When I was younger, my parents would often suggest that I write a letter to my grandparents. At the time, it kind of seemed like an odd thing to do, but getting a letter in the mail was (and still is) a great feeling – but I couldn’t tell you the last time I got a hand-written letter in the mail, or sent one.
Today, young people don’t write letters. Recent surveys have shown that young people don’t even email because they find it “too slow”. (Don’t believe me? Go ahead, ask someone under 17 for their email address.) Instead, young people use text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter. The question older people are asking is “Why? If phone calls, emails and instant messaging all work perfectly well, why isn’t it good enough for young people?”
And there-in lies the problem. For the people who wrote letters and mailed them, email seemed like a poor substitute. They would say things like “Email is not handwritten! It doesn’t have the proper address heading at the top! Email may quick and easy, but it doesn’t show that you really care!” Fast forward to now – people who using email say things like “but social networks aren’t secure! And who knows who you’re talking to! And why do I want to be ‘friends’ with or ‘follow’ someone I barely know?”
Although the reasons for not transitioning may have changed, the reality is that the argument is the same. So, why do young people prefer alternative methods of communication? And how do you best communicate with them?
The reality is that mail, phone calls, and email have become completely open. Anyone who knows my mailing address can send me something, and anyone that knows my email address can send me an email – without my permission. That’s can be good – but think of how many catalogs you get at home. (Victoria’s Secret must send out 5 catalogs per week.) Chances are, you didn’t ask for those catalogs. And finding out how to stop them would require a phone call to customer service, getting bounced around, with no guarantee of the catalogs stopping. What about phone calls? You might have just started to do something when the phone rings, and you’re forced to talk for the next half-hour. You could put the call into voicemail, but then later you’d have to dial into your voicemail, listen to what the person wanted, maybe write down the number (which means finding a pen and paper) and then calling them back, and being forced to talk for the next half-hour. Or, think of how much email SPAM you get. Perhaps you signed up for something on purpose years ago – or maybe you never signed up at all. You might be on mailing lists, daily or weekly specials from vendors, coupons from retailers – you probably get so much that you have a special email address just for SPAM. (I know I do.)
Enter young people. They’ve seen the downfalls of other mediums. How do they want to be communicated with?
Text messaging is about as fast and unobtrusive as it gets. You can’t text someone without knowing their phone number. You can’t write a novel (well, you could, but that’s not what it’s for) and it doesn’t interrupt you if you’re doing something else. You can send a text, respond to a text, then go do something else for a while, and come back to continue the conversation. Or, you can text while doing something else, like watching TV. Phone calls require continual conversation, while text messaging can support breaks in the conversation.
Facebook is about letting in exactly who you want, and when. If I’m interested in a retailer and need coupons, I can “like” them on Facebook. Once I use the coupons and no longer want to hear from that retailer, I can just “hide” their status updates on my wall. When I need them again, I just search for them within Facebook, or change my settings so their posts appear on my wall.
Twitter is about short communication that others can be part of. You can quickly share links, pictures, and other information you want others to see. If you want to send a private message using twitter, you can – but it’s about community sharing, and finding out about things as they happen – a result of other people sharing links, pictures, and information.
The main thing to remember is that young people can adapt to new methods of communication and find value in them far faster than others can. FourSquare is a social network I simply don’t appreciate, and I’ll be the first to admit that. But if I was in a place and wanted my friends to find me if they were in the area – FourSquare would be the way. However, as we get older, we have to resist the urge to write-off new methods of communication, and instead work to find the value in them.