“It’s all about likes”. It may look a simple four word sentence but in today’s age it carries immense importance, especially the last word: likes.

The documentary “Generation Like” made by PBS Frontline and narrated by Doughlas Rushkoff highlights the use of social media among the young generation and links up its importance with various other subjects.

We live in a world of globalization where there is a constant rise in the development of information and communication technology. People are engaged in interacting with one other and the most powerful source of interaction are the social media platforms like Facebook , Twitter , Instagram etc.

This documentary narrates that there is an increasing trend in the use of social media platforms among the younger generation. The effect of this change can be seen from the transformation in thinking patterns among the youth. They want to gain fame, they want to get empowered. And they think this is only possible through social media.

The documentary gives the example of Tyler Oakley and Steven Fernandez who make their own videos and upload them on their YouTube channel. Both have thousands of likes on their pages so the corporates approach them for their own gain and marketing. In return both YouTubers get accessories, new endorsements or even some small amount of money. A similar example is the Pakistan Canadian artist Zaid Ali who records videos related to the general life of “desi” people and uploads them on his YouTube channel. His videos are immensely popular and he recently signed an endorsement deal with the drink 7Up. The major gain for all three YouTubers is the increase in their fan following, or the number of likes, but in the longer term corporates gain in terms of revenue.

According to a book called Grown Up Digital written by Don Tapscott, the young people are making use of technology in a variety of ways. He calls this generation the “Net Generation”. Instead of just watching their favourite shows on the television (gathering information), this generation is actively taking part in the distribution of information. The book further says that for the first time, youth is an authority and their influence is continuously changing every single aspect of the society.  Their influence is not just limited to classrooms or their home but it has penetrated into the marketplace and corporate world which shows the digital age has arrived. And the “Net Generation” is one of the main forces behind it.

This whole process is again proved in the documentary when Ceili Everdeen, who in the real world is a die-hard fan of the Hunger Games, but in the virtual world, is a marketer for the Hunger Games brand. The concept is simple: Ceili continuously likes, shares, retweets the content of Hunger Games with an aim to win stars on the website. But on the other hand, she is increasing the popularity of Hunger Games and the businesses are generating millions of dollars in revenue.

There is immense power in social media. Today it has become a unique market for the promotion of a product or a message.

The documentary gives the example of Ian Somerhalder of the Vampire Diaries and how he makes use of his social media pages to spread the message for his charity.  The 2013 elections of Pakistan is a fine example of emergence of new election campaigns for political parties. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was the first to develop its own Social Media Cell which helped them lot in the overall election campaign. And most importantly for the first time ever in the history of Pakistan, the youth got involved in election movements. Realizing this importance, other parties also followed suit.

Social media has turned into the focused market place as businesses know that there is no need to employ extra marketing people; instead, let the audience act as a marketer and sell their product via social media. This is a unique market place where products could be advertised 24/7 with minimum effort and cost.  This is the real shift of 21st century where a consumer has turned into a marketer.

An ordinary user may not judge the science behind all this social media phenomena. In reality, this whole phenomenon is a virtual environment where a single like or tweet creates and updates a virtual demographic profile of the user. What brand we like, what music band we like, the political party we support – everything is recorded. And then comes the money making game.

The data is analyzed and whenever we log in to our social media accounts, we get advertisements related to our favourite products which we can buy online. We get updates regarding our favourite political party which we further share. This is all proved in the documentary by seeing social media companies like “The Audience” that can track real time data of any social media content dispatched through their systems.

According to a research “Social Media and Young Adults” conducted by PEW research center in 2010. 62% teens said that they get news on politics; current affairs through social media, 48% teens claimed that they do online shopping through social media which include books, music and clothing. This figure was 31% in year 2000. Lastly 31% teens also said that they get health information through social media. All these statistics show that how much this young generation is involved in the use of social media; and this is the reason that the corporates want the youth to remain online and use social media platforms so that in return they get the maximum benefit out of it.

There is still one interesting aspect which needs to be studied. That is the validity and authentication of a “Like”. There is one line in the documentary, spoken by Ian Somerhalder of the Vampire Diaries, in which he says that the overall numbers of likes on his page are even more than the overall viewership of Vampire Diaries. This single line sheds light on the fact that liking something on social media cannot be termed conclusive. This means that it could be that the person may just have pressed the Like button after seeing a good profile picture or a friend might have suggested it to him – or there could be any other reason. It’s more than plausible that the person might never visit the page again after liking it.

However, even the abovementioned situation signifies the intelligence of people running this entire network. They have attracted even that audience which may not have any interest in their content and yet they have pressed the like button and the business is able to benefit from it.

It is a fact that social media has become an important tool not only for communication but also for earning a source of revenue. And this entire network has developed significantly. It will continue to grow and it is the younger generation that will be the force behind it.

Watch the documentary ‘Generation Like’ here.