What Boomers can teach Gen Y about social media

July 28, 2014

Some of you may have read the headline for this post and thought I’ve got it the wrong way round. After all, shouldn’t Millennials be the experts in social media?

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are the first to come of age with cable TV, the Internet and cell phones, so technology (and social media) is essentially wired into their DNA. In fact, when asked what makes their generation unique, Nielsen Research found that Y’ers ranked “Technology Use” first (24%), followed by “Music/Pop Culture” (11%) and “Liberal/Tolerant” (7%). In contrast, Boomers ranked “Work Ethic” as the most defining characteristic of their generation.

While it’s true that the Millennials (aged 18-36) are the generation that came of age with social media, there is something to be said for life experience. Just because a generation has grown up with a technology (in this case, social media) doesn’t mean that they automatically know how to use it correctly. Etiquette is something learned.

All of us know someone from Generation Y, either as a relative, a friend, or a co-worker. As Millennials are entering the workforce in droves — in the biggest surge since our generation — and try and find the footing in the work world, I think that experiences we’ve learned in and out of the workplace are worth sharing with the younger generation.

Here are some thoughts:

Think before you post

This, of course, was a lesson many of us learned the hard way after sending a hasty or poorly worded email. But the lesson is even more important now and can be broadened to apply to all social media. Many companies now don’t pay for a full background check, but instead check online profiles as an initial screening. I’d recommend that as part of a job search, the Gen Y candidate review their security settings and also delete any controversial statements and pictures. Also, Millennials can Google themselves, sure, but check other search sites such as Bing. Removing content once it has been published online is rarely easy. Prevention is the best cure.

Once they’re hired, they’re under even more scrutiny as their tweets and comments can reflect on their company. We’ve all heard of cases where people have fired after tweeting inappropriate comments.


Don’t vent

I’m trying not to overly generalize, but a generation raised on texting across the room may not be the best at interpersonal communication. It’s good advice to let Gen Y know that work problems need to be talked about in a reasonable way with managers. It’s never a good idea to criticize other employees or clients in an online format.


Work is for work

According to’s annual Wasting Time at Work survey, the most frequently visited personal website at work is — no surprise here — Facebook.  But visiting Twitter, Instagram or other accounts, unless they are part of the company’s social media team, should be limited to approved breaks, such as lunch. Many people have lost their jobs when their workplace postings have come to light.


Don’t trust everyone immediately

This is true in and out of the workplace but it’s a basic concept that Millennials need to understand. For example, a study conducted by social media software service Bazaarvoice, in partnership with The Center for Generational Kinetics and Kelton Research, found that 51 percent of Millennials contemplating a purchase are more likely to be influenced by input from strangers—in the form of user-generated content, anonymous reviews, and the like—over recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues. Of course, the percentage of Boomers who felt this way was much lower.  Trust shouldn’t be given lightly, but it is incredibly important in a fulfilling life to have trustworthy colleagues and, of course, life partners.


Learn to disconnect

OK, this is one that we all need to be mindful of!  But I’m always amazed when I go to a sporting event or a concert and see people of ALL ages constantly on their smartphones. To me it seems like half-living an experience. Fortunately, “digital Sabbaths” are becoming more popular and there is even a National Day of Unplugging. I see room for hope.


Our generation has had our own struggles in the workforce, especially for women and minorities. The challenges for this next generation may seem less compelling or clear-cut, but they exist. We should give the benefit of our experience when we can.

July 28, 2014