Designing digital engagement with Generation Alpha

Digital Media
May 14, 2024

Generation Alpha – people born in the early 2010s to mid 2020s – are set to be the most diverse, largest generation, with consequently the biggest spending power, and they’re already influencing their parents’ spending decisions. They’re passionate, and compassionate. They’re tech natives who grew up with smart phones, and think differently about what ‘culture’ can be, consuming it differently from their parents and Generation Z.

Gen Alpha and culture 

That means museums and the wider cultural sector need to think very differently about how we engage. We can’t rely on what has worked in the past, whether that’s our physical offer – exhibitions, events and programmes – or indeed our online offer – the content we hope will reach them online. Generation Alpha is our future audience, but they’re also people we need to engage now.

One of the V&A’s strategic goals, as we transform into a family of museums, is to broaden how we connect with diverse local and global audiences. We know that digital is an essential way to do this – to bring the V&A brand to people who’ve never heard of us, who may never enter through our doors. We also know that connecting with – and being relevant to – a Generation Alpha audience needs something different from us. It’s by working closely with this generation, to understand their interests, needs and wants, that we’ve uncovered ways in which the V&A might show up in their lives online. Our first step on this journey is mused, our new interactive website for 10 – 14-year-olds.

An audience-first approach 

Young V&A, which opened last summer, similarly draws on a deep understanding of what kids want and need. It was while developing Young V&A, we collectively asked what does ‘digital’ mean for our target Generation Alpha audience?

Museums and other cultural organisations typically – and understandably – use our collections and our galleries as a starting point for digital engagement. We’ve flipped this thinking on its head, by probing deeply to understand what is resonating with younger audiences online, exploring how they engage with popular culture, and then creating a really relevant content offer that threads back to the V&A’s themes and collections. Essentially, that’s what we mean by taking an audience-first approach, and that’s one we’re pushing across all our digital activity.

Gen Alpha digital behaviours 

‘Alphas’ have been exposed to smartphones and tablets for much of their childhood, with streaming services and social networks a part of their daily digital diet. We know that kids are spending increasing amount of time online. Worries about screen time are a very real concern – given the potential for cyber bullying, screen addiction and possible exposure to inappropriate content.

But digital technologies, too, help kids navigate their daily lives; they use them to learn, to socialise and to be entertained. We can see there are very different behaviours in their digital consumption (as with all age groups). There are both ‘lean back and ‘lean in’ behaviours – lean back being a way to relax into an experience (for example scrolling through social feeds), and lean in involving more active participation.

So, we asked, what value might the V&A bring? How might we get on Generation Alpha’s digital radar and give them something they find worthwhile? We knew we wanted to offer a ‘lean in’ experience, that offers a safe space where parents can feel happy for their kids to spend time. That naturally led us to developing a digital product (an interactive website, with a privacy, safety-first approach) rather than, say, content on a social feed.

An under-served market 

We focused on target age group of 10 – 14-year-olds. Why? Because we believe they’re under-served online. There’s plenty of stuff for younger children, from YouTube Kids and to National Geographic Kids. And while we know there is a considerable proportion of kids in this age group that are on socials, the content they find there isn’t necessarily suitable or, indeed, relevant.

As for ‘lean in’, our hypothesis was around two areas of value – mastery (demonstrating and building your knowledge and understanding of topics) and social currency (having stuff to talk about with peers), and this formed the basis of our product strategy. But creating a new online destination risks a ‘build it and they’ll come’ assumption. That’s why we’ve used data to drive our work, from testing our product hypotheses and building out our content offer to driving traffic and engagement with the new site.

Learning from data and behaviour 

We’ve taken an SEO-led approach to mused – analysing what content most appeals to this audience. Most of our target audience of 10 – 14-year-olds across the globe will never have heard of the V&A, so how can we build content around the terms that they’re actively plugging into search?

We’ve also run a series of user labs to help test our thinking, to get their insights to help shape the product and to question some of our assumptions – for example, to understand if social currency and mastery are things that matter to kids of this age, and seeing if and how a product could deliver on their needs and interests.

For a deeper, more qualitative data dive, we set up a Trendspotter panel. Over the last year, the panel has helped us to understand more about how young people consume and engage with content, and to identify the trends and topics that are going to be relevant to our target audience. Some of the insights generated by this brilliantly inspiring panel have led to content about fashion ‘cores’ like our Grungecore vs gorpcore quiz and helped refine the content for our music category, which features artists including Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar.

Armed with all these data insights, we created mused – an online product designed to entertain kids with formats and topics that work for them, wrapped up with a user experience that invites them to explore the V&A’s world of art, design, performance and creativity. Our starting point – the audience itself.

Digital engagement for younger audiences takes a lot of groundwork, continuous analysis and testing to drive insights into what people want and need. But that groundwork more than pays off – with a hugely positive responses from our audience and 20% month-on-month growth since launch – and, ultimately, is helping to take the V&A to new global audiences online.

Mused is generously supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Digital Accelerator for Arts and Culture. Thanks to SEOMG! for helping to develop an award-winning SEO strategy and to Sonia Joao at Oxy Insight for running our Trendspotter panel.

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