Social Media Gap
New forms of communication are causing a generation gap in the workplace — but who’s really at a disadvantage?
Look around your workplace. Chances are you’re seeing younger and more employees on Facebook, Twitter, iPhone and Android apps, and hundreds of other social media applications and platforms. The prolific little snippets of social interaction have spread like wildfire.
To the younger generation, they blur the line between personal interaction and a professional business tool. The Old Guard still often sees them as noise compared to established traditional channels of business communications. Both generations often wonder how the other gets anything done.
The work force 10 years ago was dominated by personal relationships, marketing savvy and big personalities. The phone, e-mail, cocktails and personal meetings dominated the corporate environment. The traditional work force relied heavily on building long-lasting relationships. It was not uncommon for deals to be forged over golf games and wine tastings. Access to key players was controlled by “gate keepers” who kept people’s time at a premium. Employees worked harder on fewer relationships with higher returns. Patience was a virtue and personal networks were closely guarded. This made the world harder to operate in, but also kept the noise down.
From the perspective of the social media savvy work force, tools such as Twitter and Facebook allow them to reach people more quickly and on a broader scale. As both producers and consumers of small bite-sized pieces of information, the younger generation views it as a time saver all around. They say, “Twitter is great. I can get hundreds of followers and talk to them all at once.”
If only a few of them engage it’s a win because so little time went into the relationship. For the more advanced social media users, the medium can be used to boil down complex human interaction into simple metrics. Suddenly, interacting with 500 people on Facebook becomes a game of which word in a sentence sells more product. This drive toward obtaining results immediately fits perfectly with the behavior of social media, as well as the millennial generation’s mind set.
The question isn’t about how well employees will communicate with each other across the gap, but rather, how they will communicate with customers. Companies looking to bring in social media talent must first learn if the consumer they are serving is ready for that type of engagement. A traditional work force will have a difficult time communicating with social media consumers. The solution here is simple: Hire a younger, more Twitter and Facebook happy employee. The Old Guard then assumes a more managerial role. Minor training will be required to bridge the intra-office political gap, but at least the consumer is being served.
If the company is serving a traditional consumer through a younger work force heavily engaged in social media, there may be a significant impact to the bottom line. It’s usually impossible to retrain consumers, and very hard to undo the customer interaction expectations social media has set for many younger employees. Given characteristics of the millennial generation, training social media employees to use traditional means may also be next to impossible. With a significant supply of traditional employees still on the market, companies will probably end up matching their employee base to their consumer base through hiring practices.
Employees have the option to transition from traditional to social media communicators. Traditional employees have the advantage of growing up in a world that did not know social media; that world will never completely go away. Social media can be learned at a fundamental level fairly easily. However, younger employees have grown up with social media. They’ve learned to use it in many creative ways and can ride the wave of social innovation with little effort. The new generation will, however, have to rely on the Old Guard to pass down hard lessons learned in the traditional space.
So what does social media mean for employees in the future? Based on trends, it will probably be a requirement soon. The world is embracing social media, and the medium is just in its infancy. As new tools to manage and control social media emerge, it will become more complex and essential to both office politics and customer interaction.
Everyone graduating today is steeped in social media and only a few years away from key workplace positions. The Old Guard will transition to areas requiring less and less social media and then fade from the workplace, leaving behind only a handful of the most effective old school communications techniques. By then, it may not matter; social interaction is evolving so quickly the social media we know today will be old school in the very near future.
Paul Kenjora is founder and CTO of Arkayne Inc. Arkayne helps marketers improve online sales conversion. Kenjora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.