Learn from Obama and Harness the Power of Gen Y

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Let’s face it. Whether you voted for him or not, Barack Obama brilliantly harnessed the power of Gen Y during his election campaign. According to the Associated Press, two-thirds of Gen Y supported the first president from Gen X. Why? Because he took the time to understand who they are, and then motivated them to engage in their own future. What can business managers learn from Obama’s communication tools that motivated Gen Y? A lot….

Social Media
Facebook is the primary means for “grassroots engagement”. The Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes directed Obama’s new-media campaign. Hughes helped launch My.BarackObama.com, a digital staging ground for volunteer opportunities, phone bank requests and other events.

Many companies are using social media, yet few to the degree that Obama did. It’s not enough to post your profile on Facebook, Twitter or MySpace. You need to engage in it by posting events, writing on walls, creating groups and more, on a regular basis. At one point Obama had 1,899,998 Facebook fans (more that 3 times McCain’s fans), 83,347 Twitter followers (vs. McCain’s 2,216 followers) and 20, 636 MySpace friends (McCain had none).

More important than the numbers is the peer pressure that builds up with these numbers. If a potential Gen Y employee sees that 65% of her Facebook friends are fans of your company, then the potential employee will think more seriously about working with your organization. So it’s clear that if an organization wants to attract, hire and retain Gen Y, it needs to take a chapter from Obama’s book and use social media daily.

Text Messaging
Obama used this tool for maximum effect. Obama’s website allowed supporters to sign up to receive text message updates, which was the first way many heard of his VP decision. Text message reminders from the Obama campaign sent to young people on or before the day of the 2008 primary elections increased the likelihood that they would vote by 4.6%.

This model of using text messaging could become a model for integrating mobile phones into your organization’s communication plan. Wouldn’t you like to have a way to increase Gen Y engagement by 4.6% in your organization?

Obama’s offices, and online campaigns, were mostly run by devoted Gen Y staffers. This Gen Y crew was in charge of coordinating rallies, creating personalized text messages and more. The result? He won by 2:1 in the under-30 segment. What made this generation, known for being apathetic and lazy, so devoted to the President-elect? “He gave us the tools and said, ‘You be the change you want to see.’ He came to where we were – on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter – and said, ‘Here, you call the shots.’ “

How does your organization let Gen Y call the shots? It’s worth a 30-minute brainstorming session in your office.

Granted, no generation can call all the shots, but we could all take a shot at using our Gen Y communication tools as well as Obama does.

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