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Bridging the Digital Divide

Posted by Kirsten, Michael at Monday, 01/28/2013 8:30 am
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It would be easy to conclude that using social media at work is more popular with younger workers, or workers in emerging economies. We might think this because we assume they “get” smart technology, or because mobile tools are the only resources they have for communication. But every year, the use of smart technology is growing exponentially among Baby Boomers too.

Despite the broad appeal of social media and our growing access to it, there remains a big divide when it comes to opinions about using social media at work. While all generations engage in the use of social media, older generations are less likely to feel that doing so at work is acceptable.


The digital divide in the workplace pertains not to the adoption of social media and smart technology but to norms around what people consider appropriate working behavior. Fundamentally, this is an experience gap—younger workers know how to use social media for productive purposes and have experience in doing so, whereas older workers are less likely to have this in their memory bank. Lack of experience leads to a lot of unhelpful assumptions in this space, and in many ways it also perpetuates an unproductive generation gap.

It's in employers' best interests to find ways to close this divide, not least of all to improve collaboration and improve knowledge transfer. Organizations can begin to do so by fostering work experiences—on projects and in targeted customer relationships—that incorporate a role for social media. This will help to establish the parameters and foundation for the wise, productive use of social media on terms that satisfy management and workers of all backgrounds.

It also begins to ensure that workers of all backgrounds and demographics are congregating in the same productive places and using the same channels to share information and get work done.

As workers witness the impact of their influence on the company’s use of social media, and as they see in front of them concrete examples of professionalism, their social energy will shift to more professional pursuits while they’re at work. And because workers with more experience understand the power of appropriate communication, they’ll be transferring their knowledge to less experienced peers through channels they understand and use.

To begin putting social media use in the context of workplace experience, companies can do the following:

1. Manage the initial disruption: establish an interim social media use policy to contain potentially inappropriate communication, and emphasize that it’s temporary until the company can verify an approach.

2. Involve employees of all experience levels in a review of existing company ethics and performance standards: guide them in exploring how social media can serve the standards, not just threaten them.

3. Create a corporate presence on social networks that serve the company’s sales, marketing, customer service, recruiting and media strategies: provide fresh news and commentary at a regular pace.

4. Engage employees to share relevant company content with their networks: Define a simple process that allows people to participate.

The underlying behaviors that continue to drive the 'socialization' of our workplaces and our media channels are equally applicable to workers across all age groups. Now, it's up to companies to convince all generations to work together—and to work in the same places.

The more balanced the representation of different generations is in social media spaces at work, the more likely you'll get a balanced and productive approach to their use.

This blog is extracted from the new Ebook: Working Socially. You can download a free copy here.

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