How will generational issues impact retention strategies

I recently responded to a course posting asking “In what ways do you think generational issues will impact association retention strategies?” I have a big problem with companies, associations, organizations thinking they know how to appeal to our generation. How many times have we heard companies pushing their social media (i.e. facebook, twitter, myspace, etc). Only to be disappointed at the lack of substance once we get there. The following was my response to the course posting and I would love some feedback/comments. It personally drives me nuts when I hear a Gen X’er or a baby boomer talk like they know exactly what we want and disregard any opinions from the very audience they are trying to appeal to.

This whole generational issue is something that always gets me steamed up. I’m going to start with the disclaimer that I am a strong member of Generation Y and also this opinion of mine is likely just me being stubborn. With that said, here I go.

It seems as if everyone feels they MUST jump onto the Generation Y bandwagon in order to survive. How often have we heard “we have to get on facebook” or “we have to get on twitter” or ” we have to get onto social networking” because if we don’t we’re going to lose the younger crowd to someone else. I personally find so many flaws with this. The first being that whether a company or association is involved with some type of social media networking has no influence or impact on my decision to join or be involved with them. I’m involved in a number of organizations that have very little if any at all social media presence (and most of the ones that are involved either have no activity or do it very poorly) and I’m also connected to other organizations that do have a strong social media presence but typically find them of little value. The main problem with trying to appeal to generational differences via this medium is that no one really knows how to do it right or even what to do at all. So association XYZ now has 1000 followers on their facebook group – so what? Little purpose is served if those people are not engaged or intrinsically already interested. Does having 1000 passive connected do anything for the organization other than giving these 1000 people a “badge” on their profile?

My second “rant” with the generational issues is that all of the people pushing this generational divide/issue are not members of Generation Y. How many times do you seem someone from generation X or the baby boomer generation on TV talking about how important social media is? I personally think it happens more often than seeing a member of Generation Y on TV talking about the generation as an “expert.” But when a member from Generation Y tries to come of as an expert they are often brushed off with the mindset that “you’re too young, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I recently attended a day-long conference called Social Media for Social Good. It was primarily Gen Y’ers learning about social media, sure everyone there has a facebook account, some of us twitter, I’m sure all of us talk on some type of instant messaging program. Many of our bosses found it valuable enough to send us – but an underlying and repeating theme was “how do we convince our bosses to participate in social media.” Unfortunately no one had an answer – when Gen Y’ers go to their bosses to try and push the issues that are important to us we aren’t viewed as credible sources. We’re just young bucks out of college that don’t know any better because we lack real world experience.

My personal opinion is that if associations want to appeal to Gen Y, they need to appeal to our natural instinct for learning, information, and consistent feedback/praise. We love to professional learn, we want tools to do our jobs well, and we want to do it our way. Our best traits are not reading a 30-page long research paper or memo, we are information disseminators. We grew up on the internet, google, and having 8 different instant messaging chat boxes open. We like lots of information, receiving massive amounts of information and then summarizing it into useful chunks.

The unfortunate aspect involving retention strategies is that its very hard to retain Gen Y’ers – we typically do not remain loyal and if we are unhappy somewhere (work, association, groups) we leave to move onto something better/we like. If associations are to retain this generation they must continually adapt to the ever-changing needs of its younger members.

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