Vol. 38, No. 1

Gen what? Experts give tips on communicating with Generations X and Y

by Pat Yevics

I think it is critical that bar associations—whether voluntary or mandatory, state or local, large or small—understand how different it is to communicate with Gen X and Gen Y, compared with previous generations.

That’s why I attended “Gen What? Are Gen X and Y Greek to You?” at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, National Association of Bar Executives, and National Conference of Bar Foundations, in San Francisco.

It was interesting to note that the ages of the people in room ranged from Baby Boomers to the older end of Generation Y, which seems to indicate that we are all concerned about how to communicate with members who communicate differently themselves, and who want to receive communications differently. 

Although there are not definitive dates for generations, many designate those born between 1965 and 1982 as Generation X and those born between 1983 and 2002 as Generation Y, also known as Millennial. 

The speakers for the program were Sayre Happich Ribera, assistant director of communications and public relations at the Bar Association of San Francisco, and George R. Speckart, Ph.D., national director of consulting at Courtroom Sciences Inc., Irving, Texas.

According to both speakers, to communicate with our members and potential members in Gen X and Gen Y, we need to:

  • Listen to them and understand what they need and want.  They want to be asked. 
  • Be entertaining, as these are generations that grew up with television and video games.
  • Solicit feedback.
  • Get to the point and communicate in sound bites. Because of technology use, these are generations with much shorter attention spans. 

Inviting Gen X and Y to join, participate

As we know, unlike previous generations, those in Gen X and Y are not joiners just for the sake of joining. It is not about the prestige of the organization but rather about the cause or the experience with the organization. Gen X and Y are more interested in attending events or activities that result in raising money, Ribera said, rather than just giving money outright. The events should be a little outside the usual golf tournaments, she suggested; depending on your bar association’s location, they could include fashion shows or events in art galleries. 

You is an important word, Ribera said; all copy should include the word you. For example, she said, if the bar is looking for members to volunteer, “Volunteering is good for you” will yield better participation than “Volunteer with us.” 

The Bar Association of San Francisco uses members as “brand ambassadors” since, according to Ribera, 44 percent of peer-to-peer recommendations come from word of mouth. She recommended creating a social media campaign to have members tell why they like your bar association. Similar to the way lawyers get referrals from other lawyers, she said, bars should try to have members “refer” their friends and colleagues to join and participate.

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn make it easy to recommend the bar association, she noted. Indeed, Ribera said, because most in Gen X and Y are on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, it is critical that all bar associations be on these sites and have a plan to update them and make the information useful. She acknowledged that many in the room were from small bars with limited staff, but she stressed that many items can be automatically updated on all the platforms, using tools such as HootSuite, and they can be timed to be posted at different times. 

I believe that bar associations of all sizes need to commit to these new methods of communicating and learning what moves Gen X, Gen Y, and eventually Gen Z to join and participate in our associations. This session provided us with some tips that can help us do just that.

Pat Yevics

Pat Yevics is director of law office management assistance at the Maryland State Bar Association.