Is Face-to-Face Communication Gone in the Digital Age?

Millennials certainly grew up with a lot of “screen time.” They like texting and sending instant messages, and they obviously have been a dominant force in just about every social media platform. They are truly the digital natives. But that does not mean they don’t want and need face-to-face communication.

I talk a lot about the Millennials growing up in the digital age and how that impacts their attitudes and values in the workplace and as members of associations. They have higher standards. They approach mentoring differently. But there is one area where many people make an incorrect assumption about Millennials: the importance of face-to-face communication.

One joint study, by USC, the London School of Economics and PWC, found 80 percent of Millennials chose face-to-face as their most preferred method of communication in the workplace (even Gen X scored only 78 percent on that question).

Remember, one of the characteristics of Millennials is a sharpened understanding of using the right tool for the right purpose. They don’t get it when you try to reach them instantly by sending an email (if you want an instant response, you should use “instant” messaging…get it?).

And within the workplace, building deep relationships is important, so face-to-face communication is important. You can start relationships using social media or other forms of electronic communication, but if you want the relationship to grow, you’ll need to include face-to-face.

Many associations create subgroups within their communities that are tied to their annual conferences. And there are many great reasons to use online communities to extend the life of a conference by 1) promoting it beforehand, 2) collecting content during the live event, and 3) having subject matter experts post their slides and follow up questions after the conference. But think about how you might expresslyuse online groups to promote face-to-face meet ups. The Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) created a discussion forum for their 15NTC Nonprofit Technology Conference, and offered to provide signage during plenary lunchtimes for “birds of a feather” tables.

This encouraged a huge stream of threads from people looking to meet up – and those birds of a feather commonalities could be org size, geographic location, org type (we had an arts nonprofit table), functional role, people who wanted to meet up to go cycling, women in tech, minority groups, etc. Of course, this type of online/offline facilitation is not specific to the Millennial generation – but it is expected by them. It’s not just about providing a conference group where people can say “I’m going!” – then what? It’s about going one step further to facilitate places, times and opportunities for people to actually get together.

Remember that when you’re growing your online community. How are you connecting your community to your face-to-face events?

How are you enabling small groups to form online, with explicit progression towards facilitating in-person meet ups later? How are you building interconnected relationships between your online community members, in such a way that when they meet up face-to-face, they feel like old friends? How are you helping people find each other through geographic proximity – and nudge them to get together IRL?

This post is part of a series about Millennials and Online Community.  Face-to-face interactions help cement relationships begun online and therefore can only help in deepening engagement in your community.