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Social Media Influences on Generational Behavior and Vice Versa

May 7th 2012
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By Phyllis Weiss Haserot

Social Media – it's much more than Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, and even Foursquare, Pinterest, Tumblr, blogs, podcasts – it seems new platforms are created every hour wherever sharing is happening. Not only is the accelerating use of these outlets affecting our behavior and use of time, but also social media are influencing behavior of the different generations – and vice versa.

For example, Boomers and Gen Xers, who still do most of the hiring, evaluating and promoting, now routinely check out social media as part of sourcing qualitative "data." This has effectively caused students on spring break travel to rein in their behavior for fear of damaging cell phone camera photos turning up on Facebook, YouTube, and e-mail. TheNew York Times quoted students and hospitality workers industry admitting potential social media exposure rendered behavior markedly more conservative than in past years (The New York Times",Spring Break Gets Tamer as World Watches Online", 3/16/12).

In February I served as the generations expert on a panel about use of social media to reach and bridge audiences of difference generations. It was presented by Women in Communications Inc. in New York during Social Media Week. In preparation I outlined answers to several questions posed in advance, and I am sharing some of them with you below.

How do different generations use social media - what do they share with their work/personal contacts?

  • They share information and free advice to get followers. Gen Yers, particularly, expect information to come free. They expect free samples before buying, games and contests with prizes.
  • What is shared across generations? Gen Yers are eager to connect with Baby Boomers for business contacts. I get lots of LinkedIn invitations from Gen Yers, including students, after networking events.
  • Gen Y shares everything – a blur of personal and professional.

Do baby boomers use social media differently than other generations? Yes and no. Some differences are:

  • They tend to separate professional and personal information on sites. Younger generations make less distinction between professional and personal.
  • Boomers are more concerned about privacy.
  • They are not as continually on social media.
  • They may have different notions of what's news. (Gen Yers tend to think whatever they do is news and worthy of an update to their world.)
  • Gen Yers use social media for invitations, checking in at venues, meeting up and getting recognition for use.
  • There is more "selling" from the younger generations on social media. (One of Gen Y's labels is "Generation Sell.")

How can you "teach" older generations to communicate effectively and efficiently on various social media platforms?

  • Boomers are active on LinkedIn and are business- and job-oriented.
  • Boomers need to become more concise in their messaging (think 140 characters) and use more visuals.
  • There are many free webinars/teleclasses teaching effective use, including copywriting using keywords and search engine optimization (SEO).

What are the biggest mistakes communicators make when trying to reach multi-generational audiences through social media?

  • Not challenging assumptions about who uses social media and who doesn't and how.
  • Using only one message and one format. Offer a choice of media; though video seems to be taking over, it is not everyone's preferred way of learning.
  • Not varying the degree of directness of a "sell." Older generations especially need to develop a relationship first.
  • Not considering the image of celebrities and spokespeople used so that the audience relates (young, old, thin, athletic, etc.).

Social media and its use will continue to evolve and become even more central to our lives in positive and negative ways, depending on your viewpoint. Critical are taming the time demand beast and creating situationally relevant metrics for ROI.

Please share your thoughts on this topic, which is significant in the commercial and personal realms as well as the workplace.

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About the author

Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the Cross-Generational Voice and the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over twenty years ago. A special focus is on the profitability of improving workplace intergenerational relations as well as transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners ( Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West Publishing  2011). [email protected]. URL:


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