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Social Media is a Gen Y Battlefield: Conan, Leno & 'The Tonight Show' Debacle

I'm with CoCoI just finished watching Oprah Winfrey's interview with Jay Leno as well as  her after the show discussion with her audience in Chicago.

As I watched the episode, I found myself taking notes (dork alert!) and thought I'd share a couple few thoughts on the role social media & youth played in the whole The Tonight Show debacle.

  • After watching this mess unfold the last couple weeks and after watching Ms. Winfrey's discussion with her audience, I think it's interesting how Team Jay and Team CoCo fans seem to fall largely along generational lines. Why? I think that many Gen X/Gen Y look at Conan and think "he's like me" whereas Jay Leno is "that guy that their Boomer parents and grandparents watch."
  • Also, at a time in our history where Gen Y are feeling the brunt of the recession more than other demographic groups, I feel that they looked at this situation and identified with a storyline where someone their age was "getting screwed" over by corporate America. I'm not saying this viewpoint is rooted in reality, just that this NBC drama resonated because it was a mirror of what is happening in their own lives.
  • Conan's fans were more effective at using social media to self-organize on Twitter, Facebook and other online communities to tell CoCo's side of the story. Look no further than Facebook: Jay Leno (17, 642 fans) vs. Conan O'Brien (871,825 fans). In the end, Conan's staff and fans were able to use social media to connect with their fan base, share his story and take this situation out of NBC's control and ultimately turn the court of public opinion against Jay Leno.
  • During her interview, Ms. Winfrey pointed to an poll that showed something like 96% of the people who voted were on Team Conan. Here again I think Conan fans and social media played a role in skewing the numbers in the 'Tonight Show' poll. I can't tell you how many Tweets, texts and Facebook messages I got last weekend from other Conan fans urging people to vote for "Team Conan" on Oprah's poll.

One thing is clear: If NBC wants to rehabilitate Jay Leno's burnished image, they are going to have to jump into the social media trenches and tell their own story--before someone else does. They also need to face the cold reality that they don't have absolute control over the message anymore.

I may be wrong, I may be right. What do you think?

Either way, given the situation in Haiti, this seems like a really silly discussion. This is a point that Conan made every night during his final week: Forget about us (Jay & Conan) and donate to something that really matters--Haiti Relief.

I think that's something that we can all agree on. If you haven't already, here's how you can help the people of Haiti.

And oh, apologies to Pat Benatar.....

Image Credit: Mike Mitchell Illustration

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