Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives and Social Media

Few people today doubt the reach of social media. The growth over the last few years of networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Bebo and others has been unprecedented. Yet, for many senior managers, company directors and senior partners of service firms, social media is still unchartered territory. Defined as a means by which people discover, read and share news, information and content, there remains a general mistrust of these social networks in the business setting.

The main stumbling block appears to be simply one of ignorance. Whilst the majority of today’s management over the age of forty have embraced many aspects of the new technologies, they did not grow up in the digital era and Web 2.0 as their younger subordinates have done.

The terms, Digital Immigrant and Digital Native first appeared more than ten years ago. The majority of senior management today fall into the category of Digital Immigrant, those who learned about the new technologies, not learned with these technologies as the young Digital Natives have done. The resulting differences between the two groups have changed the employment landscape so emphatically that traditional forms of management are no longer applicable.

With the advent of social media, communities are being built differently and are designed with individual relationships rather than a formal structure, providing the glue which holds them together. According to David Dumeresque, a partner with London-based search consultants Tyzack Partners, social media fora, whereby communities of interest are paramount and where there is a real sense of freedom with few boundaries, are attractive to this new generation of employee whereas much of the traditional structure associated with work has managed to disengage them. Tyzack’s research involving senior management and captains of industry has indicated that Digital Natives see the world in a very different way to even those who are less than 10 years older than them. They also share information in a completely different manner.

The generation which has grown up with Facebook is used to receiving information really fast, it shares information horizontally and finds it difficult to see the value in the imposition of hierarchy. As they enter the workplace now and over the coming three to five years, their expectations of the working environment and their reaction to it will force managers to re-evaluate the traditional hierarchical management systems and find new, collaborative methods of working. It may pose significant strain on middle managers whose historic role as a conduit of information, both downwards and upwards, since management methods will have to be completely re-evaluated given the speed at which information can now be disseminated throughout an organisation, and people’s expectations.

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