Upsize Minnesota June/July 2005 Blogs, portals are musts when talking with millenials by Intertech CEO Tom Salonek Erin, my 17-year-old niece, recently shared a story about instant-messaging her friends when her cell phone rang. “Sorry,” she said, “It’s Mom. I have to get this.” After saying, “Yes Mooooothher, as soon as I get home,” she quickly hung up. Mom had wondered when she was going to finally clean her room — a task Erin had been promising to do for three weeks. Erin then discussed how she chats with friends using her wireless laptop at the local coffee shop. While I know my niece is special, her use and understanding of technology is far from unique for people her age. She’s a millennial, a group nearly as large as the baby boomers, born between 1980 and 2000 who have grown up with technology that’s immediate, unfiltered and increasingly controlled by the users. Erin prefers chatting on the computer to talking on the phone. Give her a choice of her own landline phone in her room or a wireless phone and there’s no contest — it’s wireless. She sees her laptop as a communicator more than a “personal computer” that processes data. Today’s organizational leaders face a challenge: learning to communicate in a way that appeals to this new group of tech-savvy employees and customers, the millennials. Three key technologies are particularly critical to communicating effectively with millennials: instant messaging, Web logs (blogs) and portals. Must chat now Instant-messaging (IM) is chatting real-time via a live Internet connection. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL each offers a version of IM, downloadable free from their respective Web sites. In mid-2004, these companies announced an interoperability agreement between their proprietary networks. When this interoperability is deployed in a business setting, it is referred to as Enterprise Instant Messaging (EIM). Sales people love EIM because it’s faster than calling and it saves time by getting right to the point. It also creates a more comfortable way for people to share information than by talking on the phone or in a face-to-face meeting. EIM makes sales reps and anyone else who needs to interface directly with customers instantly accessible. For example, the convenience works both ways when a company representative needs quick answers to questions when they’re finalizing a shipment or preparing an invoice. Some EIM products enable users to see when someone is online, idle or offline. While that might sound a bit intrusive, millennials are used to it and many prefer it. If you’re seriously interested in EIM and communicating with multiple IM products, Microsoft has a 120-day free trial version of this product on its Web site available for download. Embracing blogs A blog (shorthand for Web log) is like a public diary, sometimes with multiple authors, on the Web. Like Web sites, blogs range from personal musings to the truly significant. They have the power to destroy in mere hours reputations that took years to build. If you don’t believe it, ask Dan Rather. Before the 2004 presidential election, Rather said he had memos that implicated Bush and his duty with the National Guard. Within hours, bloggers questioned whether the memos were authentic. Later, CBS TV realized it couldn’t vouch for the memos. Bloggers also recently “outed” a person posing as a credentialed member of the White House press corps, but who actually was working surreptitiously for a publication tied to the Republican Party. When it comes to determining the truth, bloggers can take up where the press leaves off. Customers, especially in the consumer space, can make or break organizations with blogs. If you want to know which is true for you, go to Google and type “(your company name) sucks.” You’ll quickly find out any blogs that may be critical of your company. As a company, you can have input into the world of “blogdom” by sharing your company’s perspective on issues. Before doing so, remember the CBS incident and know that if you say something it must be able to stand up to the relentless scrutiny of seemingly tireless bloggers. Others take a more proactive approach by launching company-sponsored blogs. To make your blog effective, know your target and desired outcome and have a defined purpose and theme in your blog. To establish your blog, you can use free services offered by the same names in IM (Microsoft, Google, AOL) or you can create a blog that plugs into your Web site. Gateway to everything Portals are Web sites that provide central, self-serviced information and applications. Unlike blogs, access to portals is typically controlled with a user ID and password. At Intertech, we use portals to communicate and share information with employees as well as customers. For customers, they serve as a place to receive everything from project updates to invoices to a place to track bugs. For employees, our portal allows download of forms for insurance to entry of time for customer billing to a knowledge base where technical team members share ideas and best practices. Portals should be the gateway to everything. If your portal does not provide the route or the answer quickly, consistently and painlessly, you have lost a customer. Also, portals should follow the three-click rule: no more than three clicks to get to any major destination. Usually this involves implementing a good search engine and creating an effective user interface to that engine. An organized portal means that some things are centralized. A flexible portal means that some things are not. Centralize those aspects that give the portal ease of use and consistency. There should not be similar regions of the portal space that have similar names and similar content. On the other hand, make flexible those functions that provide service or ease to your customers. The portal should consist entirely of self-deployable, self-configurable and self-maintainable functions or services. Effective portals bring together many different resources and should be simple. Users should find the portal the easy place to locate answers and content. As Pavlov so wittingly proved, we come back to that which rewards. Make your communication with millennials effective, and you’ll be rewarded with a loyal base of customers and employees well into the new century. Now if Erin’s parents could only discover a compelling reward for keeping her room clean. . . but that’s a challenge even the latest technology can’t seem to solve!