Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who's Going to Make Your Social Media Decisions?

There was an interesting discussion recently on ASAE's Executive Management listserv that started with a link to this article about the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The article is headlined: "Teens Love Facebook, Hate Blogging, Are Always Online, and Don't Use Twitter;" and the original poster wondered what the underlying trends might mean for associations.

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.


Jamie Notter said...

I think it's a both and. If you're smart you'll end up creating lots of different opportunities for social media interaction and you'll have things that appeal to multiple genertions.

Eric Lanke said...

That makes sense to me, Jamie. It's also what makes social media so intimidating for so many association leaders. What? We need to build our own system and do LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and let the young folks do their own thing in our name? No wonder so many seem to just tune out.

Jamie Notter said...

Yes, although those comments tend to come from a mindset where the association is the one that controls the message and the infrastructure. I find if you let go of that, you discover that lots can be created without it being overwhelming to the association.

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