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Written by Michelle Manafy
Between all generations lie gaps. Yet in the course of some generations, major events occur that cause tectonic shifts. The fact is that many individuals and businesses today face a massive and growing generation gap. As this digital native generation, which has grown up immersed in digital technologies such as the mobile phones, gaming, and social networks becomes our dominant employee and consumer base, those in older generations must learn to navigate a radically altered landscape in order to succeed in business going forward. Here are five key insights into the digital native generation that will help you understand how best to leverage their distinct worldview to achieve your business objectives.
1. They live publicly online
Without a doubt, the notion of privacy didn't change overnight with the advent of the Internet. It was once the norm to keep one's dirty laundry tucked away out of site. This gave way to a generation that would share from the relative privacy of a therapist's couch. However, with the digital native, businesses must address the expectations of a generation raised in social networking environments, in which they routinely share every detail of their activities and opinions with a potentially limitless group of friends.
Tip: Often, businesses fail to recognize and capitalize on the digital native's openness. We need to understand the native's natural inclination to live publicly to guide these activities so that they are consistent with our business objectives. We can also build business models that leverage on this openness.
2. They share knowledge
Once we recognize that the natives are living their lives out loud, we can begin to understand how this behavior shapes all aspects of their lives. Despite a good deal of hyperbole about social media and marketing via Twitter and social networks, as many as 50 to 75 percent of organizations limit or ban the use of social networks while on the job. What this demonstrates is not simply a fear of exposure through inappropriate use of social technologies, it shows a distinct lack of understanding of how to effectively manage and channel the knowledge sharing inclination of this generation.
Tip: Beyond crafting guidelines to regulate the appropriate use of social networks on the job, proactive use of socially mediated, open, collaborative ways of working can help companies capture otherwise transient knowledge assets. The old adage was that knowledge is power; for the digital native knowledge shared is power.
3. They believe transparency yields trust
Because digital natives live publicly and value knowledge sharing, organizations that demonstrate a similar level of openness will be the ones that attract and retain them as employees and customers. Digital natives make new friends, followers, and fans every day. However, it is important to keep in mind that it takes a lot of work to maintain the kind of genuine relationship required with the digital native.
Tip: When it comes to attracting and retaining this generation as employees, it is essential to recognize that today's best employees are also monitoring opportunities and discussing employers online. For recruiting, this can provide insights into whom the best, brightest, and most social media savvy are. And for employee retention, employers can leverage these same tools and tendencies to make sure that they are competitive in the market and respond to concerns in order to attract and retain the best and brightest.
4. They are timely, not time-managed
While most people are painfully aware that the line between "at work" and "off duty" is increasingly blurred, for the native this will be taken to a whole new level.
For the digital native, work and social activities are ever-present; they travel with the native anywhere and anytime. Digital natives may log more hours at their computers during the course of a day than those in previous generations, but switch back and forth between work and leisure in short bursts. Though this may strike some managers as inappropriate, it helps to realize that while an older worker might head to the break room or a co-worker's desk to clear his or her head, natives are more likely to "info-snack" or catch up on a quick burst of Facebook updates.
Tip: Moving forward, companies that emphasize collaboration, learning and socialization will see key benefits in comparison to companies that focus solely on productivity. There’s no reason that work inside an organization can’t be constructively influenced by the expectations of our younger workforce.
5. They believe in interactions, not transactions
With all this socializing, one might begin to wonder how any business ever gets done. Organizations that develop good social skills will have a competitive advantage over those that remain socially inept. One quality of this business that will be essential for business success going forward is recognizing that this generation is not interested in traditional transactive business models—which are based upon exchanges of money for goods and services. This is a generation that is interested in interactions.
Tip: Unlike a transaction-based system, an interactive one is based upon social currency. The fact is that all aspects of business will need to embrace interaction, from marketing and CRM to product and content creation. This generation doesn’t just want to do business with companies it views as friends; it wants to do business with itself and expects to see its ideals and objectives reflected in the companies it chooses to do business with.
Michelle Manafy is director of content for FreePint, Ltd. An award-winning writer and editor, her focus is on emerging trends in digital content and how they shape successful business practices. In addition to writing on such technology topics as digital publishing e-content development and social media, Manafy is a sought-after speaker and a dedicated mentor to many digital natives. She is the co-author of Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step With the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business Is Done. For more information, please visit www.DancingWithDigitalNatives.com.