Q&A: Kevin Bachus, chief product officer Bebo and co-founder of Xbox

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Marketing Week (MW): How do you feel about the suggestion that social networks are ’infantalising’ the brain?

Kevin Bachus (KB): I can easily hear things like that being said 60 years ago with the emergence of television; that people were just living in the moment watching television shows. I think it’s natural to be concerned about new technology but Bebo users see social media as something to augment their real-life friendships. It’s just another way to socialise with others. People think that instant messaging doesn’t give children a cohesive narrative because it’s very brief snippets of text and some of it can be quite juvenile – “I just had a cheese sandwich” for example – but I would argue that it’s part of a much larger long-term narrative they’re having with friends.

MW: Are these social behaviours going to change the way brands target consumers?

KB: I agree with Baroness Greenfield’s comment that marketers will have to try harder to make consumers feel like they have a relationship with the brand. There is no question that consumers are looking for authenticity and they want to know the individuals behind the brand. That is something that social media amplifies because we provide the tools for consumers and marketers to have that dialogue.

MW: Do young people have a more unstable sense of identity because of changes to the brain?

KB: Children form their identities based on their interaction with friends, parents, peers and teachers. What teenager doesn’t want validation?

But now there’s more immediacy and a broader exposure to potential validation than there was before. Social networking is just a tool. It can be silly, or it can provide broader communication possibilities – as we saw in the Middle East [revolutions] this year.

MW: Do you feel gaming could have an impact on young people’s understanding of actions having consequences?

KB: There has been a lot of research on this topic and it’s pretty consistent. Not only is it not the case but actually quite the opposite. Children are absolutely able to distinguish between things that happen in real life and things that happen on screen – virtually every major study that’s been done on video games proves that. In fact, when you can go back and try something again to see if has a different outcome, it shows a very direct link between your actions and the consequences and reinforces problem-solving skills.

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