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Digital natives and digital immigrants: What’s the difference?

By April 30, 2019 No Comments
Person holding a phone

Person holding a phoneOver the last thirty years or so, technology has almost completely transformed the way we live our lives. The rise of personal computers was followed by the explosion of the internet. And then came the smartphones, the tablets, the Alexas and the Siris.

Many of today’s youngsters grew up with the entire sum of human knowledge at their fingertips.

They can buy their shopping, manage their finances and communicate with people across the world with just a few taps on a screen.

Because of this monumental shift in the way we live, there’s now a big divide between the two generations – the so-called digital natives and digital immigrants.

Understanding the difference between the two can help your business reach these two very different audiences.

Who are digital natives?

Generally used to describe people born in the 1980s onwards, digital natives have spent all their lives surrounded by computers.

They speak the language of the web, and they live in the cloud. (If it sounds like I’m talking another language, you could be a digital immigrant!)

Not everyone who falls into the definition of digital native is exactly the same. But broadly speaking, they tend to have some expectations in common:

  • Convenience: Chances are, they won’t want to jump through too many hoops to get what they want. Particularly if those hoops take them offline. Make your service as slick as possible – and let them complete what they need to online. Try to remove as many bottlenecks as you can from the process.
  • Speed: Digital natives are used to things happening quickly. They’re used to ordering items online and – in some circumstances – having them arrive the next day. So don’t keep them waiting unnecessarily. If there’s an unavoidable delay in the service you’re offering, make sure you explain what’s happening and why.
  • Responsiveness: With social media, customers can more easily reach out to brands for queries, requests or complaints – and they’re used to those brands being responsive and actively taking part in the conversation. Make sure you’re keeping an open dialogue with your customers, and that you’re quick to respond to them if they have questions or concerns.
  • Transparency: Technology has made information so much easier to come by. To the extent that digital natives are used to a world that’s a lot more transparent than it used to be. They expect companies to be open and honest about their practices and processes. A good example of this would be an independent bakery which includes details of where their ingredients are sourced on their website, and how they recycle their waste.
  • Personalisation: You might think all this computerisation would make digital natives used to cold and impersonal service, but it’s actually the reverse. They expect brands to recognise them and treat them as individuals and not just numbers. Pay attention to the little details and give them a tailored experience whenever you can.

Who are digital immigrants?

Everyone who doesn’t fall into the digital native definition is considered a digital immigrant. They didn’t grow up with computers and the internet, but many of them have adapted to a world in which they’re commonplace.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming all digital immigrants are completely clueless when it comes to technology – many of them are just as clued up as the digital natives.

Generalisations are, by their very nature, general, and there are going to be exceptions to the rule. There are digital natives who spurn technology, and digital immigrants who simply can’t get enough of it.

In fact, there tend to be three main categories:

  • People who avoid technology at all costs
  • People who reluctantly use it
  • People who enthusiastically use it

In general, however, digital immigrants tend to have different expectations to their younger equivalents. They might not automatically expect to be able to do everything online, and might be more forgiving of companies who have more offline processes.

Can you cater for both?

Depending on your core product, you might only need to focus on one of the two groups. But more often than not, you’ll want your business to appeal to both digital natives and digital immigrants at the same time.

Don’t panic – you don’t need to come up with two completely different strategies for each. Digital immigrants will appreciate any attempt to make their lives easier with technology.

Just remember to bear in mind that not everyone will instinctively know what they’re doing, and may need a little extra guidance.

And it’s always a good idea to give people the option – some people will want to buy entirely online, but a significant minority will still prefer to speak to a human being instead.

Dom Stapleton

Dom joined our marketing team last year. He has over 10 years of experience in SEO and social media, and also runs a (very) small business in his free time.

Read more posts from Dom Stapleton
Dom Stapleton

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