The London Riots, going on as I write this, for all the wrong reasons have brought to the forefront the issue of communicating and engaging with Gen Y / Millennials. In a classic case of shooting the messenger many have "blamed" social media, which is obviously the wrong target even through it may be an accelerant as Mathew Ingram points out in a well balanced review Network effects: Social media’s role in the London riots.
We shouldn't forget that social media e.g. Twitter is also being used as a moderating tool, see this, by Leicester Police:
The overall question this all raises is something bigger - how to develop dialogues with Gen Y and sustain their participation. This is important for businesses and government sectors wanting to influence career choice.
There's a lot being done. For example Houston-based environmental management company Waste Management says that the majority of traffic to its career website comes from those who have clicked over from Facebook. Waste Management is hardly a glamorous career, and hardly a Facebook hot topic, yet Waste Management has achieved great results. The company now adds videos of current employees to its Page, and uses recruiters to speak more directly with Facebook members as part of its recruiting campaigns.
It's not just about a social presence
The bottom line - you need to be present in the same social media spaces and places as your potential candidates. That's obvious enough. But what you then need is execution capabilities, a program of contribution and engagement, and remaining active, interested and visible. And some analytics help to support the cause.
More often then not I've found that the "presence" is not the issue for larger firms and government Agencies. What is more the challenge is the internal culture, the mindset, the managment attention and commitment, and the belief that this is the real work of recruiting Gen Y and not a side-show.
In the bigger picture it is the structure and operations of the "social media team" which is the challenge. This might start with recruiting, or product development, or customer service, or marketing, or events, or sales - but the plan needs to be understood and management committed to its bigger implications and resource allocation.
Here's a tip - don't try this on your own! We used to say "just get out there into the social media and do something". But that won't work for recruiting. Imagine being recruited through Facebook by a social and engaging person from a firm or government Agency, and then discovering that when you joined the organisation (1) noone else knew or cared anything about social media, and (2) Facebook for general staff was blocked. Sorry, company policy. That's just tears for everyone.
These issues present one kind of "political / organisational" challenge - a rather big kind at that.
Where to engage - owned, paid and earned media
Another is strategic approach to where and how to engage. Although much of establishment Marketing has struggled to come to grips with social media, the paradigm of paid media, owned media and earned media is now gaining some traction.
For Gen Y and recruitment, or career engagement, we then ask where do you conduct activities across paid media, owned media, and earned media - and in what proportion for what expected ROI.
For example Brazen Careerist offers forums for young professionals to self-develop, and puts them in live conversations with recruiters. Virtual recruiting events, sponsored by a firm or Agency, would be part of an owned media plan.
Getting to Gen Y is hard work
Rebecca Ryan runs Next Generation Consulting, based in Wisconsin in the US Mid-west, a firm "primarily with companies who want to become great places to work for the next generation".
She makes the point that transitioning to this Gen Y engagement can be hard work, for example she aims to "tell the truth about what it takes to engage the next generation". And she warns: "Rebecca's message and speaking style is not for everyone. If you have uptight, change-resistant participants who can't laugh, and aren't willing to make investments in their future, please stop reading right now and google speakers who make us feel comfortable with the status quo."
The bottom line is that it takes a willingness to change, the ability to achieve change, and a commitment to move forward in new ways - and that's not for every organisation! Her blog and twitter are worth following.
The path towards engaging and, say, recruiting, Gen Y though social media isn't especially new, even if it's implementation may not yet be widespread. Heather Huhman wrote How Recruiting Gen Y Differs from Recruiting Other Generations in 2009 and it still holds true. She notes that Gen Y are regarded are considered lazy and difficult to attract and retain, yet at the same time by definition they are the future of the workforce.
So how does the existing workplace adapt to the potential new workforce? They are so different to previous generations because they are digital natives and because they have a strong sense of entitlement. Therefore, plans for engagement have to include an active presence in their digital world, as mentioned earlier, and also an important cultural shift.
Not taking offence
Those people representing firms and Agencies have to learn not to take offence at Gen Y's attitudes and behaviours in the social media, the lack of "respect" for superiors and systems and reward structures - these attitudes are all out there and active and part of being Gen Y.
The "why" and "why not" responses are not to be taken as an affront but as part of the normal thinking process of the group. Here again the social media team needs to know how to respond to this type of thinking, how to engage others in the organisation without them taking offence, and how to keep conversations alive not shut them down. This can be a confronting process and internal culture change which is needed on the part of those wishing to recruit through these channels.
Social media as a retardant
Coming back to the London Riots - could anything have been done to moderate the riots or to redirect to anger if social media had been used more actively?
Quite possible yes, and no doubt we'll see a lot more attention being paid to analysing where these Gen Y are congregating in social media, and working out how to effectively engage with them. That's not to say that the riots could have been avoided. But just as it acts as an accelerant it can also act as a retardant.
What do you have as the biggest challenges in connecting with Gen Y - organisationally?
Do you think that the biggest organisational impediment is cultural or in finding the right places to engage?
Do you think social media engagement can help moderate mass action?
I'd like to hear your opinion, please comment below.