Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Do You Have Digital Natives at Your Organization?

"Digital Natives" are a cultural subset of teens and young professionals that have grown up immersed in the digital world where the Internet, personal computers, and modern technology are a commonplace convenience.

In Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah's recent book, Inbound Marketing, they recommend hiring more Digital Natives, not Digital Immigrants ("speaks web with an accent"). Natives bring a modern perspective and prowess into their workplaces and it's important that employers looking to assure inbound marketing success hire these individuals to their organization.

However, identifying a digital native versus a digital immigrant can be tricky. So, here's a four-point guide that may help you make the distinction:

1. Natives are More Interested in the Information than the Machine
Digital natives grew up with computers around their house and friend's houses. They might have a preference for a specific operating system, but in general they can navigate any kind of computer you put in front of them. They are far more interested in what information they can get out of the machine than the tools at hand. If there’s something that they need to do but they don’t already know how, they’ll work to figure it out on their own.

What to look for:
Give them a task on an unfamiliar computer. If they sit down and say, "I don't know how to use Macs (or Windows)," they probably aren't a digital native. (-1 point)

However, if you give your subject a task and they are able to navigate a computer easily to accomplish the goal, give them a point. (+1 point)

2. Puzzles, Problems and Games
Digital natives hate asking for help. After all, you're talking to the video game generation: questions and unknown problems are puzzles and games waiting to be solved. In a video game, there is no "Help" system or "I give up" button. Puzzles are there to be beaten, and they learn from them. You may find that the digital natives never ask for help with anything. Be okay with that. Part of how they learn is through self-discovery, exploration, and by making mistakes.
If you turn their job into a series of puzzles that offer small knowledge rewards at the end of each section, which builds into a complete project, you'll find them burning night and weekend hours just to complete their goals.

What to look for:
You'll find that a Digital Native will usually steer themselves if presented with a puzzle. Give your potential native a complicated puzzle or task. Halfway through, offer your assistance. If they seem to be particularly focused on completing the task without your help give them (+1 point). If they seem relieved and relinquish the task to you, (-1 point).

3. Digital Natives Love Constant Communication, But Hate Phones
Digital natives are relentless multi-taskers. One thing that most regularly startles digital immigrants is how a native can listen to music, talk on instant messenger, watch TV and work on a project all at the same time. To a native, this is just part of their nature.

What to look for...
Most digital natives aren't big phone users; being multi-taskers means that they avoid activities that might prevent them from becoming single-threaded, like talking on the phone. They'd rather talk via email, instant messenger, or through other methods of communication where they can continue to work on other things while talking with you.
Ask your subject, "What is your preferred means of communication?" If you're talking to a Digital Native, they probably primarily use a cell phone for text messaging and accessing the Internet, and only use the phone function to call their mother (+1 point). If you're still not sure if they're a digital tourist or a digital native, ask them if they regularly use or have a landline (-1 point).

4. Digital Natives Tell It Like It Is
Another common trait across Digital Natives is that they are never afraid to speak their minds. They tend to want to logically break down arguments and strategies. This can lead to confrontations when their manager or other staff member wants something done. However, there are benefits to this personality trait. Natives are almost always analyzing problems and trying to find ways to improve their work. Companies can leverage this “always-on” mentality to refine their products, find faults in their internal processes, or discuss how to incorporate new trends into their business.

What to look for...
Ask them what they would change about their daily work flow, or your business processes if given the chance. A Native has already been thinking about this question and has an answer. (+1 point) Immigrants tend to punt or suggest trivial changes rather than speaking to real issues. (-1 point)

Do you have Digital Natives in your organization? How do you recognize them and incorporate them into your structure? Let us know in the comments.

Source: HubSpot.
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