The Digital Native: 5 Things You Need To Know About This Generation
To Succeed In Business
By Michelle Manafy
Between all generations lie gaps. Yet in the course of some
generations, major events occur that cause tectonic shifts. The fact
is that many individuals and businesses today face a massive and
growing generation gap. As this digital native generation, which has
grown up immersed in digital technologies such as the mobile phones,
gaming, and social networks becomes our dominant employee and
consumer base, those in older generations must learn to navigate a
radically altered landscape in order to succeed in business going
Here are five key insights into the digital native generation that
will help you understand how best to leverage their distinct
worldview to achieve your business objectives.
1. They live publicly online
Without a doubt, the notion of privacy didn't change overnight with
the advent of the Internet. For better or worse (or for lack of a
better word), we've seen an evolution of privacy. It was once the
norm to keep one�s dirty laundry tucked away out of site. This gave
way to a generation that would share from the relative privacy of a
therapist�s couch. More recently, we have witnessed the era of
trash-mouth talk shows and reality television. However, with the
digital native, businesses must address the expectations of a
generation raised in social networking environments, in which they
routinely share every detail of their activities and opinions with a
potentially limitless group of friends.
Tip: Often, businesses are hamstrung by outdated notions of privacy.
They fail to recognize and capitalize on the digital native�s
openness. We need to understand the native�s natural inclination to
live publicly to guide these activities so that they are consistent
with our business objectives. We can also build business models that
leverage on this openness, both in the way we structure our employee
activities as well as customer interactions.
2. They share knowledge
Once we recognize that the natives are living their lives out-loud,
we can begin to understand how this behavior is shapes all aspects
of their lives. Despite a good deal of hyperbole about social media
and marketing via Twitter and social networks, as many as 50% to 75%
of organizations limit or ban the use of social networks while on
the job. What this demonstrates is not simply a fear of exposure
through inappropriate use of social technologies, it shows a
distinct lack of understanding of how to effectively manage and
channel the knowledge sharing inclination of this generation.
Tip: Beyond crafting guidelines to regulate the appropriate use of
social networks on the job, proactive use of socially mediated,
open, collaborative ways of working can help companies capture
otherwise transient knowledge assets. The old adage was that
knowledge is power; for the digital native knowledge shared is
3. They believe transparency yields trust
Because digital natives live publicly and value knowledge sharing,
organizations that demonstrate a similar level of openness will be
the ones that attract and retain them as employees and customers.
Digital natives make new friends, followers, and fans every day.
However it is important to keep in mind that it takes a lot of work
to maintain the kind of genuine relationship required with the
digital native. If digital natives dislike your brand, they will
make it publicly known. Luckily, the reverse is also true.
Today�s ultra-connected consumer, raised to share and monitor
sentiment, may seem like a fickle friend, but that�s only if
organizations don�t stay involved by listening, responding, owning
up and doing the work it takes to maintain a genuine long-term
Tip: Now when it comes to attracting and retaining this generation
as employees, it is essential to recognize that today�s best
employees are also monitoring opportunities and discussing employers
online. For recruiting, this can provide insights into whom the
best, brightest, and most social media savvy are. And for employee
retention, employers can leverage these same tools and tendencies to
make sure that they are competitive in the market, responding to
concerns in order to attract and retain the best and brightest.
4. They are timely, not time-managed
While most people are painfully aware that the line between �at
work� and �off duty� is increasingly blurred, for the native this
will be taken to a whole new level. The digital native will move
beyond what previous generations called a worklife balance to a new
sort of worklife integration.
For the digital native, work and social activities are ever-present,
they travel with the native anywhere and anytime. Digital natives
may log more hours at their computers during the course of a day
than those in previous generations, but switch back-and-forth
between work and leisure in short bursts. Though this may strike
some managers as inappropriate, it helps to realize that while an
older worker might head to the break room or a co-worker�s desk to
clear their head, natives are more likely to �info-snack� or catch
up on a quick burst of Facebook updates.
Tip: Moving forward, companies that emphasize collaboration,
learning and socialization will see key benefits in comparison to
companies that focus solely on productivity. The native doesn�t need
to play all day to be happy. However, there�s no reason that work
inside an organization can�t be constructively influenced by the
expectations of our younger workforce.
5. They believe in interactions, not transactions
Social networking, social media � with all this socializing, one
might begin to wonder how any business ever gets done. Suffice it to
say, it does and it will continue to do so. However, organizations
that develop good social skills will have a competitive advantage
over those that remain socially inept. One quality of this business
that will be essential for business success going forward is
recognizing that this generation is not interested in traditional
transactive business models � which are based upon exchanges of
money for goods and services. This is a generation that is
interested in interactions.
Tip: Unlike a transaction-based system, an interactive one is based
upon social currency. The fact is that all aspects of business will
need to embrace interaction, from marketing and CRM to product and
content creation. This generation doesn�t just want to do business
with companies it views as friends; it wants to do business with
itself and expects to see its ideals and objectives reflected in the
companies it chooses to do business with.
While there are many digital immigrants who are whole-heartedly
adopting digital tools, it is not simply emerging technologies that
must be mastered. A lifelong immersion has affected the mindset,
behavior, and expectations of the digital native generation. To
succeed in business with them, we must understand it and build
models based on this new native culture.
Michelle Manafy is director of content for FreePint, Ltd. An
award-winning writer and editor, her focus is on emerging trends in
digital content and how they shape successful business practices. A
speaker and dedicated mentor, she is the co-author of
Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step With the Generation
That�s Transforming the Way Business Is Done. For more
information go to