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Using Social Media to Better Communicate with Those We Lead: From Baby Boomers to Generation X and Y

Social media buttonsBy Dr. Sandra L. Torres

Leading across generations has never been as difficult or as easy as it is now thanks to the rapidly changing and growing volume of content that is created and consumed via technology, especially social media. And what an incredibly diverse media it is! Social media allows users to constantly interact with each other, which is completely unlike legacy media that allows little two-way contact. This interaction allows you to produce, consume and share content with an enormously divergent audience across a wide spectrum of experience. But do today’s leaders know how to deliver all this content creation?

Communicating Across Generations

Most of us believe that multiple generations can influence each other’s attitudes and beliefs and that it is possible for any one group to change the degree of social connectedness within that group. There are social and cultural differences among today’s generations, particularly in the use of communication technology; some use technology at higher rates than others. This means that people who lead multiple age groups should be able to communicate effectively across generations. Take the Baby Boomer generation as an example. It has dominated society’s cultural taste in music and fashion for decades, but what about communications?

Because the Boomer population (77.5 million) has held leadership positions for some time, it is especially critical that this group knows how to best communicate in today’s technological world. Although a high percentage of Boomers are anticipated to exit corporate America over the next five years, many are postponing their planned exit for economic reasons.

There are roughly 46 million Gen X-ers (born between 1964 and 1982) and Gen Y-ers (born between 1981 and 2000), also known as the Millennial Generation, to take their place. This means there are fewer potential leaders coming in to replace Boomers, which makes the impending Boomer brain drain an even greater concern for business.

This intensifies the importance of knowing how to communicate and transfer knowledge and social media is intergenerational communication’s most effective tool.

Social Media and Boomers

Social media is an incredibly broad category and refers to blogging, wikis, video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vine, photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The good news is that high numbers of Boomers are already using the Internet. Although most use it for information gathering and a fairly high percentage of them have Facebook accounts, they have not fully migrated to other forms of social media. So how do Boomers decipher, learn and choose from all of these forms of communication? How do they know which are the most effective in reaching their target population?

Choosing the right communication tool is largely a matter of personal choice and most communication consultants advise that you begin by simply trying one.

Why Use Social Media to Communicate Across Generations?

There are several important reasons why Boomers should embrace social media. First, is feedback. Using social media—such as Facebook or Twitter—allows us to hear what people are saying. Attracting attention is another reason. We can tweet information out to reach a targeted audience and know if our message is being read. Social media is also great for helping others. By posting useful information on a micro blogging site such as Twitter, we can give users a real-time look at trending topics, including what’s going on within the organizations where they are employed. Lastly, social media can be used to empower staff to use social media effectively to win support for the organization.

LinkedIn is a business oriented social networking service that should be standard for all business professionals, regardless of generation. LinkedIn members actively look for jobs and read work-related content on the platform. As it provides recognition for staff members and the organization, it is tremendously advantageous for leaders to support this site for their entire staff.

YouTube, a video-sharing site, is useful for delivering training or important messages to the entire organization. It is one of the most popular Internet video sites.

Leaders can share conference news or a golf tournament highlights with the folks back at the office with pictures or videos via Instagram. Instagram is a popular social network application that allows you to upload, edit, and caption your own photos. Take a picture or video, choose a filter to transform its look and feel, and then post to Instagram—it’s that easy. You can even share your images on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a great way to communicate across generations.

Last is the selfie phenomenon, which can be integrated into most of the above mentioned media. A selfie is essentially a self-portrait taken with a digital device, which is then shared via IM or a social networking service such as Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Perceived as narcissistic by some, others call it old-fashioned vanity. According to the New York Times, “A selfie is simply the currency of communication for a new generation, and an increasingly valuable one as face-to-face communication.”

A study conducted by Pew Internet research (2011) confirmed that Boomers mostly use the Internet for web-search and email—both analytic and informational gathering tool—and not as much for social business. Cross-generational communication differences can affect your ability to recruit, manage and retain employees and can affect how leaders lead and teams function. It can also strongly influence your organization’s ability to achieve goals. Boomers are currently the nation’s economic leaders and they have been slow to adopt social networking as a tool for reaching out to younger generations. Boomer business professionals need to bridge that disconnect by embracing social media. So grab your mobile device, take a selfie, choose your social media and tweet it, post, it or up load it. You’ll be a pro in very short time.

Dr. Sandra L. Torres is an author speaker and leadership consultant. Miami based, Dr. Torres has researched leadership practices around the world. More than 20 years of experience in the credit union industry has made her an ardent believer and practitioner of the credit union philosophy “people helping people”. Leadership Si offers bilingual leadership expertise via her writings, training, workshops and speaking engagements. Her specialty is women’s leadership. Get to know her better by visiting: leadership-si.com.

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