Social Media and the Millennial Brain

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Social Media has become a double edged sword.  It gives businesses easy access to their customers and aids in communicating with them, but at the same time it gives employees a forum to waste time and possibly to do harm to the brand.  A well thought out social media policy is a must for businesses large and small.

For any company, it is very tempting to opt for a social media free zone at work.  Keep employees off the time sucking sites and keep them focused on the task at hand, right?

If your company depends on a workforce consisting of employees under the age of 35, maybe not.

The amazing millennial brain is not wired the way boomer brains are.  These kids have grown up in a world of digital media and high speed internet.  Recent college grads never owned a tape player and think that vinyl records are vintage collector’s items. They learned to type on a computer and have never been aware of a world without email.  From a very early age they have been processing information at speeds that would melt the brains of their baby-boomer supervisors.

Sam Fiorella, CEO Sensei Marketing, recently shared an interesting anecdote.  To prove a point about communication styles, he ran a simple experiment with participants of seminar he was giving.  He asked all the boomers to sit on one side of the room and the millennials on the other.  Each group was told that they could use whatever they wished to take notes and keep track of the information he was sharing.  The boomers gravitated to pen and paper, while the millennials powered up laptops, iPads, and even their smart phones.  Fiorella told the crowd they were allowed to take notes, tweet, and share on Facebook so long as they were prepared to take a quiz on the material at the end of the session.  While he talked the boomers dutifully took notes and made a great deal of eye contact.  The millennials hardly looked up from their devices, giving Fiorella little indication that they were really paying any attention to what he had to say.  At the end of the session, he quizzed the group.  Believe it or not, the millennials retained and comprehended 20% MORE information than their attentive boomer counterparts.  Not only had they been paying attention, but they were sharing what they were learning in real time.

What most decision makers still view as a distraction, is a vital tool in the millennial worker’s arsenal.  Their brains are wired to take in lots of information in a very short amount of time and act on it quickly.  For these employees, YouTube is a place to go to find out how to do something right the first time.  Twitter is where you go to get expert advice.  Social Media has changed the way younger employees function.

Rather than restrict access to the stream of news and interaction that keeps these youthful employees inspired and informed, why not consider harnessing their natural tendencies?

Your most fervent brand advocates are sitting at the computers in your office right now, and they are ready and willing to share what a wonderful company they work for.  You will need to provide guidelines and some training on what to do and what not to do in the social space during work hours, but the return you get from investing a little time and effort into these employees is likely to be amplified like never before.

Michelle Stinson Ross

Michelle Stinson Ross

Content & Outreach Goddess at AuthorityLabs
Michelle Stinson Ross is a digital marketing industry recognized authority on the outreach power of social media. She has worked as a community manager and... Read Full Bio
Michelle Stinson Ross
Michelle Stinson Ross
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  • I agree that companies should embrace social media, but they should do so because it’s the right thing to do for their brand — NOT because it’s the best way to keep the under-35 crowd in the office sufficiently stimulated and engaged.

    I really, REALLY wish people would stop making these age-based generalizations.

    There are plenty of us over the age of 35 who can and do “get” social media perfectly well, thankyouverymuch. We’re not slow-thinking, pen-and-paper-toting fuddy-duddies who just can’t keep up with today’s fast-paced social-media-enabled world.

    There are also plenty under the age of 35 who don’t necessarily want or need to process data at the speed of light. There’s nothing wrong with folks of any age who don’t have a physical need to spend all day tethered to their smartphone so they can share every moment of their lives with the world at large.

    Millennial brains are no more amazing than Boomer brains or Gen-X brains or Greatest Generation brains. HUMAN brains in general are amazing. Please, can everyone stop with the “only people under 35 can understand and effectively use social media because their brains are different” crap?

    • Fantastic post Diane! I agree 100%

      My former Berkeley professor and current mentor, and adviser Howard Rheingold is one of the worlds foremost authorities on the social implications of technology. He is in his sixties and I have a hard time keeping up with him. He coined the term “Virtual Community” and has written several books such as: “Smart Mobs”, and he is launching a new book in March 2012 entitled: “Net Smart.” He is currently teaching at Stanford University, and I work as his research assistant while in graduate school. His age has not slowed him down one bit. He just keeps pace with the times. He is a true futurist : )

    • Diane, clearly you are an exceptional lady. Unfortunately, I run into lots of business owners that are looking for a quick fix solution to the emerging need for a social media policy. Among the MYRIAD of things to consider when crafting a policy like that for the work place, I merely wanted to point out that what these time strapped decision makers might perceive as a distraction, is actually a powerful tool they could harness.

      In all honesty there is no quick fix solution to creating a social media policy that really works. Time must be invested in understanding how to best use the tools in the workplace and how it will affect the needs of employees.

      The generalization here was not meant as commentary on whether or not the over 35 crowd, which includes me, can or can’t wrap their minds around the amazing opportunity social media opens to growing a vibrant business.

  • I am 55 and I agree with Diane and Christopher that this isn’t really an age related issue – it is a willingness to engage with a particular type of activity and as you use it you acquire the ability to do more at once. The more you use something the faster you generally get.

    There is a stereotype that women can multiplex but men can’t. While more women do – out of necessity because they should not totally ignore children while cooking or taking care of the home front while working as some people do – there have always been men who can do many things at once. My Father listened to the game on the radio while watching television and eating.

    I’m not sure whether there are people who naturally are unable to only do one thing at once or they have simply conditioned themselves to believe it. I worked with one very sharp tech at IBM who insisted it was only possible to focus on one thing at a time so in his case that is how he worked best.

    Others were like me and we do many things at once. I personally believe our brains work like computers in that they may only do one thing at a time in the foreground in interrupt mode – with the interrupts switching between things very fast. That means they’re both correct.

    Then the question is, does the human brain have ONE processor operating in interrupt mode or multiple processors all operating in interrupt mode simultaneously. I believe the latter because we can listen to music and dance while talking so we aren’t stopping each activity – even for the tiniest amount of time – as we continue with the others.

    Studying music is an excellent way to train your brain to have separate channels that operate independently – especially if you’re a keyboardist, a drummer, or a conductor. In classical piano, for example, you usually have four chord lines plus a melody – some soft – some loud – and you must read several measures ahead of what you’re actually playing so all of that ends up in your brain running along at once.

    A drummer may be doing four things at once – one for each hand and each foot. Your choir director has to hear each voice in their head and know when each section and the soloists come in. A brilliant conductor has the most going on of all because they combine ALL of that for an unlimited number of individuals.

    P.S. Vinyl records ARE Vintage Collector items. I own some, but since my turntable quit they’re not very useful at the moment.

  • This is interesting piece. I agree with the comment above to a point. I think Millenials don’t day dream at work like boomers did in the movie Office Space, instead we talk to people and stay up to date about what is going on in the world today. It is important to have an important Social Media policy and to make sure your employees know what will help and hurt the brand. Like mentioned above your Millenial employees can be your biggest asset to an online presence and overall help with spreading the brand.