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Fitting Millennials and Social Media into Tomorrow’s Public Sector

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin N. Pichla
April 19, 2016

The topic of how millennials and the use of social media will impact the public sector is truly a book yet to be written. First, it is easy to observe and take stock of the positive and negative influence social media has had on the “older” generational groups (i.e., Baby Boomers/Generation X’ers). However, as studies are conducted on the life patterns of those born between 1980 and 2000, there are significant and fascinating findings that we may want to touch on before discussing social media impacts.

Recently I was privileged to be at an event where Howard Nunnelly, from New Life Radio in Joplin, Missouri, offered an excellent keynote discussion on young adults and millennials. Based on his research, Nunnelly noted that:

  • By 2020, 1 in 3 adults will be a millennial.
  • The highest personal priorities for this group are:
    • Staying close to family.
    • Finding NEW ways to experience things.
    • Giving back/contributing to society.
  • They feel authenticity in people is important.
  • They love challenges.
  • Teaming with others for work or play is very much desired. 

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Now at first glance one might be tempted to think that millennials may be less influenced by social media (based on the priorities they embrace). Instead, it appears millennials have been innovative in finding ways to inject social media into some of the traditional “fabrics-of-life” and glean the value of family, giving back, authenticity, challenges and teaming. As a result, the public sector may be the beneficiary of the millennials capabilities and capacities to develop progressive public programs/services.

One of the most significant areas of social media and millennial change implication is the phenomenon that the “work life versus play life” no longer exists. With all of the 24/7 benefits of social media and modern day technological communication, millennials are more apt to blend/ work into their regular lives. Additionally, it appears that millennials are less negative about after hours business-related contact than the “40-hours a week” work mindset of previous generations. The challenge, however, is that the public sector leadership must begin the speedy migration into the work life/play life mode of operation. An early transition to this new way of getting the job done, will not only position the public sector for diverse 21st century service challenges, but also serve as a recruitment mechanism for a new generation of public servants.

Next, authenticity is an extremely challenging area of achieving a positive millennial view of the public sector based on social media influences. Instant messaging, 24-hour news and more complete free speech/press make it difficult to obtain the most accurate and unbiased news and/or information. This year’s presidential campaign is a prime example. Recent data indicates that approximately 50 percent of all millennials are independent voters. One could consider the notion that perhaps this independent trend is due to their youth, lack of experience or desire to be a bit rebellious. Or, one could more accurately argue that they do not trust the political system and that the candidates lack true authenticity. Social media is the primary contributor to this situation.

Millennials are also observing authenticity “loop-holes” in the public sector push to advance the use of technology in today’s secondary and post-secondary classrooms. The testimonials of loop-holes actually come directly from interviews with students in the classrooms. For example, one student interviewed stated that his school has gone to an all Internet/computer based learning system. The student no longer studies the “topic” assigned for homework; instead, he studies how to better use Google to find the answer! The public sector dilemma in this situation is not just finding a way to maximize learning of the “topic,” but how to gain some form of social media control over the good intention of improving and making the educational system more efficient.

Finally, on the positive side of blending social media, millennials and the public sector, one must highlight their interest in being part of a team and taking on new challenges. These priorities are highly advantageous in light of the continuous advance in the speed of change and the overwhelming avalanche of information absorbed by the public sector. The “growing up with technology” advantage that millennials possess should be a huge benefit to future public servants. Having the innate ability to drive the social media system to work for the public good, instead of lending confusion and distrust to citizen benefiting actions, would be an extreme progression. Additionally, as the incidence of public-private entity partnerships evolve and expand, having millennials who are confident and experienced in the social media arena will truly enhance the local, regional state and national public sector service outcomes.

Bottom line: It is the public sector’s opportunity to embrace the progressive options seated in the millennial-social media situation. We needed to start yesterday!


Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life example-based learning. Email: [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to Fitting Millennials and Social Media into Tomorrow’s Public Sector

  1. Pingback: TRIPLE III TIME: Millennials & Social Media | Inspiring Innovations, Inc.

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