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Generations and Social Media in Canada

February 13, 2011 - 2 Comments

Canada has some of the highest internet penetration and social networking usage rates in the world. Users of social media tend to view their online presence as a hub for communication, collaboration,  entertainment and information.  This is the first time in our history that we have five generations in the workplace and it is important to understand how Boomers and Gen Yers view this world.

In a nutshell, for boomers, social media is a place and a set of tools.  And for Millennials, it is simply a way of every day life.  Boomers are all about propriety and living offline.   They were trained in formalities, taught never to offend.  Millennials ignore formalities, sharing to them means being and living online.   As a Millennial at Cisco Canada, recently told me: “My generation is just a bit louder.  The older guys are much more formal.   They had to worry about “big brother” and we can’t get information fast enough through our online networks.”

And the key changes that we are all witnessing in our connected world is that business and industry is dominated by Boomers and the Consumer base is dominated by X’ers and Y’ers.  New tools can be accessed faster as a consumer than as a worker.  Many companies are faced with new challenges where Millennials who ask during the interview process about:

  • What mobile device does your company provide?
  • What is your telecommuting policy?
  • How much vacation will I get?
  • What is your company doing around the environment?  Giving back? Where do you rank with social responsibility?

This is new and increasing.  Again, Boomers used to get their tools and access to technology at work and then adopt them as consumers.  This has changed.  Today, consumers have access to more tools than what is offered by the organizations that employ them.  There is a growing increase by companies to introduce online collaboration tools to provide the same level of online access as people have in their day-to-day lives – Millennials need this more than Boomers.  Millennials want greater transparency and participation in the design of their work because that’s what they can do in their lives outside of the work place.

For some Boomers, social media is an unknown.  It is a “place” that sucks up your time and energy.  It’s a place where people post updates on what they are eating and doing every minute of their day.  Email, for most boomers, is their comfort zone.  The irony is that they did not have access to email all their lives but they are reluctant to give it up today and try other tools that are far more effective.  They avoid collaborating as they have spent most of their lives being trained to control information.  They created the notion of cascading information to the employee base.  Is it any wonder that boomers in management spend so much time in meetings and discuss how to achieve greater collaboration?

For Millennials, social media is part of their day-to-day life.   They were born at a time where connectivity was a given.  And wherever they are in the world, as long as they have some device to connect to the Internet, they can be online.  They have always had it.   They see the tools as a place where they live and connect with people.  Technology is simply a part of their DNA.   It’s integrated in their daily life and not something they need to think about using.  The device they connect with needs to have the latest applications and the fastest way to connect with others.

The disconnect in the workplace is not about whether or not to use social media at work for the Millenials.  It is about having access to platforms where they can share and be.  It is about having the same access they have in their personal lives as their professional lives.  It’s simply how they work and live.  They work with large networks and use multiple modes of communication during the day.   They also do not like hierarchy and view everyone in their organization as colleagues to collaborate with online and offline.

What are you seeing?  How are you connecting the dots?

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  1. I can't even imagine my life now without social media, it wasn't that long ago cell phones were a luxury, now they are a huge part of our lives.

  2. Ayelet: great comments and good insights. Since I must admit (under duress) that I am the parent of a Millennial, it is interesting to see the differences, first hand, every day. We Mapquest before we get in the car to drive somewhere new; they use GPS and/or their smartphone. We always have some emergency cash in our wallets. They can't imagine an emergency where there won't be an ATM nearby and often don't carry wallets. They now have watches, but mostly as a cool retro piece of jewelry than an actual timepiece. Email has faded to an exception; text replaces most communications. And all of this links into the workplace. Places that don't support this type of communication network, that force Millennials to give up their existing smartphones for a 'corporate' phone, that don't give them broadband and/or wifi access - are going to be strangely surprised at new recruits reactions. Their phones are no longer phones. With a tip of the hat to our friends at Pilot, (from whom I bought my first Palm in 1996)they are really PDAs. Personal data assistants. Millennials hardly use their 'smartphones' as phones anymore; they are much more than that. They are their lifeline to their network - personal and professional.