When the digital natives blank you

Posted on November 21, 2011


Ever wondered how you communicate with a 17-year-old these days? (And I don’t mean as their parent – can’t wait to find out about that.)

You’ve heard it before: They are more tech-savvy, digitally comfortable and connected than any previous generation. Pretty much born at the same time as the web, they are – to use the term – digital natives.


I had a catch-up with an old friend at the weekend who works in further education. He had a funny little story about trying to get in touch with a number of 16- and (mainly) 17-year-olds at one school he deals with. (It was with good news, before you think that’s the critical factor below.)

Must be easy, I thought. But no.

He says they don’t use email much – either their own personal email or their official school accounts.

He says trying to get to them over a social network is hard. They know how to screen all but those they want to hear from. Plus – we didn’t speak about this – there must be a bunch of no-nos when it comes to reaching out this way in an official capacity.

How about a simple phone call? “Their mobiles always go straight through to voicemail,” he tells me. “And if they do pick up their messages I don’t get calls back.”

Wow. Of course this in no way applies to all 17-year-olds. That’s obvious. But when it came to this friend, who works in inner London, there is one sure-fire way in.

One of the main schools in question, not uncommonly, has turnstiles the students pass through to get into the main building. These are activated with an electronic pass. He gets their passes temporarily suspended, then they have to see a Security/Admin person nearby who not only reactivates their pass but hands them an envelope with a message stuffed inside.

I remember the last few years of reaching out to CIOs and other execs, trying different approaches such as handwritten invitations rather than standard emails or social networks.

Turns out teenagers are also in that VIP bracket. An old-fashioned letter, albeit hand-delivered, mostly does the trick.

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