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The Gen Y Guide to Social Media

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I’ve complained a lot over the past year about social media weblings who post their hearts on their blogs, Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and expect that no one will read it, care or that moreover, people will somehow value their authenticity and “realness.”

Look folks, no one cares. I know you think they do. But they don’t. People only want to hear your experience if it’s valuable, only your friends want your feedback and want to hear how you’re doing and even then, you’ve got to be careful not to burn your fingers lighting the stove.

After hearing the story below, I decided that I needed to put together a little guide to help millennials navigate the social media waters. Because I know people think this stuff showed up the other day when Facebook came onto the scene, but the truth was a heck of a lot easier to network online in 1995 than it’s ever been since and I say that from experience. Social media didn’t just get here and it certainly didn’t get invented by the generation that’s probably never bought music on cassette tape.

I had lunch with a friend (and former boss) today.  We discussed a former student intern in the PR office who I knew and who decided that he wasn’t having a good time. Said boss asked him to do a bit of pinch hitting. He didn’t want to do it, because that wasn’t his job.

Well, she told he had to do it anyway. Huffy Gen Y goes home and fires up the Facebook status update and posts the following: (name changed to protect the guilty.)
Bob does not think very highly of his boss.

Some commented: “Welcome to the real world”

Then, he responded and said  If I was the kind of guy who hit girls, especially my “superior” I would’ve punched that bitch right in the face today. :) (Smile his, not mine.)

This student intern was friends on Facebook with no less than 4 staffers in the PR office, me, the President’s daughter among others. I didn’t see the post, but someone who isn’t any of those people saw the post, informed the boss (who doesn’t have a Facebook account) and who the following morning saw it and fired the student intern.

What are the lessons? Where do we start?

1. Just because you think something doesn’t mean you need to Tweet it/Blog It/Facebook It, etc.: Look, everyone has a bad day. There’s a big different between clandestine blog posts that only friends would be able to interpret and writing about your entire life story online. I get it, you want to be authentic and that’s great. But no one cares and all you’re doing is making yourself completely unhireable. You have to use discretion and you need to remember one rule of thumb about social media: “Every thing you do needs to be purposeful or you shouldn’t be doing it.”

After all, can’t you just call a friend and vent?

2. Social media does not make you invincible: Personal branding is bunk. The only think you can sell are demonstrated experiences that other people will vouch for. You’d get a lot further spending time cultivating personal relationships at work with colleagues and superiors, than you’d ever do worrying about your web site, your bio or trying to position yourself as an expert in your field. Writing stuff because you don’t think anyone is listening is the mistake of a great fool. You never know whose listening or reading. So if you can’t vouch for it to everyone from your mom to your boss to your best friend, don’t write it.

3. There’s a time and a place for everything: It’s hard to make a case for the emerging tools of new media communication when all we’re spending our time focused on is people who make grave errors in judgment believing their personal and private lives are not melded online anymore.

Rather than use these are tools to talk to the same people who otherwise talk to, why not prioritize their usage? That is, have a reason for each platform. No need to join every new web site, just because everyone else is. Identify what works, become a power user, but recognize that the minute you cede control of your personal information, is the day that you’re no longer hiding behind a cloak — no matter how good you think your hide and seek skills are.

Gen Y and millennials get a bad rap these days, because so much of what’s online about them reinforces the “me first” ethos that other generations use to try to brand them as delusional and out of touch. I don’t believe to be true of the millennials I’ve dealt with over the years, but I do see the reasons why people say it.

Staying and being well-informed requires compromise. I can sympathize with folks who believe the old rules are bunk, that “staying in your place” and “waiting your turn” are relics of a bygone era. But things like building relationships, earning the trust of your superiors and demonstrating your value through your actions rather than your words are still the sort of currency that’ll get you far in any vocation you choose.

Social media is a great venue for communicating and networking, but like any tool, the unintended consequences and mines waiting for you in the field are plenty.

Be vigilant and never get too comfortable thinking you’re indispensable or that your words can’t come back to bite you online.

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  1. From @mstoner:

    Specifically, information on young people’s social network pages can come back to haunt them.

    Over 60% of those surveyed acknowledged that the things friends wrote in their profiles could harm their careers. In addition, 48% said they could be embarrassed by what they themselves wrote, and 38% said they regretted some of the items that had appeared on their pages already.

  2. I’m with you on the edge of the seat posting thing. I actually had a consultant read something I wrote once on a dead blog about my wider thoughts on a presentation that I didn’t like. It wasn’t really about the presentation, as much as it was about the institutional direction and some things I didn’t like. Long story short, the consultant called someone who planned the event (not my boss at the time) and wondered what the deal was…

    The lesson learned was vivid for me, in the sense that I realized 1) people actually read what I was writing and that I had reach and 2) that maybe there were more constructive ways to get my words out — even in situations where I didn’t have any problem with anyone disagreeing with me.

    And I’ve seen the whole “what do you mean the web site isn’t only for us” phenomenon play out too and that’s always interesting.

    Thanks for commenting, as always.

  3. Great post, Ron. It’s gotten to the point for many, I think, where if you don’t post it as a status, it didn’t happen (sounds like that old dashboard confessional song “it seems like nothing’s happened / until I’ve shared them with you.” I know I’ve been on the edge of my seat, itching to post something that just happened but knowing that it’s not something I can offer up to Google … and it’s occurred to me that maybe it’s time to disconnect for a bit :)

    I did two separate applicant interview projects last year, out east and then here in Ontario, and we did find that millennials were consistently misunderstanding that some links weren’t for them – which I attributed to their “me me me” syndrome – no harm done though, was just interesting to notice that they consumed web solely from their perspective (as opposed to thinking “oh that link is for alumni” – it didn’t even occur to them that alumni would also visit the site!)

    Again, great post!

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