September 2011
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TD Magazine

Are You Antisocial?

The other day I was talking to a well-known, award-winning CLO, who said he absolutely refuses to get involved with any of the new social media. Facebook? LinkedIn? Twitter? Nope, he wants nothing to do with any of it. His excuse? No time for it. He's got more important things to do.

Really? Good luck with that.


Let's consider some data on Internet and email usage. According to the Pew Internet Foundation, between 2008 and 2010, the percentage of Millennials using social media jumped from 67 to 83 percent. But, social media use by those aged 55 to 64 years old jumped from 9 percent to 43 percent - the biggest leap among any age group! What a remarkable change in just two years.

Now consider the change in email use in just the last year. According to comScore, email use among Millennials dropped 18 percent in 2010 alone. In contrast, people aged 55 and older are increasing their use of email.

Demographics are shifting rapidly as well. Some estimates suggest that 1,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each hour. In less than two years, more than 47 percent of the workforce will be Millennials. How do Millennials communicate? Like baby birds chirping for their next meal, they are constantly connected via texting, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of other signal-rich applications. An average Millennial, according to Pew, might send and receive more than 3,000 text messages a month. At any given moment, she might have six to 10 instant message sessions open on her mobile device.

How do Baby Boomers, who constitute much of the executive population and a good portion of the learning profession, communicate? Email. For the first time in modern management history, leaders and frontline employees are using dramatically different media channels. If communication weren't difficult enough already, it's become exacerbated by new media choices and the frequency of signals.

So does it really make sense to assume that social media is a fad that will just go away? If not, how have we adapted learning to accommodate the communication preferences of this new generation of learners? If your learning function looks about the same as it did five years, or even two years ago, then "Houston, we have a problem." Learning must incorporate the features that make hanging out on social sites compelling: commenting, rating, tagging, signals of changes, rich media, user profiles, the ability to form


communities, and so on.

One of the greatest impressions a learning function can make is to bridge the divide between strategy and execution. We do this by building the skills and knowledge of employees so that they can help to execute business strategy. If we fail to speak the language of the front line, we have given up on that mission. Are we ready to do that? If not, we simply can't afford to be antisocial.

About the Author

Karie Willyerd is the workplace futurist for SuccessFactors, an SAP company, and former chief learning officer of Sun Microsystems. She also is a co-author of The 2020 Workplace and Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace. @angler

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