There is a widespread heuristic that when it comes to social, the young are our allies. They’ve grown up with social media so are as familiar with their use as they could possibly be. They know all about sharing content and engaging with people online and should be regarded as the early adopters in any social business efforts you undertake.
So goes the theory anyway. Is it right though? Research from Paul Leonardi from Kellogg Business School suggests otherwise. Leonardi wanted to test the effectiveness of enterprise social network software at increasing the knowledge employees have, both of the knowledge others in their company had, and how they could get at that knowledge.
He selected two departments of similar demographic profile and gave one access to the social network, whilst the other had to make do with more traditional modes of communication such as email, phone and face to face. The E20 guys were encouraged to post onto the network at least once per week, so not massive engagement, and the activities were monitored for six months.
As you’re here on this site I’m going to assume that the results will come as no surprise to you. Leonardi found that the employees using the social network were 31% better at finding the information they needed and 71% better at finding the person they needed.
Whilst that’s interesting enough, the real kicker was in his discovery about who was using the social network. He found that it wasn’t the Gen Y people but instead the older folks. He found that the younger employees were so used to using social media in their personal lives that they didn’t associate as something that was either appropriate OR useful in their professional lives.
“They would say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be posting things my boss would see.’ … On the other hand, the senior employees didn’t have that same concern. For them, the technology was another mode for communicating about work-related matters.”
All of which underlines the importance of showing young people the many exciting things they can do with social media that are of a slightly more serious nature. There are thankfully a number of fascinating things happening in this area that are looking to bring the social business ideals we’re all familiar with into the classroom environment.
Projects such as the Flat Classroom Project point the way to the future. One of the main goals of the project is to remove the walls of the classroom and use social media tools to connect classes up with one another and work on projects collaboratively.
Quadblogging is another similar project. It borrows from the penpal relationships of old but brings it very much into the 21st century. The project uses blogs to team four schools together on each project. Each school is required to become active participants in the other schools blogs, and through this gain deeper insight into their own projects.
Hopefully projects such as these will show youngsters the power of social tools for collaboration, and enable them to be the real advocates we’ve always hoped they would be once they enter the workforce.