The Myth of Youth in Social Enterprise

There is a meme going around in IT circles that goes like this “Young people are driving new expectations of IT, especially in social enterprise.” A variant is of this is “Millennials are driving the move toward social enterprise because they are used to Facebook.” I heard this idea repeated at a conference recently by a CIO (who shall remain nameless). To me, that has never sounded right. In fact, I find it downright silly to think that a new 20-something will come into a large corporation, demand that IT provide them with internal Facebook, and not have them laughed right back to their desk. Simply put, they don’t make these decisions. It is managers – budget holders – that make the technology decisions in companies. There aren’t enough of the under-30 employees in those positions to make much of an impact on an entire market. ESG research bears that out. In a recent survey, we found that of the participants that either had implemented or were planning to implement Social Enterprise solutions (which was 93% of the sample!) and who were managers and above, roughly 74% were over 35. No surprise there. Management requires experience and, hence, tends to skew older. The people making the decisions about Social Enterprise, management, are generally over 35 years old and not Millenials.

I also think it is preposterous to think that because someone is older than Mark Zuckerberg they will summarily reject new technology. If that were the case, no one over 45 today would use the Internet and no one over 55 a PC. Instead, grandparents in their 70s and 80s embrace Facebook. ESG data once again points out the fallacy of the idea that workers over 45 (or 35 for that matter) don’t engage with the Social Enterprise. While younger workers may be more regular users or may use more of the social tools provided to them, older workers do not reject them. The IT professionals surveyed believe that roughly 9% of their users in the 46 to 55 age group reject social communication and collaboration tools. Another way to look at it is that 91% actually do use social tools. Not bad for a new technology.

The picture is pretty clear. In general, workers over 45 may not use social collaboration and communication tools as much as younger workers but they don’t reject them either. I speculate that the over 45 cohort have seen enough technology come and go to understand the need for solutions that get actual work done. Just blabbing on a micro-blogging platform is not enough for them which it shouldn’t be for anyone. Even more important, it is IT professionals over the age of 35 that are tasked with purchasing these solutions. If you believe that IT management is usually who make technology purchasing decisions (and they are) then it is older IT professionals that are deciding on Social Enterprise products.

It is a myth that workers under 30 are driving the Social Enterprise. They may be introducing these ideas into organizations but it is management – IT professionals over 35 – who are making the purchase decisions. While younger workers clearly use social collaboration and communication tools, so do the older workers. Believe in the Social Enterprise because it has value to the whole organization.

Topics: Enterprise Mobility