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Social Media and the Generation Gap

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Katie Scovic

on 10 June 2014

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Transcript of Social Media and the Generation Gap

How do the generations that comprise today's workforce use social media and how does this relate to age and organizational hierarchies in the modern workplace?
Population Composition and Internet Use by Generation
Social Media and the Generation Gap: What the Data Show
Source: This chart was created based on 2010 data from Pew Research Center (3)
What generations are we talking about?
What is social media?
social media (n.): forms of electronic communication...through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)
Social Media and Generation Gaps in the Modern Workplace
Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary Online (1)
Generation Y/Millennials: Born 1980-
Generation X: Born 1965-1979
Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964
Source: Pew Research Center (2)
Silent Generation: 1937-1945
Source: Data based on 2013 Pew Research; Graphic from Next Adviser Independent Research (4)
What the chart means:
Generations X and Y make up a larger percent of the internet-using population than the general population, while the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation make up less of the internet-using population than the general population. However, overall there is not much of a difference between the composition of the general population versus the composition of the internet-using population when broken down by generation.
What the chart says:
89%
of Generation Y uses social media

78%
of Generation X uses social media

60%
of Baby Boomers use social media

43%
of the Silent Generation uses social media
What this means:
When it comes to social media use, each generation uses social media more than the generation before it, with 89% of Generation Y using social media versus 43% of the Silent Generation using social media. However, there is evidence that these generational gaps in social media use are narrowing...
Evidence that generational gaps in social media use are narrowing over time
If generational gaps in social media use are narrowing, why do we continue to view social media as such a generationally dividing entity?
Looking at this issue through the lens of my internship experience
Theory:

The way that we as a society talk about social media over-inflates the existing (but narrowing) generational gaps in social media use and knowledge.
The results of a Dutch research report explained:

Millennials are the "Me Generation...In an era where using social media means constant bombardment with Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook feeds, most Millennials just want to be noticed...For comparison, only a quarter of Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers said they enjoyed being the center of attention."
Source: New York Daily News (7)
A parent describing her decision to avoid social media:

"I enjoyed having the kids explain Facebook to me, occasionally telling me something they'd read or seen. Though I knew other parents who joined, I was not even tempted. Silly parents, Facebook is for kids."
Source: Huffington Post (8)
Cecily Joseph, Vice President of
Corporate Responsibility at Symantec Corporation describes Generation Y:

"It's obvious when we look at how youth engage with technology, the Internet, mobile devices, and each other, especially when it comes to social media. This is the new generation gap - the divide in how millennials develop relationships compared to the older generation."
Source: Huffington Post (6)
Whether coming from someone in the workplace, a research study, or a parent, social media is often discussed in a way that divides and judges based on age and generational affiliation. This sends the message that there are still very wide generational gaps when it comes to social media use and knowledge.
Implications of how we talk about social media:
Social media as it relates to age and generational gaps is rarely discussed in an unbiased manner. From referring to Millennials as the "Me Generation" to saying things like, "Silly parents, Facebook is for kids," our society portrays social media in a negative light - as something that separates generations into "us versus them." So, while the data points to a narrowing of generational gaps in social media use, our discussions of social media perpetuate the idea that such gaps persist.
Is there any foundation for the way we discuss social media and age? And, if so, what are the implications of generational gaps in social media use, knowledge, and experience.
At my internship, there were 4 of us working on developing a social media plan:
Person A:
Baby Boomer
Person B:
Baby Boomer
Person C:
Generation Y
Person D:
Generation Y
The Baby Boomers:
Person A:
Baby Boomer #1

Not a social media user
Person B:
Baby Boomer #2

Occasional user of Facebook and LinkedIn
The Millennials:
Person C:
Generation Y #1

Frequent user of Facebook and LinkedIn
Person D:
Generation Y #2

Very frequent user of social media on multiple platforms
On paper there appear to be some possible generational differences in this very small sample from my internship, as the Baby Boomers did seem to have less experience using social media than the Millennials, just based on frequency of use. However, these differences also became overemphasized by the language used to discuss social media and age in the office.

Baby Boomer B joked that she was actually the one interning under me when it came to social media.

I was called a "social media guru" and a "young social media expert" by Baby Boomer A, who referred to social media as "a phase that us older people have to wait out."
When Age, Experience, and Organizational Hierarchies in the Workplace Do Not Align
If it is true that we see generational differences in social media use - whether based on real or perceived gaps in experience and knowledge - what does this say about the multi-generational modern workplace? What does it mean when age and experience with something like social media do not align?
Hierarchy of Social Media Experience at my Internship
(Based on duration and frequency of social media use):
Generation Y #2
Longstanding and Very Frequent User
Generation Y #1
Longstanding and Frequent User
Baby Boomer #2
New but Fairly Frequent User
Baby Boomer #1
Not a Social Media User
Organizational Hierarchy at my Internship:
Baby Boomer #1
Executive Director
Baby Boomer #2
Staff Member
Generation Y #1
Deputy Director
Generation Y #2
Intern
"Having a solid economic premium for experience is compatible with friendship between two adult generations - as long as everyone concerned understands its value. Age hierarchy finds its democratic culmination at this moment."

-Margaret Morganroth Gullette
Hierarchies that do not align versus Margaret Morganroth Gullette's idea of a
"democratic" age hierarchy:
Gullette's idea of a "democratic" age hierarchy suggests that age, experience, and organizational hierarchies should align in the workplace - so that young employees with little experience will start at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy and move up as they gain years of life and years of experience.
However, as my experience shows, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, when it comes to social media, the Moran Center's organizational hierarchy matches neither the age hierarchy nor the hierarchy of experience. This complicates the idea of a "democratic" age hierarchy. In fact, it complicates the idea of an age hierarchy altogether by showing how one's age, experience, and position within an organization do not necessarily reflect one another. Altogether, my internship suggests a complicated picture when it comes to social media use, age, and organizational hierarchies in the workplace.
Conclusions
and Implications
Background Information
Conclusions
Implications
From the data:
The data show that younger generations do make up more of the internet-using population and do use social media more than older generations. However, the existing generational gaps in social media use are narrowing over time, suggesting that social media is not just a Generation Y phenomenon, but rather a cross-generational phenomenon.
From my internship experience:
While there did seem to be some generational differences in social media use based on the very small sample of people observed at my internship, these differences were further exaggerated by the language used to talk about social media. This goes along with the larger data sets and my earlier theory in suggesting that generational gaps in social media use do exist, but they may not be as wide as the generational gaps that we perceive based on the ageist language used to discuss social media.
Workplace hierarchies don't always align (and they don't have to)
The observations from my internship show that age, experience, and organizational hierarchies in the workplace do not necessarily coincide - especially when something like social media is taken into account. This, however, does not necessarily have a negative impact. In fact, my internship experience was valuable in large part because we were all able to work across generations, across organizational positions, and across experience levels to achieve the best outcome for the organization as a whole.
Age Hierarchy at my Internship
Baby Boomers #1 and #2
Approx. Age: 50
Generation Y #1
Approx. Age: 30
Generation Y #2
Approx. Age: 20
What to do about generational gaps in the workplace?

1. Recognize the existence of (narrowing) generational gaps in social media use



The data, and often our workplace experiences, reveal that there can be differences between people of different ages and different generational cohorts, especially when it comes to relatively new things like social media. By recognizing the trends, however, such as the fact that generational gaps in social media use are narrowing, we can move beyond the ageist assumptions that often drive our discussions of the workplace today.
2. Create an environment conducive to inter-generational and intra-organizational cooperation rather than one of rigid age hierarchies and generational separation.

By focusing on individual strengths and levels of experience, regardless of age and rank, the organization as a whole benefits. In the case of my internship, this meant older, higher-ranking staff members giving responsibility to the youngest member of the organization, regardless of age and position, when the organization could benefit. In this way, when employees can contribute despite seniority and preexisting age hierarchies, the organization and the individuals within it may flourish.
The End
Works Cited
1 "Social Media." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster.

2 "Millennials in Adulthood." Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 07 Mar. 2014.

3 "Generations 2010." Pew Research Centers Internet American Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 16 Dec. 2010.

4 Davis, Kathleen. "The Real Generation Gap: How Adults and Teens Use Social Media Differently (Infographic)." Entrepreneur, 26 Aug. 2013.

5 "Social Networking Fact Sheet." Pew Research Centers Internet American Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center.

6 Joseph, Cecily. "The Digital Generation Gap and the Management of Information." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 Dec. 2013.

7 Stebner, Beth. "Millennials Are Most Competitive, Most Attention-Craving Generation, Study Says." New York Daily News. 30 May 2014.

8 Blackman, Joni Hirsch. "Facebook: If I Resist Social Media Will My Social Life Plummet?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Feb. 2012.

9
Gullette, Margaret Morganroth. Aged by Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2004. 41-60.
Source: Pew Research Internet Project (5)
Source: Aged by Culture (9)
by Katie Scovic
Full transcript