Telenor research duo Wenche Nag and Mona Hovland Jakobsen conducted several workshops with 16-17 year old high school students from Oslo’s Akademiet High School during the fall 2011. This June, they went back to school to present the results and to find out what’s changed.
Mona Hovland Jakobsen and Wenche Nag, a research team within Telenor Group’s Research and Future Studies department, decided that Telenor needed to better understand the communication habits of youth. During the fall 2011, they explored how a group of 16 and 17-year-olds from Oslo choose between communications channels such as Facebook, Skype, voice calls and SMS.
“Today’s youth are the digital frontrunners, and if you look at the statistics, this is where smartphone penetration is at its highest. Plus, it’s more exciting to talk to youth because they discover the new services much faster,” said Mona Hovland Jakobsen.
More than six months have passed since Nag and Jakobsen first met this group of students. The findings from this project generated great interest throughout Telenor, and these researchers have given multiple presentations internally. This study also piqued the interest of VG Helg, the weekend magazine edition of Norway’s largest newspaper. A team of VG reporters joined Nag and Jakobsen during their June 7 presentation for the Akademiet students.
Teacher expresses initial skepticism
“You are Norway’s new oil; society’s most important resource. The next 30 years are more about you than about me,” explained teacher Andreas Brekke to his students, prior to the presentation. “At first I was skeptical to letting you participate in this project, but through this process and experience, I felt that we’ve been included and listened to…and that Telenor was genuinely interested in what we had to say.”
A resource, not test rabbits
Telenor’s Head of Research and Future Studies, Bjørn Taale Sandberg, was also in attendance and was quick to thank the students for lending their expertise to Telenor researchers. “You are a resource, not test rabbits. We want to understand how you use the services that we deliver and why, so that we can deliver what you need,” he said.
A quick review of the results
During the presentation of the results, Jakobsen and Nag told the students that it’s the services that are available on multiple screens that they use the most. They are a typical iPhone gang, with 72% carrying the Apple phone. And that voice and SMS are still important services for them, despite the onslaught of Internet-based options.
“We thought that youth used a wider variety of services than they actually do. When it comes to communication there are four main channels: normal voice calls on the mobile phone, SMS, Facebook and Skype. There isn’t much use of the so-called new and cool communications services,” explained Jakobsen.
Facebook proved to be overwhelmingly popular back in December, and Nag asked the class if that was still true. Heads nodded in assent, and the teacher (Brekke) interrupted, asking the students if Facebook is now the authority on when they should come to class. Due to a message posted on the class’s Facebook group from one of the students, all students were under the false impression that English class was cancelled for the day, resulting in nobody showing up. Brekke stated, “Facebook is not the authority for when you should come to class or not.”
What the students had to say
After their presentation, Nag and Jakobsen turned the conversation back to the students, asking them for their opinion on the findings.
“Some things have changed since the workshop,” one student announced. “Instagram has now become one of the most used apps. We publish photos and follow each others’ lives…and it’s easier to use on the fly.” Twitter has increased in popularity as well. One girl explained that it’s the best way to stay in touch with celebrities. An overwhelming number of student said that they follow Justin Bieber’s Twitter account to “feel close to him”.
VG wants to know what the students thought
“It was fun! Cool that they are interested in what we do, and it’s exciting to see the results,” explained one student to the VG reporter. Another student said that this project made him think about things he doesn’t usually think about, and it gave insight into how dependent he is on communications services.
Why study youth?
Jakobsen and Nag explain that by studying youth, Telenor can better understand emerging communication habits that may have an impact on the telecommunications industry. Today’s teens are data hungry and quite knowledgeable about how to use new Internet-based services. The pre-teens emulate their behavior, while the parents and grandparents simply try to catch up. It’s a generation that was born with the Internet and they can’t understand a life in which Facebook isn’t always a click away.
“These are future important customers,” said Wenche Nag. “We want to understand the communications practices that are developing. It’s not only about understanding the here and now, but also to get some indication on what’s emerging. And 16-year-olds are a good place to start.”
Going beyond Norway…
Jakobsen and Nag hope to take their study on youth to other Telenor markets, including Asia. Norway, they explain, is like a small laboratory for them, but they hope by expanding their research to the rest of the world they will better understand the differences between how youth communicate in Bangladesh versus Hungary, for instance.
“Without knowledge about the needs of today’s youth, we risk falling totally behind. We have a strategic incentive to stay close to the end-customer, and if we want to do that, we need to understand what’s going on with them,” concluded Jakobsen. “This is a generation that will be very frustrated if they pick up a phone that’s only a phone, so we need to be prepared to meet their needs now and five years from now.”