Social Media and Generation X

social-media2Although social media may seem to belong to teenagers and early 20 something’s, it has become widely adopted across all generations.  Online social network acceptance by American adults has grown by more than 400% since 2005 (courtesy of PEW).  Among the most intriguing adult demographics are the Gen Xers (those born between 1960-1979).

Gen Xers use social networking sites for both personal and professional use and therefore are more likely to carry several profiles and utilize multiple social networking outlets.  Overall, 17% or American Gen Xers visit social networking sites on a daily basis. LinkedIn, the Internet’s largest professional network, boasts a median user age of 40 and  according to PEW, 30% of 35-44 year olds have at least one profile on social networks (along with19% of 45-54 year olds).

Interestingly, female Gen Xers seem to be slightly more involved in social media on a regular basis than males.  In fact, females over the age of 40 are statistically more engaged in social media than younger women according to the website SheSpeaks.com.  In fact, females 45 years old and older used Facebook between January and March 2009 at a rate higher than any other category of users (eMarketer.com).

Clearly Gen Xers are becoming increasingly Internet savvy utilizing social media to make more informed purchasing decisions, find employment, engage with particular social groups (i.e. mommy bloggers) and stay in touch with family and friends through these most efficient and immediate methods. A recent eMarketer.com survey also found that social networks (67%) were more popular than email (65%) for mass communication.  Given the above trends in Internet social network use, Gen X’s use of social media is only expected to continue to rise. Keep an eye out for the new social media tools and technologies that spawn over the next few years—it would not be unlikely for them to be targeted to this demographic.

Social Media Can Be a Game, but Never Forget Why You Are Playing

kidAs soon as news leaked through a corporate memo that ESPN was going to regulate their employee’s free use of social networking sites like Twitter, the social media community sounded off their collective disapproval. “Dear ESPN—You’re Doing it Wrong” was the title of social media expert Chris Brogan’s blog post on the subject, which alluded to his dissatisfaction with the network’s decision to force employees to refrain from using sites like Twitter “for anything but ESPN-specific stuff.” Brogan continued to write that ESPN’s policies do not reflect “how relationship-building goes in the social web.” And many others agreed. We can only assume that this action by ESPN was an attempt by them to safeguard their brand.

So where did ESPN go wrong, and how could they have handled the situation differently?

First, the issue. The lines between personal and corporate social media use have been blurring since the first person realized that social media could impact business. As companies are encouraging employees to Tweet, post, and comment on their behalf, many are finding that those same employees are having a difficult time separating their personal lives from their company’s corporate marketing objectives. This often leads to damaging content (mainly by association) being posted in public forums by uninformed staff. This is where the issue lies for many corporations.

So here’s where I think ESPN “didn’t get the memo.”

Implementing a corporate social media protocol is not just providing a set of rules for your employees about social media usage. Rather than discouraging personal social media use, you should actually determine the types of online interactions from employees that could actually serve to benefit your brand, even if they have little to nothing to do with your company. And you must also clearly explain your objectives for encouraging your staff to use social media on your organization’s behalf and repeatedly remind them of this motive (i.e. it is ok to employees to add an appropriate level of individualism to online communications as long as it reflects your brands personality). When your employees fully comprehend why you are encouraging them to utilize social media on your organizations behalf there is less of a risk of them damaging your brand.

As you, as marketers, realize your individual measures of success (leads, web traffic, mentions, etc.), you must clearly map out a social media strategy to ensure that you (and everyone involved in your corporate social media initiatives) reach those goals. It is this strategy that must be stamped on the collective corporate conscience like a brand mission or statement.

The bottom line: If you want employees to continuously engage with social media on your organization’s behalf, make sure you consistently remind them of your corporate social media marketing objectives. This will help ensure you reach your marketing goals while helping to avoid any social media pitfalls.

“We catch fish using fishing rods, nothing else"

Recently, while at an event, I had a discussion with a marketing director at a large law firm here in Boston. The subject of online lead generation was brought up and here was his knee-jerk response:

“We are not interested in online lead generation at the law firm, because we’re primarily a business to business law firm and we only get business from known referrers.”

I found this response odd, as most of our clients are in the B2B space, but not surprising. Many people are not privy to the current data and trends surrounding social media, online marketing, and purchasing behavior for the B2B buyer. I immediately informed him that we work with many law firms, accounting firms, and consulting firms in the B2B space. I supported my statement by sighting recent data and statistics from reports and studies by Forrester Research, MarketingSherpa, MarketingProfs, and B2B Magazine. I stated that nearly all of the data and qualitative analysis suggests that B2B buyers of technology and/or services are influenced by social media, and that most B2B marketers plan on increasing their online marketing spend in 2009.

Here was his second response:

“Well, we don’t want that type of business that you get online”

Huh? It was like someone claiming that they don’t want the business they get from public relations, advertising, direct marketing, or even networking. In my response, I explained how one of our professional service clients (that offers audit, tax, consulting, and wealth management services – with over 400 employees) is averaging over 20 new business leads per month, and has generated over $600,000 in new contracts that directly resulted from, and are tracked by, our efforts over the last 6 months. I also cited how when I have made purchasing decisions for our 20+ person agency in the past, I was greatly influenced by product reviews and advice/referrals from individuals in my LinkedIn groups, as well as from content that I downloaded online and from search results on Google. He still wasn’t buying it and so I moved on.

fish-stocking-1Later in the day I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t someone want this type of business (from online sources)?” I thought about what he said and equated his statements to something like “We catch fish using fishing rods, nothing else. We don’t want to try using nets, fishing boats, or any other means because we don’t want the type of fish that you catch using these tools.”

Thinking in these terms helped me to understand that there really was only one answer to my question… It wasn’t that this marketer didn’t want this type of business (as I am sure the firm’s leaders would agree); it was just that this person didn’t want to engage in an activity that he didn’t fully comprehend. This is a very common issue among c-level marketingfishing execs.

My conclusion led me to another question—with social media adoption (for general usage) among B2B buyers growing at a much higher percentage rate than that of B2B marketers (for marketing purposes), wouldn’t it make sense that the marketers who embrace this shift in purchasing behavior at an early stage also be the ones that realize the greatest benefit (i.e. the largest “catch”)?

My advice to any person in a senior marketing role is to educate themselves as quickly as possible on the current trends, data, and purchasing behavior of the B2B buyer and how the Web is influencing and impacting their purchasing decisions.

If you don’t like change, you‘re going to like irrelevance even less.”— General Eric. Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

Forbes Insights Report: Where C-Level & Senior Execs Look (& Interact) Online

Online lead generation can be a bit difficult to conceptualize when it is not considered under the right context. It is important to understand that leads can only be effectively generated online when the tactics employed, take into consideration the actual online behaviors of executives who hold power to make purchasing behaviors.

Along that vein, Forbes Insight recently released an excellent report, entitled The Rise of the Digital C-Suite: How Executives Locate and Filter Business Information that surveys and analyzes the digital activities of senior and C-level executives. Some of the findings were not necessarily surprisingly (executives under the age of 50 were more likely to use the Internet for business purposes on a daily basis), while others were (streaming business-related video and webcasts are becoming increasingly popular for members of the C-suite).

Diving into the report further, it becomes clear that while senior executives differ in their online behavior depending on their age, the majority of them all use the internet to, at the very least, supplement their information gathering, networking and business intelligence activities.

Other key findings include:

  • 74% of executives find the Internet to be “very valuable” in terms of helping them to find information vs. 25% of executives who find print newspapers to be “very valuable” for the same purposes—Further evidence that the newspaper industry may be doomed.
  • 63% of executives surveyed indicated that search engines were “very valuable” to helping them to locate business information—Supporting importance of search engine optimization (SEO) initiatives.
  • 70% of searches are prompted by something that an executive read online vs. 38% that were prompted by an online advertisement—Editorial content (from online sources) remains more credible and engaging than ads, but these statistics also support the increased visibility and influence of blogs, wikis, and other forums for content dissemination.
  • 41% of executives under the age of 50 click on the paid listings on search engine results vs. 6% of the executives over the age of 50—As younger executives move into the C-suite, pay per click advertising could become an even more integral component of marketing campaigns.
  • 25% of executives view work-related content on business-related websites (including 33% of executives under the age of 50)—Webinars and other informative videos have grown in significance (perhaps in part due to their ability to convey complex information in a more memorable fashion).

But most significantly, Forbes’ report found that executives under the age of 40  “Generation Netscape”), the same executives that are more likely to fill the most important C-level, decision making roles within their organizations in the coming years, are frequently engaged in Web 2.0 related activities. The findings include:

  • 35% of executives under 40 maintain a work-related blog
  • 32% contribute to, or read, micro-feeds through sites like Twitter (more than half of those executives state that they use Twitter daily or several days a week)
  • 40% subscribe to and read content through an RSS feed

So while the report makes it clear that executives of all ages have found that the Internet is an important vehicle to help them identify and filter important business-related information, it is abundantly clear that the next crop of C-level executives (“Generation Netscape”) already have a firm grasp of the relevance and work-related benefits of new media tools.

These executives, likely to exert scores of influence on the C-level decision making process in the years to come, are using the web to engage, collaborate, network, and consume valuable information. Sales and marketing teams need to act quickly to master these same tools so that can generate leads through the same venues that their future buyers are frequenting every business day.