China on projects to do with marketing to people there. I’m conscious all the time of the need to consider the cultural and historical contexts of research findings and strategic advice.

The use of the term “Baby Boomers” or “Boomers” for short, is an example.

In a presentation a couple of days ago, via Skype video, as part of one day seminar in Guangzhou, China, I spent some of the time on a subject for which (as with many issues, especially about social media in China) I have more questions than answers. The point I was making, as illustrated in the slide presentation, was that anyone reading research reports from USA/the West needs to be aware of certain demographic and cultural assumptions that might not map easily or at all to the China context.

I gave the example of the Baby Boomer classification and how the life experience and market activity of US Boomers as a group were quite different from those of their age equivalents in China.

Ford Mustang 2965I am not a sociologist, or a demographer or a sinologist, although I do have some academic qualifications in history: from all I have read and observed over the years about the Baby Boomer generation (or generations, as in Older Boomers and Younger Boomers) in the West, and from what I know of China’s history and the harsh lives many of that age generation have had in China, I am of the view that the term is quite misleading as a guide, for example, to any company wanting to market to that age group in China.

And having looked at this issue for a few weeks now, off and on, and presented my comments the other day to a group which included some very knowledgeable people in China, none of whom challenged what I was saying in that part of the presentation, I was pleased to discover today an indication that others may have similar or related thoughts to mine. That indication came in the form of a link to a January report by Forrester Research.

Forrester Report on Social Media in China

When Forrester Senior Analyst Steven Noble mentioned in a video interview I did with him in February that “40% of online adults in metropolitan China are content creators, publishing regularly” I thought that was a rather impressive statistic. I thought it was even more impressive when I checked later and found that Forrester’s figure in 2008 for that “creator” category, based at least largely on US statistics, was only 18%.

I hadn’t realized at the time that late in January Forrester had released the report by Steven, with colleagues, Chinese Social Technographics® Revealed: Forty Percent Of Online Adults In Metro China Are Content Creators.

On the Forrester site there is just a one paragraph “Executive Summary” teaser (the full report is available for US$749), but Adam Schokora has a helpful blog post about the report (hat tip to Sam Flemming of CiC for the link).  Adam summarizes the report’s findings, in a not-news-for-China-Internet-watchers note, as follows:

1) social media in China is mainstream,

2) content creation among Chinese netizens is more common than in the West,

3) BBS discussion forums trump social networks in China, and

4) Chinese social media users have higher incomes, education, and consumption levels, compared to non-users

By the way, Adam Schokora helpfully lists the cities covered, for the purposes of the Forrester report, by the term “metropolitan” China as: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Xian. So we are talking metropolitan mainland China, it seems.

Adam also helpfully provides some of the statistics from the report, using Forrester’s graphs including the Social Technographic “ladder”.

I noticed instantly that the graphical displays used the terms “Older Boomers” and “Younger Boomers”, as well as the terms Gen Y, Gen X and Seniors.


Then, while checking back to the Forrester site, I noticed a link to a note of a March update to the report. The update reads:

In this analysis we inadvertently published inadequate, Western demographic definitions, such as Gen X, which have no sociological relevance in China. To avoid confusion and cultural-specificity, we think there is merit in dropping labels like Generation Y from any Asia-focused reports and using 18- to 28-year-olds instead.

Doesn’t say anything about whether Forrester has also considered dropping the “Boomer” categories for China reports. Or is there a valid argument for using that terminology in the China context? “Boomers with Chinese characteristics”, anyone?

Hopefully someone can shed some more light on this.

Credits: Picture of American “Boomer” car – Ford Mustang 1965 by digicla – Creative Commons license

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