Recently, I had the honor to develop and lead a workshop for local high school students who are a part of the Mayor’s Youth Board. These are students interested in civic leadership. The two sessions had from 25-40 students attend each session.

In this, we had a great discussion on not only current trends and usage stats for social media, but in how we use it, too.

I am not sure what the specific lightbulb moment was, but at some point during the 3/4 mark of the first session, it dawned on me who this audience really was.

These not only are our very near future leaders, they also have a very unique opportunity that I believe is critical with the posture in which they will seek to lead.

They will have the unique opportunity to lead a generation of those who remember life before social media, and who by the way are jumping on in droves. And, they will also have the unique opportunity to lead those who only know life… after social media. In other words, it’s all they will ever know.

This can pose several challenges with regards to how we communicate with one another. On one hand, you have those that know and see the value of not allowing social media to “own” every last moment of their lives. Sadly, on the other… it can easily become an addiction with characteristics that seemingly reflect one that struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Quite frankly, this can happen to both.

As one who struggles with this personally, it can cause you to need to constantly check your comments, likes, how many friends you have, etc. As if much has changed in the last 15 seconds? Now, as I have since been able to curb this. This new generation is becoming addicted to this. This can also be easily said of the gamers out there, who will come home from school and hop on the computer and play for 5-6 hours straight.

If I could share one thought to this young generation of social media users, it would be of the importance of taking a “tech-fast” on a regular basis. Lest we become like the people in the animated movie, Wall-E. Remember that movie? The people just sat in there chairs and were constantly feeding themselves all this media. All the while… lives just deteriorated.

However, it’s not all that bad. Both generations have so much to learn from each other that is so valuable. In this, that’s why I believe these group of students have a huge opportunity and responsibility ahead of them to build a bridge between the two generations. This is why I call them… the In-Between Generation.

While one generation sees the importance of balance. The other sees the potential of connectivity. While one generation sees the importance of privacy. The other sees privacy as an open book. While one generation sees the consequences of our actions. The other sees the action of their consequences.

And so it goes.

While the hip older generation can translate BRB, FTW, LOL, FYI, etc. Many see the advent of this new generation as one that throws all grammar out the window. All the while, this new generation seems to say with all of these abbreviations… get to the point.

There is no question that this new media can be used to do good as well as to do bad. Often times, the “do-bad” is done on accident, but carelessly. It doesn’t take much to go viral these days.

As we discussed various topics within the world of new media, I was fascinated at their responses. Although some were not shocking, I was overall impressed.

Here are some rough observations I made. This workshop was titled, The Mindset of New Media. To bring this 90 minute workshop to your business or organization, please contact me for details and price.

On Twitter:

Only 1-2% of the students were on Twitter and nearly 98% of them thought it was a waste of time. This was interesting as current surveys done on marketers show huge increases coming with regards to marketers utilizing Twitter more. Matter of fact, in one recent survey, marketers said they were using Twitter 1% more than they were Facebook. Most students viewed Twitter as something business people do as well as people in their late 20’s to mid 40’s. They were fascinated how Twitter was being used by a local channel to interact with their viewers while there were on live broadcasting. They seemed also to respond positively to the trends of Twitter being used to break the news, therefore giving us all the opportunity to be the reporters.

On the New MySpace:

Silence. Weren’t impressed with new layout. Nobody was using it or even planned to use it.

On Blogging:

What’s that? None of them were blogging, though some said they read blogs. Overall, blogging didn’t seem to interest them until I mentioned many bloggers developing affiliate strategies to earn money from brands by blogging on them and selling them. In this, a collective raising of the eyebrows occurred in both sessions. Blogging was generally viewed as something “older” people do.

On Multi-Tasking:

The students all seemed to have felt they were caught red handed on this one. We laughed through this as we discussed how we will be listening to music, watching You Tube, changing status updates, chatting on Facebook, sending a return text to another friend, all while doing homework and watching a show on TV. We laughed at the thought of… How effective can we really be doing this? We discussed the recent study at MIT that was highlighted in the must see doc called Digital Nation. The study found that as we may believe we are great at multi-tasking, in all actuality, it reduces are performance scores across the board. A portion of the class also admitted to thought-chasing. Meaning, while in the midst of all the other online activities, a random thought will occur that immediately leads to an uncontrollable desire to googling it or you tubing it, etc.

Talk about having a need for constant stimulation?  I am wondering how this will impact the depth of perspective we need to make sound decisions? If we can’t break away to process, then what happens to the process?

On Twitpic as well as what we actual share online:

Virtually all of the students understood the importance of what they share online can go viral very quickly. Many of them also liked the fact that they were online friends with their parents and wanted to respect that subliminal accountability. Many of the students had heard of the horror stories of people posting pictures online of parties, etc. and how those pictures led to consequences as well as potential safety issues.

On SMS Texting:

This is what they do and as more of them get smart phones, that’s all they will need. They were amazed at the stats we show of text messages being sent each year in the U.S. since 2001. Starting from virtually zero messages sent in 2001, obviously the number has ballooned since. This really highlighted how fast the digital nation has risen as well as we are now birthing the generation that will not be living in a time before social media, therefore it being all they know. With many marketers spending their time on the Big 3, (Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube) I wonder still… why do I not see more text campaigns?

On Facebook:

They were all using Facebook and each averaged at least 100-200 friends. Between the two sessions, 3 students had 500 or more friends. The person who the most friends had 750. When I mention Farmville and all the other games like that, 0 of the students admitted to playing any of the games. We also joked about spotting new Facebook users by how they “like” every page they see therefore clogging up our news feeds. This reflected virtually no internal connection to the brands, people, or teams they were liking other than an instant connection, but one not sustainable. However, they seem to be becoming more selective based on what they actually do like. They also recognized how they watched their own parents using Facebook to reconnect with old friends.

On Email:

All of the students were using email with a 50/50 split of them using both email and Facebook messaging as regular forms of contact with each other. Of course, they were all texting.

On using Social Media to do good:

Many of the students saw the potential to do good for others using social media. Using the Haiti Red Cross SMS campaign as an example, they saw how effective it can be with mobilizing people in simple form to raise immediate funds. Therefore, they not only can be watching the news, they can also do something about the news.

In the end, I am very impressed with this emerging group of young leaders. I like the way they think. However, for much of the money being spent by firms to do social media research out there, I thought this was a bargain. I learned a whole lot and in this, I believe I found my posture when seeking to best reach this new generation.

They are the In-Between generation and they will need all the help they can get in understanding both sides of the bridge in which they will seek to unite.

I am also convicted once again how important the role of the parent is in the equation. In this, we who are parents of this new generation must understand that what teaches them the most are the lessons we reflect in our actions and not our words.

In this, we must realize the uniqueness of this generation and take the mantle of responsibility to help them build the bridge. We must teach them the importance of taking responsibility, listening, gaining sound perspective, taking the initiative, focusing on THE task at hand, following through, and respecting others.

In this, we switch the focus from asking what kind of world are we going to leave our child to what kind of child are we going to leave our world?

Now, with this new media, it is more critical than ever.

Which generation are you? What’s your role? How can you best communicate to play a positive influence in building this bridge?