I’m publishing my speech from last night’s International Association of Business Communicators‘ gala dinner. Geoff Kelly (founder, Kelly Strategic Influence), Andrew Maiden (executive director of communications and media relations at Telstra) and I delivered a playful poke at what each generation brings to the communication profession. It was a light-hearted and glam evening with a 140 professional communicators in the audience.

Photo courtesy of @annyetta

‘Talkin’ About My Generation’: What Gen Y brings to the communication profession?

Good evening members of the IABC. I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard so far and thanks to Geoff and Andrew for their degenerative pleas. Thanks also to the Victorian committee for having me.

Apologies in advance for the notes and for my propensity to read – my brain stops working after 140 characters.

So I’m here to wrap-up the sentiment of the infamous Gen Y. We’re also known as the Millennials or the generation that gives the press good link bait. The ABS says we’re born from 1982 to 2000 but this changes as frequent as our supposed commitment to the workforce.

But what’s in an age? If there’s one thing we’ve bought to the communication profession, it’s that we’ve flattened the system using digital technologies. No longer are we represented and described by two little numbers. We see beyond this primitive form of understanding and dive more into the full psychographical picture. People can now connect via their interests, ideas and beliefs rather than age. I know the majority of the people I talk to online are from older generations and I love that we communicate as equals.

In 2010, Australians spent 34% of their media consumption online, which equates to two days out of every working week. Yes, two days. 22% of this time is spent on social sites. Social media is perhaps the biggest game changer ever seen in our industry. And if you head to Silicon Valley, you’ll find Gen Ys like Zuckerberg creating the platforms that lead how the majority of the world now communicates.

We’ve introduced continuous and non-disruptive forms of communication. While others are barking down their phone handsets demanding attention from their victim, we’re digital natives plugged into the matrix. Heck, my least favourite part of my iPhone is the call function.

Gen Ys communicate without even trying. We’re constantly delivering real-time updates to our ever-expanding networks. We have ambient awareness of what’s happening through effective short bursts of information. In Amber Case’s TED Talk from December last year she even refers to us as cyborgs – people who rely on their external brains, such as mobile phones and computers, to communicate and even live our secondary lives. Try explaining the concept of a second life to older generations and no I’m not just referring to the poxy virtual world of the same name.

I recall one time I was at the Friday morning social media meetup and was enjoying a conversation with a friend when a late Gen Xer walked over to introduce himself. He made a snide remark about my inability to put my phone down. While I’m sure he thought I was breaking some sort of social grace, he had failed to understand the skill of multitasking. Yes, I can hold a conversation while responding to client work via email, texting my partner and posting Twitpics on the @socialmelb Twitter account, couldn’t he? The situation was only made worse when the same gentlemen caught me a few weeks later glued to my phone seeking Google Map directions.

Gen Ys trust each other more than media institutions. We believe in peer-to-peer communication to disseminate information through our networks. We share news and knowledge via text messages, emails, chat programs and social media. We know what makes something viral. We encourage conversation, interaction and dialogue between two parties. We’ve democratised the media landscape. We prefer co-creation to one side controlling what’s published.

This isn’t about broadcasting carefully crafted messages from old-school media outlets. It’s about listening. Listening is a crucial part of communication, yet it is only with the advent of social media that we’ve really started to become obsessed with it. A simple search using ‘social media monitoring’ as keywords delivers millions of results. Sure, mainstream media monitors have been around for a while, but these hardly cover mentions from the long tail or consumer sentiment. We now have access to such valuable data and feedback, changing communication forever.

For too long, communicators have been at the mercy of the media, stalking journalists in the hope of a mention in some dying masthead. Gen Ys understand we’re all media companies now. Individual influencers can have more power and reach than the leading established brands. Australia’s biggest YouTuber Natalie Tran of the Community Channel recently teamed up with Lonely Planet to video her around the world travels. While Tran is approaching a million subscribers around the globe, the somewhat digitally stunted Lonely Planet is beginning to understand the need to team up with these new-world celebrities.

Gen Ys also want to know who is behind everything – we crave transparent and authentic voice. We don’t respond to overtly commercial messages or biased propaganda. We want our friends to tell us their honest opinion directly. We want more people to have their say. I trust my network more than I do authorities.

If I’m travelling and looking for a place to stay, I prefer using sites like Airbnb to traditional accommodation providers. Most hotels to me are such sterile environments devoid of community. Airbnb is like eBay for space, where people from around the globe rent out their spare room or couch. Better yet, the site has recently added Facebook Connect functionality so I can view if and how I’m related to the host through my network. Now this is a brand that speaks to Gen Y.

If I’m making a purchase, I’ll often research online, check the product out in-store and then head back online to buy it cheaper from overseas. And don’t cringe; most Gen Ys do it.

And while I’m at it – stop all the thinking there’s an online and offline. It’s just one big communication soup.

If you think this all sounds too much, I recently saw a video of the upcoming Gen Z at a conference and they scared the hell out of me. Demanding, fearless and independent. They’re nothing like we’ve ever seen before. They’ve always had the internet. I’ll be interested to see what’s it like when they hit the workforce.

But as I stand here boasting about Gen Y traits and changes in communication, I must admit, I think the majority of generational stereotyping is bullshit. We create the barrier by thinking there’s a difference between us. We need to unlearn and relearn. I can list countless people from older generations that are as digitally savvy as me, and earlier adopters of new communication platforms. I also know a handful of Gen Ys who aren’t on Facebook and hate Twitter with a passion. We’ve all built the current communication ecosystem together. All we need to remember is we’re all humans and communicate without judgement and with respect.

I’d like to finish now as I know in the way of more alcohol and hopefully some hilarious-to-watch dancing. I also haven’t checked my phone for 10 minutes and am getting notification anxiety. But most importantly, I’m looking forward to speaking with you and not at you.

Thank you and good night.

2 thoughts on “Talkin’ about my generation

  1. Hi kate
    Great talk. Thanks for publishing. You make a really good point about listening. I’m not entirely
    convinced that the majority of social media users really grasp this aspect of the medium. I think thatitis this
    Lack of understanding that leads to so much noise, yet not an enormous amount of exchange. It’s a strange paradox that whole the 99% 1% partication rule s probably still current, the percentage of that 1% who is listening and exchanging rather than broadcasting remains quite small. I’ve written a piece on exchange at http://www.culturecycle.org Look forward to more of your work.

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