Five ways to bridge the online generation gap

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It’s no surprise that a person’s age can impact how they view the digital world and engage with others online. Whether it’s parents and teens interacting on Facebook, or employers and employees clashing about the best way to use the company Twitter feed, there’s often a recognisable gap in the way that individuals of different ages connect via social media and other online tools.

To avoid embarrassing missteps and communicate more effectively online with users of every age, here are five tips to help bridge the online generation gap.

1. Know what constitutes ‘acceptable’ content. A photo or comment that seems perfectly acceptable to one generation can be considered seriously offensive to another. When engaging online, it’s important to consider how various age groups will view the content you’re posting online. Being savvy in the digital age means recognising that there’s no age limit on the internet. You can no longer assume that questionable content isn’t visible to older – or younger – users, so take care to ensure that the posted content is appropriate for all audiences.

2. Recognise that perception is often reality. Some users are unaware that a person’s online profile is often linked to their offline identity. Tagging people in embarrassing photographs or making unsuitable comments on a person’s profile may have far reaching consequences. Additionally, employers, police and other organisations are increasingly monitoring social media accounts. In 2012, two UK tourists were denied entry into the U.S. for offensive comments they made on Twitter, proving that what happens online doesn’t always stay online.

3. Embrace ‘selfie’ expression where appropriate. Posting photos of themselves online often comes naturally to generations Y and Z. While older users can sometimes misinterpret this online behaviour as narcissistic and self-obsessed, many younger users simply view it as a visual status update, or a way to say ‘I was there’. Given the popularity of social media tools that focus on sharing photos and imagery – such as Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat – it’s important to recognise the value of ‘selfies’ when used appropriately online.

4. Differentiate between personal and professional content. Some social media tools, such as LinkedIn, are a natural fit for professional content, while others – such as Facebook and Twitter – can create a crossover between public and private content which can be difficult to navigate. When managing online accounts, it’s important for users of every age to consider who has access to the content and who their comments could potentially impact.

You may remember the tasteless joke one American PR professional made on Twitter before boarding an 11-hour flight to South Africa. Enraging the Twittersphere, the personal comment was re-tweeted more than 2,000 times while she was in the air, creating a very real professional crisis for her employer. As a result, she was fired before the flight landed – a perfect example of personal and professional clashing online with disastrous results.
5. Learn online etiquette for your chosen medium. Few things are more toe-curling than watching someone misuse a hashtag or commit a social media faux pas. Before interacting online, learn the language, etiquette and standard features of the medium you are using. Carefully watch how others are using the tools to engage and keep in mind that, as in real life, the age, status or gender of the person communicating may alter how the message is received. Additionally, each social network has its own tone and language style, so be sure not to use online lingo unless you know what it means.

Whether you’re a baby boomer, or from any generation spanning from X to Z, these simple tips will hopefully help you bridge the online communication gap.

Image credit: Illustrations by Robert Samuel Hanson (via Fast Company)