social media workshop

Social Media Adoption: It’s a Generational Thing

social media workshop

That’s Mary Jane in the middle, ready to speak at a social media panel I hosted.

A recent post from my friend and telephone mentor, Mary Jane Copps, aka The Phone Lady about the millennial generation’s discomfort with TALKING ON THE PHONE really got to me. As I was reading the post I was very conscious of my inner voice asking “What do you mean Mary Jane? How could someone be THAT uncomfortable with the phone that they don’t even use it to call family and friends?”

I grew up in the generation of phones that were attached to the wall. I remember the excitement of getting an extra long cord so I could take the phone around the corner and sit down to have a conversation with a friend out of hearing from my parents! And I well remember getting scolded for spending too much time on the phone. “After all,” my father would say, “You just saw them at school!”

As I was reading this article, it struck me how similar the two situations are…sort of.

Social Media in the Millennial Generation and Generation Z

Generally speaking, this group was born between 1990 and now. I got my first cell phone in 1998. iPhones entered the market in 2007. Most born in this era have never known what life was like without a smart phone in their pocket (generally speaking). Parents-to-be save Facebook and Twitter urls before babies are born. Toddlers can manipulate tablets before they can feed themselves. Scientific papers are being written on how best to use technology in preschool education.

This generation has grown up with texting, Facebook and Twitter. They’ve grown up shortening words, using acronyms and downloading the latest app their friends recommend. So it’s really not surprising they’re growing up not really understanding how to use a cell phone to, well, make phone calls. As Mary Jane said in her article “it isn’t because they are lazy, undisciplined or stubborn. It’s because they don’t have experience.”

Social Media in Generation X

Now what if you turn the tables and think about the generations before. I’m square in the middle of Gen X. I grew up with a personal computer at home because my father was the first Computer Science teacher at my high school. But even those of my peers who didn’t grow up with computers at home from that early age have adapted pretty well. In this situation, I seem to have the best of both worlds…the ability to use social media and the understanding of what the telephone means to people.

It’s the Baby Boomers I thought of immediately when I read Mary Jane’s article. Baby Boomers grew up in an era of party lines, black and white tv, and when Encyclopaedia Brittanica came in a large, heavy series of hard cover books that cost a small fortune. Is it any wonder they don’t “get” Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat? Is it any wonder they still prefer to read a newspaper rather than Reddit? (I know, I know…not all Boomers have trouble with social media.)

“It isn’t because they are lazy, undisciplined or stubborn. It’s because they don’t have experience.”

From the Baby Boomer perspective, Mary Jane’s article would go something like this:

The past few years have revealed that many older people (I’ll say those over 40) do not use text messaging and social media on their phones. They email and phone (although social media is increasing), but having a conversation via text message isn’t commonplace. They’ve been criticized for this in the media but, as I’ve said in a previous post, it isn’t because they are lazy, undisciplined or stubborn. It’s because they don’t have experience.

They haven’t grown up in a world where cell phones, texting and social media are everyday occurrences. In fact, using a computer or cell phone is so foreign to them, it’s intimidating. And we all stay away from things that intimidate us. When it comes to communication today, there are so many options it’s easy – for all of us – to avoid the ones that intimidate us.

But I believe that the value and need to be able to use social media is on the rise. Many will argue with me and there are some companies abandoning social media all together. Many experts say we will get tired of the intrusive nature of social media, but I think we will become numb to it, just as we’re numb to violence in movies. And it will grow.

So, this was very interesting to me as a social media trainer. Many, if not most, of the people who come to my social media training, are Baby Boomers (and some Gen X). They haven’t grown up with this technology and they are working hard to understand, adopt and catch up, in order to stay in business. While I knew this before reading the article, it was a great reminder to think about how I can ease people in to social media in a way that makes sense for them.

What do you think? Are we simply repeating a pattern that’s been circling for millennia, where the young adapt quickly and the old struggle to catch up? Or is social media a phenomenon all to itself?

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Comments (3)

  • Mary Jane Copps
    Mary Jane Copps Reply

    Wow! This is great. And so true. Why I am I not active on Google Plus and Facebook. Because there is something about these two platforms I still don’t understand and that’s intimidating. I need to “practice” but I don’t take the time. Thanks for this great post Anita Hovey.

    April 14, 2015 at 9:33 am
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