Millennials At Work: Social Media and The Idea Web

Millennials: can't live with them, can't run a business without them. At least, that seems to be the pervasive point of view. But no matter how you slice it, they are in the workplace and are the future of business as we know it. Their rules, their ways, will all become the new normal as boomers age out of the workplace.

Many companies I work with are dealing with the changes needed to incorporate the Millennial customer or the Millennial staffer, especially when they are more likely to become brand evangelists or detractors online. Millennials have a voice and a social media account, and they certainly know how to use them. They are, in fact, a driving force behind many of the new tools being adopted by organizations - from wanting IT support for increased numbers and types of devices to advocating for company adoption of social CRM systems, so the voice of the (Millennial) customer can be integrated into customer care programs.

One key question that underpins this behavior is: why do Millennials take such an active role in sharing information as customers and employees? This flies in the face of so much of what I, as a member of a different generation, believe and act upon. As customers and clients, we boomers are somewhat more reactive, voting with our business dollars instead of comments. We initially accept what's available, rather than responding instantly based on growing up in a world with near-ubiquitous access to social platforms. And in the professional world, we generally understand and value hierarchy. We paid our dues and earned our stripes before setting out to drive organizational change, unlike, it seems, Millennials' quick-cutting frame of reference.

In support of a research project, I recently spoke with a Millennial who discussed the "idea web" in great detail. We were talking about how hierarchy works in traditional organizations and how she didn't understand why her opinion didn't have a place. Sure, she has only been at the company 3 months. But she believes she brings a fresh point of view and could add value by being an outsider to the corporate culture. She felt the same passion for providing information about the brands she uses.

She said: “In college, we all participate in a hearty exchange of ideas. If I know something, I have a responsibility to share what I know with others. It's about ethics. If I have information, it is my job to give it to someone who needs it, and I expect the same from my friends. This is the Idea web – it's a web of information and we are all tied together.”

Now, as senior professionals, there is not enough time in the day to participate fully in the Millennial idea web, spending time with a young person's sharing what they know or responding to every customer's advisory message -- or is there?

NB. Just because you have a social media policy forbidding employees from commenting about any aspect of your company on a social media site -- such as posting a comment about a supervisor on a Facebook page -- the National Labor Relations Board may not uphold that policy.

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