Information technology is affecting every aspect of our lives. The question that remains is –- how does it shape and change us? Or doesn’t it? Are the digital media just new channels for the same old conversations, or do they have a more profound influence on the way we relate to one another? Most importantly, are the new generations born in this different, digital environment significantly affected by it and therefore different from their parents’ generation?

Many authors believe that today’s young people have different behavioral patterns than generations before them. This is, partly, because they were born in a world where information networks and digital technologies are a way of life (which explains why they are often called digital natives). These new youngsters are not only digitally more capable then the previous generations, but they also think and learn differently, have different social characteristics and expectations, and consequently – they communicate differently. Research shows they want their information fast, through digital technologies, while multitasking. So, what does this mean for a modern organization?

In a study conducted by BPW Foundation, it was noted that by 2025 this newest generation of employees will make up around 75 percent of the world’s workforce. This clearly means they can’t be ignored, and their specific characteristics need to be considered when communicating with them.

However, in a study that Julia Friedl and I conducted, it transpired that not all employees younger than 30 are completely immersed in digital technology. Many of them didn’t grow up with computers as a part of their everyday life. Instead, other factors such as social class, infrastructure in the country of their origin, or professional occupation significantly affected the way digital natives consume digital technology. Therefore, the definition of a typical digital native should be regarded from a multilevel perspective. Possibly, instead of using the classical digital native/digital immigrant divide, there is another approach. Stroerger proposed using a new metaphor – the digital melting pot. The idea behind it is that people acquire digital skills through experience, and cannot be assigned into a group simply based on the year in which they were born. This means that older employees (often starting with lower levels of competency) can learn, change and become a part of the digital melting pot.

On the other side, our research surprised us, when younger employees showed a distinction in their communication preferences. Even though social media adoption is very present in their private life, they had a different attitude to their work life. There doesn’t seem to be a need for a complete immersion of social media in all areas of internal communication, for younger generations or older ones.

Still, even though digital natives may not want to be completely digital, change in the approach to internal communication is inevitable. In all areas of communication social networking platforms are becoming the most popular way of expressing personal opinions, knowledge sharing, building a strong community and content creation. Organizations should be careful not to miss the bandwagon, no matter when the majority of their employees were born.

Dr. Ana Tkalac Verčič is a professor at University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Economics and Business in Croatia.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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7 thoughts on “Organizations as Digital Melting Pots

  1. Thanks for all the comments. I do believe this is partially uncharted territory where we all feel we know a lot, but actually don’t know nearly enough.

    1. Ana, I appreciate your interpretation of what it means to be a digital native — and most of all for dispelling the notion that “digital native” describes everyone in a particular demographic group.

  2. If I may, cause I’m not in PR business … As I see, this “problem” – as it is referred in the text – isn’t simple, more to say – it’s complex and “multidimensional”. Basically, we are speaking about communication reflection of a sociological change that was caused by new technological possibilities. Although I am a great supporter of technological innovations in everyday life, I have to admit that I face a big question regarding how such swift changes influence our communication and – now I have to “invent” an expression – patterns of thinking, “storage” and linking such swiftly acquired information. All this – consequently – is connected also with (so to say) “language” of such communication and the patterns in which such a “language” infiltrates linguistics standard and non-digital communication. On the other hand, reasons why there are still some problems regarding a complete transfer of “professional communication” in the digital sphere, I believe that can be classified under two major categories: 1st digital communication commonly includes – so to say – jargon and multiple non-standard abbreviations, and today we still do not have any standard universal form of “professional digital communicatin” – except digital copies of normally non-digital froms; 2nd there is a big question of archiving of digital communication and possibilities of later (unwanted) modification and intervention
    These are some brief remarks about which – I believe – one should think when speaking about digital communication … and what I could not find in this otherwise nice and informative text … Bravo!

  3. Thanks Ana for this timely reminder of the dangers of making assumptions about employee communication needs. Your post highlights the need for communication professionals to regularly research internal communication preferences.

  4. Congrats Ana – you have given a new perspective on digital natives
    Modern organization are indeed finding tough to find balance between the digital natives and other non-digital natives in all forms of communications
    While non-digital native own & run large corporations – need to align with digital native is a huge challenge as recruitment, brand personality and internal communication has become paramount in today’s hyperactive & overtly sensitive digital world
    India is at the cusp of this information overload – 2014 elections is witnessing this digital native challenge as they manage social media for non-digital native who cannot fathom the power of this new medium but still prefer to leverage along with traditional & conventional in-person meeting, addressing rallies to push their point of view

  5. Brilliant article, it reminds me of the great lessons that Nik Bilton provides in its bestseller “I live in the Future and Here’s how it Works”. The multitasking topic is definitely the most fascinating one in my view and I’m increasingly realizing that ICTs are actually having this very effect (just think at the pace we surf the web, opening multiple tabs in our browser etc.): they’re making us accustomed to enjoy more than one content at a time, in an increasingly faster manner.

  6. What a wonderful, clear, well written and intelligent post! Congratulations Ana and thank you for the stimuli to rethink my stereotypes.

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