Millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, have grown up alongside the rise of social media. As for older generations, this is something they have experienced later in life. While both groups have therefore been around as the use of social networks has spread to the professional sphere, there is a difference in terms of their respective openness to this change.
Having begun their careers in the past 5-10 years, many millennials may only have known workplaces in which the use of social media for professional purposes is accepted, and even encouraged. Meanwhile, non-digital natives are likely to have spent years applying work processes in which social networks played absolutely no part. So in many ways, it’s a case of nature vs nurture – which begs the question: now that the value of social media for business is clear, can companies successfully encourage all employees to get on board? Can older generations compete with millennials on social media?
Key Factor No. 1 – Social Network Demographics
The first thing to take into account is that millennials are by no means racing ahead on social media. According to Pew Research Center, 64% of US internet users aged 50-64 use Facebook. Meanwhile, data from Statista indicates that 46% of global Facebook users are aged 35 and above. The issue, therefore, is not that older generations don’t use social networks; it’s that they are more likely to have experienced the prohibition of social media in the workplace, meaning that transitioning to workflows in which social business is not only accepted, but prioritized, may be more of a challenge for them than it is for millennials, who have entered the workplace at a time when the momentum of digital transformation is already underway.
Key Factor No. 2 – Don’t Take Millennials for Granted
The second factor to consider is the fact that the use of social media for business doesn’t necessarily come naturally to millennials; resistance (on the grounds that social networks are a personal communication tool) can come from individuals of all ages. This is why it’s essential to convey the value of social business not just for the company, but for employees themselves. Social media is now one of the main communication channels used by investors, clients and recruiters alike. So regardless of age, anybody who builds a strong online profile and nurtures professional relationships on social networks has a clear advantage, most notably in terms of visibility and accessibility.
Key Factor No. 3 – Thought Leadership Requires Experience
Another thing to bear in mind is that successful social business requires more than a comprehensive understanding of social networks and social media best practices; it involves the transferal of great content, as well as individual expertise. In this regard, it is older generations – not millennials – who are at an advantage. On social media, prospects look to connect with sales professionals who have proven expertise, recruiters are on the lookout for all profiles – fresh graduates, as well as individuals with years of experience – , and business decision makers want to network with those in senior positions. So given their level of experience, older generations have an arguable advantage when it comes to developing an online profile, and using industry knowledge to interact with professional contacts on social media.
Though widely accepted, social business is a relatively recent practice – and one to which professionals of all ages must adapt. Social networks might be in millennials’ nature, but that’s not to say they are always open to using social media for business purposes. Moreover, social business comprises a number of skills that can be as new to millennials as they are to older generations – social selling and personal brandingbeing two key examples. So for companies, driving the use of social media as a key communication tool must begin with the assumption that employees of all ages can be as digitally savvy or unfamiliar to begin with, and that they therefore have the potential to be as successful as each other moving forward.
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