Where did it all begin?
Social media has radically changed how we communicate today. Since the futurist sociologist Manuel Castells predicted the rise of globalisation, the information age and the networked society in the 1980s, the popularity of the internet has exploded. With the invention of the first IBM PC in 1981, the Apple Mac in 1984, the mobile phone in 1988 and Tim Berners-Lee’s “World Wide Web” in 1990, our 21st-century lives have been totally reshaped by technology. As a result, it is now easier than ever before to find new ways to interact with others on both a social and business level via this rapidly evolving medium.
However, to develop better B2B and B2C marketing, sales and recruitment strategies, it is important to understand the different generational groups’ preferences when it comes to communications. So how does social media enhance inter-generational communications between Baby Boomers (b.1945-1964), Generation X (b.1965-1980) and Millennials (b.1980-2000)?
The 5 C’s
There are “5 C’s” of conversation, contribution, collaboration, connection and community that underpin the social media model. This allows more opportunities for everyone to participate in the exchange of views; to increase their personal connections with others; and to re-shape and share useful information in a more concise, precise, meaningful and efficient way. Instead of putting pen to paper or visiting those with whom we wish to interact, as was more common before the internet, we now rely on the convenience and economy of texting from smartphones; making Skype and FaceTime video calls; re-tweeting noteworthy messages on Twitter; “liking” posts on Facebook; inviting business associates to follow us on LinkedIn; and even sourcing new job/jobs opportunities through this “netnographic” approach.
How is social media used differently?
According to the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey, the social media revolution is being catalysed by Millennials. Having grown up with virtually unlimited access to computers, the internet, social media, smartphones and a “group work/free exchange of ideas” outlook, they see social media as the only viable option for remaining constantly connected to the world. This “digital native” social connectedness may potentially inspire Boomers’ and Gen Xers’ arguably more restrained fascination with technology for communications.
However, as much as Boomers may see social media as useful for bringing opportunities to transform their interactions and increase their social circles in ways that were simply not possible during their own coming-of-age years, for them it may not replace traditional forms of communication in quite the same way as it does for Gen X and Millennials. Many sociological studies suggest, in fact, that Boomers still prefer phone conversations and face-to-face meetings to the virtual ones loved so much by Gen X and Millennials.
Furthermore, the widening digital literacy skills gap between the generations (particularly Boomers and their more tech-savvy counterparts, Gen X and Millennials) that increasing social media usage highlights is beginning to create a new problematic barrier for societal inclusion. This has led to the rolling out of new government digital literacy training schemes for the public, in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the British Computer Society (BCS).
Other disadvantages regarding the ways in which social media has altered our communications relate to the lack of privacy due to the culture of “oversharing” that this technology appears to encourage. Trust issues with regards to virtual identities are also a real consequence of living our lives almost entirely online and there does not seem to be a way to “switch off” anymore.
Nevertheless, social media is on the whole an invaluable, interlinking focus for helping all three generations to realise their shared desire to make a difference, contribute to improving the world for future generations and – as pioneered by Gen Xers – find more productive ways of working. With continuous reflection and adjustment based upon greater understanding of each other’s essential differences, the attainment of team-oriented job/jobs goals should be possible. For this, email communications are a shared penchant that Millennials appreciate and which Boomers and Gen Xers use as the communications compromise to their generational differences.