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Digital Immigrants: Do they get it?

Written by Alex Rodger on 17 Apr 14
Digital Immigrants: Do they get it?

Project Manager Alex Rodger takes a look at the difference between digital immigrants and digital natives and how it might affect your business.

There’s a common concept in online and digital marketing called Digital Immigrants vs. Digital Natives.

What does this mean? It’s a fairly simple concept but goes a long way in helping you understand why the employees in your business (and customers, clients and candidates for that matter) either are - or aren’t - social.

If you’re a native and reading this, perhaps it’ll help you understand why some of your colleagues, or indeed senior management, don’t understand the importance of social media.

If you're a digital immigrant, this might make you feel a little less confused about why your young, budding Marketing Executive is so passionate about social media.

So, which are you?

Theories differ, but it's a fairly common one to say that anyone born before 1980 is a Digital Immigrant and anyone after is a Digital Native. Born before, you’ll have had to adapt to use social networks and digital channels.

Born after and it's second nature. Clearly there's a pinch of salt needed when talking about this but stay with me, I promise it will all become clear!

Let’s take the year 1980 as a starting point. If you were born in 1980, you were 23 when LinkedIn was founded, 24 when Facebook was created, 26 when Twitter was started and 30 when Instagram and Pinterest were launched.

If you were born 10 years earlier in 1970, you were 33 when LinkedIn was founded, 34 when Facebook was created, 36 when Twitter was started and 40 when Instagram and Pinterest were launched.

If you were born in 1990, you were 13 when LinkedIn was founded, 14 when Facebook was created, 16 when Twitter was started and 20 when Instagram and Pinterest were launched. 

Compare the 20-year-old to the 40-year-old. The former is likely to be a lot more involved in these social networks: they’ll have grown up using them alongside their friends. Thinking about them will be second nature and using them even more so.

The latter, however, is likely to be someone who has had to adapt to use social networks; it’s not what they’re used to, it’s not the norm, and not all of their friends are on them (if any!)

Case Study: Company X

Here's a case study. It uses real life data from a real company, but we’ll call them Company X. Band 4 represents Board Level and what we might call the ultimate decision maker. Band 1 represents Junior Management.


Digital Native

Digital Immigrant

Average Age

















Company X found it incredibly difficult to implement any sort of social media strategy, whether that was for developing their online brand and presence or reaching out to candidates as part of a recruitment tool. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were all blocked internally; the idea of having a Facebook page was entirely alien and thought to be yet another way to distract employees from work.

Compare Company X to a typical tech start up. You'll likely find the board is made up of twenty-something year olds who would find the concept of not being social totally unfathomable. Why, it's likely their whole business model revolves around integrating their business with the social web. Had the table above been flipped so that Band 1 was at the top, Company X may well have found implementing a social media strategy much more straightforward.

Not all digital immigrants are left behind

That's not to say that every digital immigrant doesn't ‘get social’ – far from it, in fact. Look around your office and spot anyone who was born before 1980 – are they all against social? Admittedly we are a fairly young company, most people fall in the post 1980 camp but I know I can say that older team members sat around me at the 4MAT office are equally, if not arguably more, bought into the social concept than the natives.

There’s a real understanding of the importance of embracing an online social presence, both as an individual and as a company. The value added to enhancing your reputation, network and future opportunities is something we truly believe in, whether immigrant or native.

One of the things we pride ourselves on is our understanding of the digital world so we offer a number of services that help those who are looking to move into this area or to support those who are already there. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

I’m always interested in learning about other business set ups: what's the bias in your business? Are there more Digital Immigrants or more Digital Natives?

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