Several thoughtful posts followed, some containing advice for associations trying to decide which social media platforms to embrace. Glenn Tecker said (cogently, I thought):
Associations need to watch that they are not building platforms responsive to the opinions of young adults if their preferences as users are not likely to be the same as the larger number of youth (Gen "Y") that will shortly follow. Be careful to avoid the situation where early generations of social media, especially those used by a relatively small portion of members, inadvertently become the legacy systems of your near term future.
And fellow Hourglass blogger Jamie Notter followed up with:
I think the social internet is shaping the Millennials in a way that will have implications for all of us. Remember: the aspect of the internet that I (as Gen X) always thought was amazing (wildly expansive information, accessible via search, instantly) is ho-hum for the youngest generation. Kind of like me getting all excited about being able to pick up the phone and call anyone I wanted. Of course I can do that. I've always been able to do that. Similarly, access to information is not shaping the Millennials. It's their ability to network and create. The Social internet allowed consumers to become producers and creators and it radically shifted trust equations. That will continue to shift, as the Pew study notes and Glen points out, but I think the game has changed. As a generation, I'm guessing the Millennials are going to run with this, not slowed down by their previous experience with the old game. And demographically they are a huge generation, so it would be wise to be actively dealing with this now rather than later.
It got me thinking. Both Glenn and Jamie seem to be advocating for the premise that we should be building our social media platforms for tomorrow, not for today. They seem to be saying that if you build something for the Boomers and Xers in your membership, you may succeed in getting them to interact online, but it's something that won't have any future, because the Millennials will see it as "old media." You'll just take the ossification that's already happening to your association and put it online.
But I question how we (Boomers and Xers who lead associations) can build social media platforms that Millennials will embrace. That also seems to run counter to the ideas that Glenn and Jamie are promoting. In my own observation, many Boomers and Xers who are into social media seem focused on finding a "safe place" to network online. They want a closed community, something with pre-determined rules of conduct and a rigorous screening process to make sure things "stay professional."
Millennials, on the other hand, often reject all of that. In their world, "safe places" are boring, and there isn't any separation between professional and personal. To them, the carefully constructed social media environments favored by the older generations are exactly that--constructed. On the web, they want the freedom to be who they are, to go where they want to go, and to talk with whoever they want.
This seems like a true conundrum to me. If you run an association, which group should you let drive your social media decision-making? Listen to the call of the Boomers and the Xers, and you'll create something you can control, but will it ultimately take your association where it needs to go? Listen to the call of the Millennials, however, and you'll create something that gives them the freedom to do what they want, but will they ultimately recognize your association as one of its essential parts?
It's almost as if both paths might lead you to organizational oblivion.