Five tips for digital communication in the new year

More than half of all U.S. adults now use social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, and a new report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that users value these sites primarily as tools to stay in touch with friends and family members. More than six in 10 users cite staying in touch with family members and connecting with current friends as a “major reason” why they use online social networks. Reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances also plays a significant role, as half of social media users say that connecting with people they’ve lost touch with is a major reason behind their use of these sites.

3. Focus more effort on Millennials, your next generation of parents and employees. First identified by generational researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe, Millennials were born between 1982 and 2002. The children of overprotective “helicopter” parents, Millennials are racially and ethnically diverse and technologically savvy. Politically progressive, Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 66 percent to 32 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. They are less observant in terms of religion but more trusting in terms of institutions and authority than previous generations.

Millennials don’t use cell phones to talk; they text. As such, mobile communications that can be accessed quickly and easily while on the go—think Twitter and Tumblr—make the most sense for this crowd. Ironically, given their preference for digital communications, they crave personal relationships with their bosses and aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

Having experienced more organized play and sports growing up, Millennials find more comfort in structure and timelines than the freewheeling Gen X-ers, so frequent and ongoing communication is going to be even more important. Just make it fast. They hate to waste time, too. As one of my Millennial employees told me recently, “Why watch a 30-minute broadcast for something easily found online in less than a minute?”

This same employee loves it when I text; something I personally abhor but do out of necessity when I want to reach my younger employees or my children. (Apparently, I’m missing some key aspect of manual dexterity—I’m all thumbs when I text, and not in a good way.) My employees, by the way, tell me they only use the cell phone to talk to their grandparents and boomer parents.

4. Try something new. As a communications strategist, I believe smart communications require solid research, careful planning, thoughtful execution, and data-informed evaluation. Sometimes, though, you just need to try something new and figure out if it works later, especially in today’s accelerated world.

Take QR codes, for example. Frankly, they irritate me. I’m a boomer and a grandmother. I value aesthetics and precision. I like well-crafted words, images, and colors. I never scan QR codes into my smart phone, which I use primarily for eMail, web surfing, and talking, not texting. Truth be told, I like my simple cell phone with the big number keys the best—it has all my stuff in it, I can read the numbers without my glasses on, it is simple to use, and my disabled daughter has the number memorized. She recognizes “mom” when it pops up in her cell phone.

So why did I recommend using QR codes? I am not the target market for most school and district communications, other than to ensure I remain supportive as a voter or get involved as a volunteer. Millennials and Gen X-ers have grown up in an all-digital environment. What seems revolutionary to boomers is simply daily life to them.

My communications coordinator came up with the idea to use QR codes for school lunch menus. Thankfully, I am still smart enough to recognize a good idea when I see one, so we’re expanding this to other uses and are publicizing our approach as just one more way we’re staying in touch with parents and other constituents.

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