Today on Twitter, I came across an infographic developed and presented by PR Daily titled: How to reach each generation on social media. The infographic creatively displayed facts about social platform usage among different age groups – specifically Generation Z, millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers. The point of the graphic was that in order to reach people in a particular age group, you must use _____________ platform. It specifically targeted the current and most popular digital platforms: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.

A few interesting highlights from the article that accompanied the infographic:

  • Eighty-seven percent of millennials use Facebook. (In contrast, 25 percent of Generation Z left Facebook in 2014.)
  • Forty-three percent of millennials prefer organizations to contact them via email, as do 33 percent of Generation Z.
  • Thirty-six percent of Pinterest users are members of Generation X.
  • Eighty-four percent of Baby Boomers have Facebook accounts

Dissecting the Data

Image result for social mediaCurrently, our school system leverages Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, email, and text as the digital platforms to reach our various audiences. Facebook and Twitter seem to generate more two-way interactions, while Instagram, YouTube, email and text are being used as one-way public information platforms.

Our high-level data points suggest that these platforms are having the desired impact. Our Facebook page has over 17,000 likes. Over 80,000 people are following our district on Twitter. On Instagram, over 1,300 people follow our district. Over 400 have subscribed to our YouTube channel. Our email distribution list has over 100,000 recipients. All great numbers for a school system with approximately 51,000 students.

Our challenge is finding content that engages and generates interaction. When you take a look at our Facebook account, most of our posts generate no comments and just a handful of likes. Mostly the “lightning rod” topics such as redistricting and budget generate any kind of engagement. On Twitter, even with more than 80k followers, most of the tweets on our timeline result in under five retweets and fifteen likes. A few will generate somewhere between 10-30 interactions and once in a blue moon it’s higher than that. Instagram has fewer followers but far more likes than Twitter and Facebook. Between 50-100 people like every post on Instagram and videos generate a few hundred plays each.

The point is, just because various age groups tend to use different social media platforms doesn’t mean that they are willing to engage with us on those platforms. It’s not a critique of our social media strategy. Perhaps it just is what it is.

The Non-Datapoint that Trumps All

In a recent study by a student at Elon University titled, The Effect of Technology on Face-to-Face Communication, it found that:

Many respondents voiced their concerns that technology is diminishing society’s ability to communicate face to face. One student stated, “People have lost the ability to communicate with each other in face-to-face interactions,” while another respondent said, “Technology is making face-to-face communication much more difficult because people use technology as a crutch to hide behind.” A third student responded, “I think technology impedes our ability to interact with people face to face,” and a fourth agreed that technology “both enhances what we share online and decreases what we say face to face.”

I don’t think anybody would disagree with any of this. Furthermore, we know undoubtedly that having a face-to-face conversation with another human results in more productive and engaging communication and results in better outcomes. I don’t need likes, follows, and retweets to tell me this.

The Impact on the Younger Generations

Image result for social mediaWe are learning from local employers that more and more potential employees are arriving in interviews lacking interpersonal communication skills that are expected and required to succeed in life after school. I hear astonishing stories of people fresh out of college actually checking their phone during an interview!

My generation likes to accuse the younger generation of lacking communication skills. This isn’t entirely true. They are communicating. They are interacting. They are just doing so in a way that is mostly foreign to us. When I was in school, I called friends on our land-line. I walked to their house and knocked on their door. I made arrangements well ahead of time to get together because you couldn’t reach people if they were not home.

Today’s youth have grown up in a society that is highly connected digitally and where information is immediate. They are in constant contact with their friends and families and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, text, and email make this far easier. And it’s not just our youth. How cool is it that you can receive real-time updates, images, and video of a friend’s vacation experience on Facebook? It’s a long way from creating and sharing actual photo albums weeks after coming home and having your pictures developed!

Combining Strategies

Image result for teacher parent communicationThe point isn’t to diminish the impact of digital communications. It’s quite powerful and useful in our personal and professional lives. The point is that we can’t substitute interpersonal communication with digital. It’s great to understand that our children are growing up in a digital age, but it’s just as important to understand that their employers did not. We must not lose site of the power of face-to-face communication with friends, colleagues, and stakeholders.

If we want our message to “stick”, for our stakeholders to engage with us, and for our voice to be heard, traditional approaches are significantly more impactful. We must accept that we may only reach one person at a time or a handful with this strategy. At the same time, we must also recognize that the impact it will have on that person, or small group of people, will far better align with our intent and have the desired impact than a mass email or social media post.

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