Monday, August 27, 2007

Mind the [Generation] Gap!

If you have kids — or nieces and nephews in their tweens, teens and early 20s — you’re probably already well aware of the digital generation gap. We email; they SMS. We’re shocked to see how much information about us is available online; they happily bare their souls on their blogs and MySpace pages. We socialize IRL (that’s “in real life,” for those of you over the age of 25); they network virtually … and enthusiastically. We read news; they use social networks and instant messaging to disseminate news.

Yet the difference between the generations may be narrowing … at least in some areas. Social networking is no longer entirely confined to kids. Last year, the Associated Press reported that half of MySpace users are 35 or older. Only 30% are under the age of 25.

The online research firm Compete reports that two out of every three people online visited a social networking site last June. And according to Jeff Cole, director of the USC-Annenberg 2007 Digital Future Project, 43% of Internet users who are members of online communities say that they “feel as strongly” about their virtual community as they do about their real-world communities. Nearly three out of five (56.6%) log into their community at least once a day.

So what are the implications of these shifts for those of us in communications?

To find out, the Public Relations Society of America and Dow Jones & Company conducted “Wired for Change,” a survey of PR professionals and students that explores their attitudes, usage and expectations of technology in shaping current and future communication practices.

Here are some of the more interesting findings:

  • Both groups believe that the technology-driven channels that provide the best opportunities for the practice of public relations are online news websites, blogs and social networking sites.

  • Generally, students have a more positive view of new communications tools than professionals, especially professional networking web sites, internet TV, blogs, social networking sites, satellite TV, internet radio, chat rooms and video phones.

  • A majority of all PR professionals believe their organizations lag in broader communication technology use, with only 20% saying they are “ahead of the trend.”

  • While the majority of PR professionals and students think that print publications are more credible sources than various new media, younger internet users are just not reading print, preferring social networks and instant messaging for news.

  • While communicators at all levels of experience, including students, strongly believe that technology has positively impacted the practice of PR, they also think that the new social media — including blogs and social networking sites — present critical credibility and ethical challenges. A majority of survey respondents acknowledge that, because they are “unregulated,” the new social media enable the potential for reputational harm and for rumors to spread quickly.
PRSA hopes to repeat the survey later this year to assess evolving trends in the new and next media and determine how opinions of public relations professionals and students have changed.

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