Adult-driven growth in social networks

Well this is interesting in the context of the net-gen discussion:

“The traditional early-adopter model would say that teenagers or college students are really important to adoption [...] Twitter, however, has proved that a site can take off in a different demographic than you expect and become very popular.” says Andrew Lipsman at a recent New York Times article.

What comes up over and over again in Q&A at some of my presentations is the net-gen dispute, the argument being that young people are more fluent with these social media tools due to their somewhat special relationship with technology. As a net-gen insider, I think the whole net-gen conversation regarding age as a demographic is misplaced. The question is about people who have grown up familiar with technology and those who have not.

I know a lot of retired people who are more fluent with social technologies than many of the so called net-generation. The greatest skeptics regarding the benefits of social media are among the so called “net-gen”. How’s that for an anti-thesis?

The greatest challenge will be to drive adoption of such technologies within the enterprise. In organizations, the older you are the more likely you are to hold a busy senior position and have a family, and therefore the less time you have available to spend on learning new tricks that are not urgent for your survival in day-to-day busyness.

What would be the stress point when such demography takes social media seriously within the enterprise as a new source of organizational agility and effectiveness (the stuff I’m more than convinced about)? When the competition figures out the holy grail of digital working environments combined with novel operational models (that would be, too late)?

Adults can drive the adoption of social networking sites. LinkedIn and Twitter are good examples. I’m sure there are many more examples on the consumer market. What is needed is the drive for busy adults to drive social media within the serious business of organizing day-to-day work. That would be the tipping-point. The company has always been a social network. The way how this network operates is changing due to collaborative technologies.

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  • Rob Salkowitz

    Teemu – As a proponent of the NetGen thesis, I agree with your analysis here. When I talk about the NetGen in my work, I prefer the term “tech aware” to “tech savvy,” because, as you say, some of the greatest skepticism about social technologies comes from younger people. I’d argue that’s because familiarity can breed contempt. The critique offered by younger people is one based on personal experience and proximity, which is why it is worth listening to.

    The important part about generational issues in enterprise adoption of social technology has to do with the expectations that the generations bring around work roles and technology, not familiarity with the tools per se. People who learned their work skills first (before the advent of social computing) look at the tools and ask “how can I accommodate these new tools into my existing way of working?” Younger people who have experience with technology but not experience in job roles look at existing work processes and say, “how can these processes be made more efficient/convenient/fun through the application of social computing?” That’s a subtle difference but an important one, and it’s the cause of many of the misunderstandings that people talk to me about in, or as about in the Q&A of my sessions.