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Does Technology Make Us All-Knowing?

September 9, 2009

If you’re a Gen Y-er, technology sometimes makes you believe you are – brand knowledgable, that is. Meaning:  you understand how to execute campaigns from a full strategy plan.

Think about it.  20 something’s straight out of college are being entrusted with huge brand campaigns in the form of Computer-Trashsocial media. The reason? Some (not all) older generations that don’t understand aren’t willing to buy-in and learn, but are willing to pass off their hard work and the foundation they’ve built in their brands communications to an entry-level.

It’s bound to make some feel pretty important. The 20 something is now the face of your brand. With the evolution of technology, social media and how people get their news – they are more than likely to turn on a computer than flip open a paper. They are more likely to look at Twitter than your company Web site. Why? Ease and people on the go need information quick.

How does this work? Why is this now the trend? As 20 somethings, what can we do to make sure we don’t endanger the brand? This doesn’t mean 20 somethings aren’t qualified – if they approach it correctly. Many just aren’t ready, and that’s a fact.

My thought? Stratagize with your boss. Ask them for advice. Ask them what messaging they want to see. Have them monitor it for a bit to make sure you are on the right track. Show that you want to earn their trust and you deserve to have it.

What do you think? Why is this the trend? Is it right? How can we make it so the brand doesn’t take a hit?

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2009 8:03 am

    I think as 20 somethings, the older generations automatically assume we use the internet all the time so we must know how to use social media. I know I didn’t until six months ago and I am still taking baby steps.

    Perhaps that is why they entrust us with their messages and brand campaigns.
    Lauren, I really like your idea of having them monitor to make sure we are on the right track. This just builds trust and better communication among the team and is very important to any successful campaign. I know of some older PR professionals who want nothing to do with social media and so they hand it off to their younger AE’s but I think it has to be a real team effort here, especially with the communication and understanding of the messages associated with the campaign.

    In order for us 20 somethings to not endanger the brand, I think we need to remember a key ingredient to successful communication: listening. This includes researching your company/audience, listening to your team talk about their messages, listen to the needs/wants of your company/audience. We also need to listen to the internet and social media. How its being used? What is successful and whats not? What are other people doing that might translate well to your campaign?

    • September 9, 2009 8:05 am

      Completely agree, Christina. I handle the social media campaign at Mensa – but it is a true team effort. We meet to strategize, our CEO monitors it and sees what I’m saying, and I’ve built their trust so that they haven’t neededt to step in. Honestly, I was worried at first because even though I know the brand like the back of my hand, it still was a big responsibility. I think that some don’t realize how much is entrusted with SM – because it’s still so new. As PR pros, we have to realize that EVERYTHING is related back to the brand.

      Wonderful comment – thank you for the insight! Gave me a lot to chew on.

  2. September 9, 2009 8:15 am

    I completely agree- I have my supervisor sign off on every project (and approve copy) before I do anything. I love having this back-up system so that I can make sure I’m not making any mistakes, but also so that they can see that I am doing a good job and trust me to maybe execute things on my own down the line.

    • September 9, 2009 9:02 am

      Exactly, S. Great point – I try to do it for everything I do. Frankly, it’s always a good idea to have another set of eyes.

  3. September 9, 2009 9:00 am

    Lauren – I agree; it definitely needs to be a team effort. Like the others who have commented, I too have my supervisor sign off on everything.

    I will say this can sometimes be a challenge though. As a 20-something who is involved with Twitter and Facebook and other social media outlets, it can be challenging when you have a supervisor who is not as knowledgeable on the social media front as they could (and should) be. It’s in this case that a 20-something is really able to shine as they are often looked to for advice and details.

    That’s why I feel I have a personal responsibility to research and learn as much as I can on the social media front. I can’t expect someone to teach this to me – it’s new. And there is so much information out there!

    • September 9, 2009 9:01 am

      Thanks for the comment Mel – you make a lot of sense.

      Do you find that it would be better to educate your supervisor and level the playing field – ie. asking them for advice – and showing that you do respect them and the brand – but using your knowledge for the betterment of your client? That, in the end is what matters – its never about us, but the brand.

      I love that you research and take it as a personal responsibility – it something all should do!

      • September 9, 2009 9:06 am

        It’s exactly as Becky notes below: I have an opportunity to educate my supervisor (and clients for that matter) on social media, while I definitely look to my supervisor for advice on the brand and strategy. We’re in such an interesting age where I can teach my supervisor, while only being in the field a few years, and learn from them at the same time. Definitely a two-way street.

  4. September 9, 2009 9:02 am

    Great post. I think this is an important issue in the industry right now.

    Many members of older generations are confused by, and unwilling to learn about social media out of fear that it is such a large, ever-changing thing they will forever be behind the curve on learning it. While it is true that social media is constantly evolving, the fundamentals of good communication will always be relevant in its use. I like the idea mentioned earlier about making sure to have open communication with managers about the strategy and direction of these communications, but I think there is an opportunity to take it one step further. We have the chance to teach our managers who may not be as familiar with social media as we are.

    If we share our knowledge, we become experts on social media…just as our bosses are experts on the brand and its strategic communications. Trust is much more likely to be developed if both sides feel like they are learning and contributing to successful outreach.

    • September 9, 2009 9:03 am

      Thanks, Becky – and your points are exactly why a team effort is the best approach. This is why I’m a big supporter of reverse mentoring, because we can all learn from each other.

  5. chuckhemann permalink
    September 9, 2009 9:08 am

    Lauren – this is definitely a topic worth exploring. Perhaps it is because I’m still in the 20-something category (though just barely. ugh!), but age shouldn’t be a factor in my view. If the person can represent your brand on social media, or any other medium for that matter, then we tap them to do it. I don’t care if they are 21 or 61.

    That being said, hearing from companies that they’ve tapped some 21 year old in communications to handle its social media presence just because they are young is more than a little troubling. Fact of the matter is, and we all know this because we play in this sandbox all the time, but there’s a lot more to social media than creating a Twitter account. There’s listening, then strategy development, then execution and then measurement, all while incorporating it into the broader communications strategy.

    • September 9, 2009 9:15 am

      Well, you should def blog for my Young Minds series Mr. C!

      Experience is a bigger factor than age, but like you, I’m alarmed that the reasoning for some is “sm is only for the young” mentality. This is why your SM Strategy should involve more than one person – even if its only one executing.

      • chuckhemann permalink
        September 9, 2009 9:21 am

        I’d be honored…now to figure out what I’d write :-)

  6. September 9, 2009 9:20 am

    The “20-somethings” or “Gen Y” (or whatever current buzzword is used for our generation) folks are just that – a different generation. My grandpa saw the advent of the automobile, expressways, television (b/w AND color), radio, streetcars, trains, airplanes, computers, iPod, high definition, etc. in his lifetime.

    I’m a firm believer in experience and skills. My grandpa was a glass blower and has some amazing work to show for it in his basement. His skills there are top notch and his experience as well.

    We can possess the skills we need to succeed. The experience will come with time. Think about when we started riding a bike. We had the skills to do it, but the experience is what made us better. I ride all the time nowadays, but when I first started, I’m pretty sure I was on the grass more than I was the bike.

    I think the key is to stop concentrating on age and start concentrating on skills and experience. If you need a glass blower, call my 92 year old grandpa. He has more skills and experience glass blowing than both me and you. But if you need someone to set up a dancing Christmas lights show on your house, call me. I’m going on my fourth year doing it and I like to think I have the skills and experience now to know what I’m doing.

    Who cares how old you are. What do you know and what have you done?

    • September 9, 2009 9:23 am

      I completely agree with you – I don’t think my company would have trusted me with the SM campaign if I didn’t have the experience to back it up.

      What worries me, though is the people that just hand it over because they are the younger folks. Do they evaluate? Do they monitor? It’s a new platform, same traditional approach as if they were sending out press releases without approval. I’m all for more responsibility if you can handle it.

      Age is just a number, after all. :)

      Great points Tim! And I didn’t think it was too long at all. :)

  7. September 9, 2009 9:26 am

    You need a team commitment. Without a team to back you up and be experts in their field, you may get lost in the wind.

    You need to know everything that is going on in the company – a giant calendar is key; but trying to organize and aggregate from all the events in the company is tough (especially if you are in a large corp).

    But be careful about the events you post. Your company’s social media policy should be in place and well known before you get off the ground. The larger your corporation that you work for is, the stricter some of these policy guidelines will be. They may state that they don’t want you to tweet that your CEO just landed in NYC to meet with Prospect XYC. And bottom-line is, you have to respect that until you can prove that its ok to be a little transparent as long as it doesn’t negativelt effect the strategic goals of the company. But that will take time..

    What’s your measurement of success? Social Media is new. There will be different measures of success for different companies. What works for you doesn’t work for someone else. It’s not just your blogs that you should measure.

    And I agree with you, Lauren… your boss is scared, and so are your media relations colleagues. They want to do it, but the outcome could get out of control..if not controlled at some level. So working with your boss and your other teams throughout the company is vital to you being successful in social media at a corporate level.

    My advice:
    Think 10 steps ahead before diving into social media within your company – it’s alot of work to make it work!

    Chuck Henman put it together nicely in his comment above:

    “There’s listening, then strategy development, then execution and then measurement, all while incorporating it into the broader communications strategy.”

    • September 9, 2009 11:13 am

      Matt – I’m glad you brought up a social media policy. Many companies don’t have one in place, so what would you suggest that those people do?

      I am extremely lucky in the fact that my boss, and the CEO, fully understand the social media space and trust me enough to handle. We talk frequently about new things to post, and strategize constantly.

      I think you’re right on the money when you say think 10 steps ahead – it’s a lot of work, and something many don’t realize.

  8. September 9, 2009 9:26 am

    I agree that there is a definite fit for 20-somethings to spearhead SM campaigns with the assistance of veteran pros who are seasoned in strategic thinking. Working together, the two can develop a system for “listening” to SM channels and draw out objectives and strategies for a brand. Developing a trust in this relationship is crucial.

    To Sheema’s point, I have to a point of conflict. Many (if not all) SM channels happen in real-time. Having to get specific messages and copy pre-approved restricts a brand from engaging in this real-time exchange. Contributing only with approved commentary could make a brand appear contrived and impersonal. I’m not saying this is the case w/ Sheema’s work, but I think her situation would be greatly improved if she could tweet/comment freely w/o having to approve all copy. As trust between her and her supervisor is built over time, this is sure to happen.

    Thanks for the post, Lauren. I think you hit on a real point of interest for a lot of folks.

    • September 9, 2009 11:22 am

      I think once someone gets comfy, they can have more free reign. I know that we found success here with that strategy – but not everything works the same for everyone! :)

      I really like your points about listening – so many people can learn from having that mantra!

      Thanks for reading.

  9. September 9, 2009 9:31 am

    Hi Lauren,

    This is a very interesting topic for me personally, so I’m happy to see you and your readers thoughts, as well. I wrote about this earlier this summer, saying that I’m concerned this new generation of PR pros might be missing out on other skill sets because we are constantly given social media campaigns based on our age and digital experience.

    However, I do believe this provides numerous opportunities for young professionals to gain experience earlier in their careers, which puts us at an advantage. To ensure we are acting in the best interest of those we represent using social media, I think it’s important to do the following:

    1. Talk to your supervisors about your companies policies regarding social media.
    2. Determine and make sure you understand the overall goals of using social media for this campaign.
    3. Find out how the client or your company will be measuring results.
    4. If you’re being tasked with the first social media campaign, and your company doesn’t have the answers to the questions, reach out to people you know and trust who work in social media and ask for their advice.
    5. Research similar campaigns on blogs and websites to determine best practices.
    6. Check in regularly with your supervisor and/or the client. Maintain VERY open lines of communication.

    • September 9, 2009 11:24 am

      Meg – Wow! What a great list. I couldn’t have said it better. I think you’re right about how this gives us a chance to gain more experience – but like you, I do worry that it won’t let young pros learn other skill sets. For many, SM is a small part of the PR pro’s daily life.

  10. September 9, 2009 9:42 am

    As a 20 something who manages the social media presence for many small businesses, this post was a very interesting read.

    While many 20 somethings understand social media, not all 20 somethings understand what it means to run a business, or the consequences of a social media faux-paus. We need to remember that our own personal social media success does not necessarily translate to kind of social media success or business growth that a client is looking for. It takes careful strategy, planning, and meticulous execution to excel in the social media realm.

    As young people just entering the workforce we need to be open to new ideas, listen to those with more experience, while at the same time challenging the status quo. There is nothing more fulfilling than having a great idea, running it by your boss, and watching it succeed for a client. There is something special about fresh ideas combined with business experience that is giving us young folks a leg up, let’s hope it stays that way.

    • September 9, 2009 11:28 am

      Exactly, Dan – it’s a completely different ball game when it comes to personal v. professional. It’s not about you – its always about the brand. What you say could ruin years of hard work and foundation if you commit a faux-paus.

  11. Elisha Velez permalink
    September 9, 2009 9:46 am

    Lauren,
    I agree with you that students right out of college aren’t ready to head up a SM campaign. The fact is, many companies are letting their newest graduate do it no matter how green they are because they don’t understand SM and don’t want to learn.
    Interns or young employees need to sit down with their directors and make it very clear what you want from the medium, potential problems with potential solutions, how you see people or customers using it and what is successful about other SM campaigns before you get started.
    At my latest internship I was given the responsibility of starting the Twitter account for the Texas region which ultimately ended up being the example other regions based their accounts on. I was a bit nervous at first, since I had only started one or two other SM campaigns for smaller companies not like the huge national company I am with now, but I sat down and did research on SM successes, listened to the internet and what people wanted to hear and read about, spoke with my director and the team and then translated it into a SM strategy. I don’t think a lot of young graduates have the patience to put the research time in and like you said, “listen” before they dive in.
    I have to get everything signed off or double checked at my internship. However, everyone really double checks everything before we send it out including releases, alerts, ect. We are each others editors and teachers, which I believe helps us produce quality work. This editing process helped the team trust me, my work and my abilities. Plus, it gives me great confidence in my work and my abilities too.
    Great post today! I always look forward to reading it.

    Thanks,
    Elisha

    • September 9, 2009 11:29 am

      I find that buy in is always hard with new technology – because it does take a long time to learn. I’m still learning and always will be. It’s a scary new world of PR 2.0, and we have even less control than before. As many are control freaks, this is scary.

  12. monifree permalink
    September 9, 2009 10:20 am

    Lauren,

    Thanks for starting the conversation on this. I think it is so interesting that the 20-somethings are the ones who have been with facebook since it’s inception as a college-only site. We’ve seen it change and grow, we’ve seen how it has gone from exclusive to inclusive. With that experience, I believe most 20-somethings possess an inherent confidence and understanding of facebook and other social media avenues that perhaps older supervisors do not have–yet. That confidence is crucial in developing a successful campaign; you could never land a great features article in a local newspaper if you had no experience or confidence pitching stories.

    That said, I agree with most people above that there has to be a teamwork aspect to building a social media campaign. There is so much to learn from supervisors that the supervisors do the 20-something a disservice if they just let them go into the Wild West of social media without at least some advice and direction.

    Thanks!
    Monica

    • September 9, 2009 11:31 am

      I had an intern boss, who on the first day, would prank call the intern phone line and pretend to be a newspaper. He wanted to see how we reacted and how we pitched, even though many of us had never done it before. It was a great learning tool IMO – and plays into what you said.

      Social media should bring everyone to the table – customer service, ad, etc. Brands are a team effort.

  13. Rich Pulvino permalink
    September 9, 2009 10:31 am

    I am actually interviewing for a position next week thatworking with social media strategies in a large corporation that has not been part of the social media environment yet. The questions you raise, Lauren, are very pertinent and are what companies and employees should ask of themselves before diving into the deep-end.

    20-somethings who find themselves in the position of heading social media strategies and are fresh out of college need to keep a humble stance in order to understand that just because tools, tactics and strategies were studied in class, that does not make you experienced…practice makes you experienced. Confidence in one’s ability to learn and eagerness to do so can put an inexperienced professional on the right path to effective practices.

    That is why, like you, I question new faces heading SM efforts without past experience. If they are part of a SM team and engaged in a learning environment, then that would be a much more approriate starting point for a greenhorn. New, young professionals may know how to use the tools, but experienced professionals have the ability to integrate brands into a company’s goals and objectives…creating a perfect situation for the reverse mentoring idea.

    • September 9, 2009 11:32 am

      First – Good luck on the interview! I know you’ll do great, anyone would be lucky to have you.

      I think it can sometimes be hard to be humble – especially when it’s presented as: I know nothing about this, you’re so knowledgable, etc…. because it happens. The thing is, age does play a role. My age is always in the back of my mind.

  14. Teresa Basich permalink
    September 9, 2009 10:39 am

    Experience. Experience, experience, experience! I understand how older generations see us as being better suited to run SM campaigns — my parents demonstrate this fact on a daily basis (my mom constantly talks about how the understanding is generational thing, how she just won’t ever get it) — but, skills don’t ever outweigh experience.

    I think your tactic of collaborating with your superiors, asking for their feedback and approval of each of the steps you take, is a great way to make sure you aren’t in over your head. I also agree with Becky’s sentiment of sharing your knowledge. Finding a way to connect the new to the old and bridge that gap of understanding is a way to filter in the experience we don’t have because older generations have loads of experience we can’t catch up to yet. When they understand, they can make connections from their past experiences to the technology-based campaigns of today.

    We’re not all knowing. We can collaborate, and we should bank on our teammates’ strengths. Our superiors should understand that, but if they don’t it’s our responsibility to be honest and say, “Hey, I have the skills, but I need the experience you have to help make this work.”

    • September 9, 2009 11:33 am

      Exactly, T. Experience outweighs age to a point even. The thing is, I’m not all knowing. I haven’t worked here as long as my supervisors have. Getting their insight only makes me better – and shows how we can work as a team.

      Great points, as usual. You always have a knack for making me think!

  15. Amy permalink
    September 9, 2009 11:31 am

    I think that as long as you collaborate with supervisors on a clear strategy, 20 somethings should make that perception into reality. It’s rare that someone is assumed to be an expert on anything because of their age (in a positive way). I think that it’s a great opportunity for young ambitious people to use to really showcase what they bring to the table from the beginning.

    • September 9, 2009 11:34 am

      Exactly – but with that, one needs to be humble, as Rich said. There’s a delicate balance, and we need to beat that entitled stereotype that is rampant about Gen Y.

      I think collaborating is always the best way to go about doing things. PR is a team sport.

      • Amy permalink
        September 9, 2009 12:03 pm

        Perfectly said about being humble and beating that stereotype. I think there are ways to respectfully showcase knowledge and enthusiasm about everything and those principles should apply to all ages.

  16. September 9, 2009 12:31 pm

    One thing that resonates with me in this post–as in alarm bells–is the idea of anyone, regardless of age, being handed responsibility for SM by more senior staff who don’t want to have anything to do with it. Anything that senior staff want to remain ignorant to or don’t want to be involved with seems like something they’re seeing as a very expendable thing. I personally would be worried about being seen as the test dummy for social media and wouldn’t feel very secure about my position.

    • September 9, 2009 12:33 pm

      It worries me too Maggie – and makes me wonder why the companies are doing that. Do they not trust them with work they are comfortable with, but willing to see them fail? Because, what if they do? What if they fail because they don’t understand the brand? Is that their fault? No, not really.

  17. September 9, 2009 2:22 pm

    Sadly I think some are doing it for the exact reason we’re fearing: scapegoat. Let the interns or newbies try this new-fangled social media stuff so if it fails it’s on them not us. Of course, cynic that I am, I also fear that when ultimately some turn out to be successful, instead of promoting the younger person who had all the SM knowledge to begin with, they’ll suddenly decide that that stuff needs to be done by a more senior person after all and take it from there. Not like I’m bitter or anything ;)

    • September 9, 2009 3:40 pm

      I think so – I also think people believe they are too busy at work to truly take the time to understand the space. Because it’s so new, they figure newbies can just go through the trenches and they’ll pick it up later.

      And as a sidenote, I’m lucky to have support at my office – which is something I think everyone needs for a successful campaign. Buy in buy in buy in!!

  18. Mike Schaffer permalink
    September 10, 2009 9:54 am

    Very interesting topic. As a 27-year old Director of Social Media at a PR agency, I can say that having several years of nuts-and-bolts PR work under my belt has definitely helped me when using social media as a communications platform.

    For brands to put their youngest person on their team as the #1 person in their social media team, they really are doing a disservice to the brand and the employee.

    Communications is NOT rocket science, but there is skill involved…especially that which comes with experience.

    You make a terrific point about having it be a collaborative team effort. Your SM person shouldn’t get that job just because they grew up with a cell phone, but rather due to a combination of their SM acumen, brand knowledge and communication skills.

    • September 11, 2009 8:36 am

      I think to a point, SM can be taught. After that, it’s all natural.

      Great points Mike.

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