They’ll Assume You’re a Social Media Expert. Prove Them Right.

October 21, 2009

In no other marketing arena are messages born, spread and adapted as quickly as they are in social media. Reputations can be bolstered or broken in a few clicks.

To whom do firms turn to navigate this volatile landscape? Very often, young people.

In Elon University’s School of Communications, nearly every summer internship student this year reported completing social media-related tasks such as creating Facebook and Twitter accounts or blogging.

Young people, it’s assumed, know social media. That they at least have a better grasp of it than their older colleagues is generally a safe bet. The median age of a Facebook user is 26, a MySpace user 27 and a Twitter user 31, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But what exactly do young people know? Do they know how to monitor what customers are saying and exploit opportunities and put out fires? Or do they just know how to post mundane status updates and write clever captions?

The Elon interns, who had already been blogging and studying reputation management in their classes, were better positioned than most. The communication school’s internship director wrote to faculty and staff that in many cases supervisors were impressed enough by students’ skill level to extend to them opportunities not offered to other interns.

But what about those without any formal training? Young people who on their face seem social media savvy may in fact be practicing some very bad habits. Friending everyone and their brother regardless of their character merely to increase their own perceived popularity. Posting embarrassing photos of themselves and their friends without regard for what potential employers may think. Not the kind of quality control you want in the business world.

Furthermore, behind the technology bells and whistles, strong social media marketing comes down to strong writing. And, while the opposite argument is also made, there is concern among educators that electronic communication’s carefree spelling, lax punctuation and grammar and acronym shortcuts degrade writing quality, also according to Pew.

Students or young workers may read this and get defensive. “We can write.” “We can and do use social media responsibly.” And I hope they do call me out. Because, what an opportunity. If you know social media tasks are probably going to be part of your next job — or are part of your job now, why not do a little homework and learn how to use social media to grow a brand, not just grow your friend count? You’ll differentiate yourself from your peers and just might get that promotion a bit sooner.

Social media blog Mashable’s How To section is a good starting point. It’s a gold mine of concise primers, some geared toward general social media literacy, but many also geared toward business applications.

2 Responses to “They’ll Assume You’re a Social Media Expert. Prove Them Right.”

  1. dparsonsmedia Says:


    Great blog post. I was very intrigued by your thoughts on this, as the future of social media and marketing is my research topic.

    As you stress that writing is an important tool for those of us thrust into social media management roles, I would add that listening and acting are probably the other two important skills to have. From what I have gathered from my research and informational interviews, the mistake made often by companies attempting to utilize social media for the first time is their lackadaisical approach. Social media management includes listening to the groundswell, responding, and being willing to make changes per the feedback received.

    We are currently seeing this with Comcast and their attempt to “crack the code” of social media. Although they are becoming well known for using Twitter and other social media outlets to respond to customer complaints and to troubleshoot with consumers, they have yet to use this feedback to fix the problems that continue to occur with their equipment and auto-enrollment system.

    It seems that successfully communicating through social media may not be enough for some situations – at some point it comes down to a willingness to take value in the feedback received and to use this feedback to stop complaints before they hit the social media space.

  2. […] September 2009 « They’ll Assume You’re a Social Media Expert. Prove Them Right. […]

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