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Advice for New Graduates Interested in Jobs in Social Media

May 25, 2013 2 comments

Social Media in the Classroom

A colleague, Jeremy Bronson, posed an excellent question on a forum for social media professionals looking for insight to share with recent graduates interested in social media jobs. For what it’s worth, here are my suggestions…

Go Beyond the Classroom

Unfortunately higher education often does not keep pace with the world around it; nowhere is that more evident than the digital world. With the possible exception of a handful of programs around the country (like the stellar program at Syracuse being run by Dr. Bill Ward), it’s likely that most students in the Communications field have very little exposure in the classroom to the tools they will use every single day on the job.

  • The Downside: That means it’s up to students to build the skills they need on their own.
  • The Upside: Those tools are readily available, free, and tutorials are available everywhere on the web to learn them.

This past semester I taught a class (Technology in Advertising & Public Relations) and it gave me a little window of insight into the lack of social media acumen that most students build in school.

The class usually focuses on teaching students the Adobe suite of products (Photoshop, Illustrator, Pagemaker and Dreamweaver), and some basic video editing skills. Those are all valuable things, but they leave a whole lot out and don’t really address the current state of technology which has moved to “Software As Service.” Should someone interested in social media really learn Dreamweaver when the vast majority of the web development they do will likely be in a content management system (CMS)? – Probably not, unless they want to be a web developer – and that’s probably a different path than working in social media.

Some of the platforms social media pros need to know likely include the following:

  • CMSs like WordPress
  • Social Media Platforms (esp. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+)
  • Photo Editing
  • Video Editing
  • Slideware (esp. PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.)
  • Collaboration / Workflow Platforms (like Basecamp and Podio)
  • Customer Relationship Management (like Salesforce)
  • Email Marketing Tools (like VerticalResponse, MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.)
  • Google Adwords
  • Facebook Ads / Linkedin Ads
  • Monitoring Tools (like Google Alerts, Cision, Radian6, SocialRadar, Vocus, etc.)
  • Social Media Management Tools (like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Sproutsocial, Radian6, Seesmic, etc.)

Learn How to Learn

What should you learn? That changes regularly becuase the web changes regularly. The most important skill a social media pro needs to have is the ability to learn quickly and efficiently because change is the only constant. For example, here is a list of social media platforms that didn’t exist when the current crop of graduates entered college:

  • Google+
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • Vine

Fortunately there is a basic, over-arching similarity to every platform and tool that means even if a specific one becomes outdated – there is valuable insight that will carry over to others.

It is possible to learn how to learn efficiently. For the digital world, it’s rare to find textbooks – but there are vibrant communities (Facebook and Linkedin groups or Tweetchats) to connect to and ask questions of, as well as informative blogs that are only an RSS feed away. Plugging in to these two resources is how I keep up on everything (along with listening to various podcasts in the TWIT family). What I’ve found in nearly two decades of digital life is that people LEAP to help others who are earnestly seeking information.

When you do ask for help, though, make sure it’s only AFTER you’ve already tried googling your question first.

Build Your Skillset

Knowing how to write in HTML5 or edit with Avid isn’t a necessity, but it will definitely help your chances of getting a job in social media. Every digital skill you can add to your reportoire is a potential advantage over another applicant for the job you want. The same goes for experience with digital platforms. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but provides some examples of the sorts of things you’ll want to consider spending your time on:

  • Are you Google Adwords Certified? You could be – and that would look good on a resume.
  • Have you ever used a third-party tool to add content to a Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest presence? – Try some out: Woobox, Offerpop, Votigo, Wildfire, Shortstack, etc.
  • Can you do graphic design using programs like Photoshop or Illustrator? – You should be able to, as you’ll likely be doing some every day. If you don’t have the money to shell out for Adobe products, you can learn on GIMP (a freeware graphics program).
  • Are you a decent photographer/videographer? – This skill comes in handy very frequently for creating engaging content.
  • Do you understand Search Engine Optimization? – You should.
  • Have you ever placed ads on Facebook or Linkedin? – You can try experimenting with promoting yourself to prospective employers to learn how to do the same.
  • Do you know how to do research quickly to become a micro-expert on a topic? – This is really valuable, particularly in an agency context.
  • Do you understand digital analytics and what metrics are most valuable (and how to explain them to non-tech people)?

Learn the Law

An understanding of communications and intellectual property law comes in handy weekly if not daily. Content creation involves navigating a variety of legal frameworks. For starters, copyright. The unauthorized use of a copyrighted image, text, or video can (at the very least) cause your content to be pulled from the web or (at the worst) get your organization slapped with a lawsuit.

Then there are the rights of the people contained in any content you’re creating. Understanding what you can say with an image of someone is important. If you work with organizations in the healthcare world, the people you seek to depict may be covered under HIPAA – meaning you need their expressed authorization just to imply they are a client of a healthcare provider.

Even activities on the back-end interactions carry legal implications; newspapers have begun suing the providers of services that generate reports of media mentions for customers (for unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted work).

Beyond the legal system getting involved in your activities, you can run afoul of the policies of social networking platforms very easily. Facebook, for example, doesn’t permit anything resembling a contest being hosted natively on a Facebook page. If you’re asking people to “like” a post for a chance to win a prize – you could have that Facebook fan page disabled.

Learning the law is also important because you need to be able to advocate for what you’re doing and justify it to the higher-ups in your organization.  The legal departments of virtually every company and organization don’t know SQUAT about legal precedent in the digital world and they will (with good intentions) sometimes shut down your efforts because they don’t understand them.

[Sidebar: Here’s a good test to see if your legal department knows anything about digital law – if they have advised your organization to attach a legal disclaimer to company email signatures, they don’t know what they’re talking about.  Those things carry zero legal weight and are completely unenforceable.  That’s the sort of advice they’re dispensing to the C-suite, and that sort of bad advice can shut down a potentially-great social marketing campaign in the name of protecting the company.]

Understand Internet Culture

One of the most important abilities a social media pro needs to have is a deep and abiding understanding of how the Internet works. There are unwritten rules everywhere – and knowing those rules cold is one of the main reasons why someone is paying you to handle their social media for them. You are their digital sherpa.

This knowledge, unfortunately, is not easily gained through reading – but really requires experiencing or observing the web at work to best absorb.

Just like going on vacation in a foriegn country, the further away from the mainstream/touristy areas puts you at greater risk of violating the unpublished mores of the web – and amplifies the consequences. Reddit is a great microcosm of the web (and, in fact, it has originated many of the paradigms for how people interact online). The academic term for the tribes that coalesce online is “Discourse Communities.” They have their own codes, icons, and language – and communication is how they maintain their membership. There are discourse communities for EVERYTHING online, from programming languages (Flash vs. HTML5) to social news tools (like Reddit vs. The Chive).

For example, do you…

…understand the importance of attributing/crediting people online?
…know how to properly use tech terms in context? (and cringe whenever someone says “facebooked” or “twittered”)
…know how to deal with trolls?
…know how to identify influencers?
…understand why the web abhors censorship (and why it’s a doomed strategy to pursue)?
…why you shouldn’t ever ask a question that you can google the answer for?

In Summary

It’s one thing to be able to engage online as yourself. It’s entirely another to engage on behalf of an organization. This is what separates social media users from experts. Unfortunately, most young people aren’t experts despite the conventional wisdom. They grew up using technology every day and have never lived without ubiquitous Internet connectivity, but their expertise is very narrow and focused only on communicating on behalf of themselves for their own purposes. If you’re entering the working world and want to be a communicator for others – the skills and spheres above are critical to rounding out your knowledge base.

Hope this helps; know that you can always count me as a colleague. If you have questions, ask. A lot of other social media peeps and I will very likely be able to answer them within a few hours.

Internships are Study Abroad Experiences

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Internships are Study Abroad Experiences

Ideally, Internships aren’t just about getting resume-filler.  They’re about practical experience, networking, and portfolio-building.  One aspect of internships that most of us take for granted is the vital role they play in acclimating young people to  office culture.

Don’t laugh.  I was fortunate to have worked in my father’s insurance office since I was 13, but most young people don’t have that sort of exposure to the white-collar working world and its various intricacies.

Office culture is so ubiquitous and richly-textured that the sitcom “The Office” has spawned numerous adaptations for the varying office cultures around the world, beginning first in the UK but then moving to the US, Germany, Canada, Chile, Israel, and Sweden.

Virtually every textbook in Communications and Public Relations stresses the importance of cultural competence in effective communication.  So many of our paradigms for encoding and decoding messages are culture-specific.  Here’s what I mean:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K5SycZjGhI

Tips for Students on Maximizing Their Internships

1. Get Something out of the Experience: Unfortunately there are still a lot of organizations that don’t monetarily compensate their interns.  The practice is unethical in my opinion (and the opinion of the Public Relations Society of America).  The current dismal economic climate isn’t helping matters much, but for students unable to get hourly pay or a stipend (to cover the cost of the credits for the class) for their efforts there are still ways to get value from the experience by ensuring that one of three things comes out of their work:

  • A Name: It’s easier to make the case to take an unpaid internship if the organization is one that has a solid reputation that will look good as legitimate work experience on a resume.
  • Solid Experience: Another intangible value if a name and money aren’t available for an internship is hands-on experience.  Particularly for nonprofits and small companies, the possibility exists for an intern to be given a great deal of responsibility that exceeds the typical student experience.  Being able to oversee projects and produce valuable portfolio content also has a great deal of merit.
  • Cultural Competence: For the rare student that already knows what field or type of PR that they want to practice, gaining exposure to the networks of professionals and world they operate in is also valuable.  Absent a name, cash, or responsibility in return for one’s work – being a fly on the wall in high-level meetings or consuming industry-specific literature on the job can also be valuable.

2.  Keep a Diary: Many people find journaling to be valuable while studying abroad and that also applies to “studying abroad” in the office environment.  Frequently when we’re in the moment at a job, it can be extraordinarily difficult to process and remember everything we experience.  Writing them down helps not only the exercise of processing what we learn, but helping us internalize it so that we can actually apply it to our own careers.  Try the following:

  • Jot down terms you don’t understand to look up later.
  • Keep records of the names of people you meet and the organizations they work for (this may come in handy .  Maintain a running list of all of the unspoken “rules” for office behavior that you encounter (email alone is rife with behavioral norms).

3.  Stay Open to Unfamiliar Experiences: Just as when traveling abroad, working in an office is a richer experience when you keep an open mind and volunteer for (or better yet, seek out) opportunities to do things or go places we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Looking back now after 15 years in PR, I realize that learning what I DON’T like has been just as valuable as learning what I DO like.  The earlier you can develop self-awareness, the more opportunity you have to change your career trajectory toward a career that is fulfilling.

It may not seem like it now when you’re eating Ramen and worrying about affording gas for your car, but money isn’t everything.  Contrary to what many textbooks, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and services like Salary.com say – you’re likely not going to get rich doing PR (the “starting salaries” they list are laughably inaccurate) … and that’s okay.  What matters more is that you like the work and find it life-affirming.

4.  Observe Others Reactions to You: Despite egalitarian ethos espoused by the the US, not everyone is equal in the workplace.  Different standards (and in some cases, double-standards) still exist for for race, gender and culture.  Understanding this is critical to navigating office politics.  I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you that a strong work ethic and quality output aren’t all you need to be successful in the white-collar world.

Given how much of PR is interpersonal relationships (with the media, with clients, with co-workers, with customers), every aspiring professional needs to be aware of how they may be received by the people they interact with daily.  Fortunately you have plenty of opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them early in your career – those opportunities diminish as you get older.

Women especially have to be aware of relationship dynamics in the office, as they are more frequently held to a different standard than men.  Take the adage “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult” from Charlotte Whitton.  Regrettably I’ve found this to be true in the so-called enlightened workplace of the “modern” era.

The curious thing I’ve observed is that women need to worry less about sexism from men than they do from other women.  Throughout my career, the majority of my supervisors have been female and I’ve watched as a female colleague many years my senior in experience and ability has her view challenged where I am not even though I’m making the same contention.

As far as race and ethnicity go, the sad reality is that most organizations put the “White” in “White-Collar.”  There isn’t nearly as much diversity in most offices as there should be.  The upside is that this creates a great deal of opportunity for minority PR students: savvy firms and companies are looking to hire them.  Naturally, PR pros know the intrinsic value of a diverse range of backgrounds and viewpoints in generating creative ideas as well as in relating to the increasingly-diverse US population.

Five Recommendations for Picking a Twitter Hashtag

February 10, 2011 1 comment

Don't be a Salmon Swimming Upstream - Consider What Your Hashtags Say

1) Keep it Simple: Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so each one has to count.  Keep hashtags as short as possible, but also as simple as possible (easy-to-spell words, common characters, etc.).  Consider, also, that the people participating in the discussion are likely doing so via mobile devices – so the less they have to key in, the better.  Better to add a letter than use a character like an underscore, which requires smartphone users to press two buttons (shift/function + the assigned key).

2) Consider Outside Audiences: One of the reasons to use hashtags is to promote an organization, topic or event to people who aren’t familiar with it.  If this is one of your concerns, make sure your hashtag is intelligible to people outside your organization.

3) Don’t Redefine the Lexicon:  Changing the language people use is exceptionally difficult, much like swimming upstream to spawn (or at least I would assume – I’ve never done it myself).  If words already have widely-accepted meanings, stick to them.  Communication is only possible because we all agree that symbols (ie words) carry certain meanings.

4) Step Back and Read Your Hashtag:  Before you launch a hashtag, check it first.  In our quest to be brief, we often create acronyms that are problematic.  My favorite example (and also one of my favorite Twitter discussion groups) is #prStudchat.  It’s an online discussion for students (which I highly-recommend) – but it has the unfortunate quality of looking like an erotic discussion forum.  Fortunately that hasn’t hurt their content any, but you can imagine the ramifications if a different group with a more conservative bend were to expose themselves to ridicule with that sort of tag.

5) Index Your Hashtag: Frequently the events or issues we want to discuss are reoccurring.  If it’s appropriate, add a date, location, or some other distinguishing feature so that one iteration of the discussion can be kept separate from another.

While we’re on the subject of Twitter – if you haven’t seen it already, there’s a pretty smashing database of hundreds of Twitter chat events that require only a hashtag to participate in.  Check it out at www.bit.ly/chatsched

Five Ways to Improve Relations With Your IT Department

January 4, 2011 1 comment

Strongbad Tech Lecture

I’ve come to the realization that IT Techs are perfectly justified in being anti-social.  I would too if I had to deal with the problems  they do every day (which are usually created by a combination of willful ignorance and laziness).

Here are a few ways you can help mend the frayed relations between your department and your IT department:

Realize Not All IT People are Interchangeable:  IT staff are like any other field – they have a variety of specialties.  The guy  who maintains the enterprise software your organization uses isn’t the same one that swaps out broken parts on your laptop.  Don’t treat them all the same.  You wouldn’t ask the media buyer for a press release – so don’t ask a network specialist for a new laptop power cord.

  • Solution: Apply the lessons you’ve learned in multicultural training sessions to the diverse cultures of the IT department and treat people as individuals; avoid assumptions and stereotypes.

Communicate on Their Level:  Stop. Leaving. Voicemails.  Sure, it’s easy for you to blather on for 80 seconds about what you think your problem is, or what needs to be changed where on the website.  However, most voicemail-inclined people invariably leave out critical information which will means a call back for clarification (ie lost productivity).   Not only that, but you’re turning the IT person into your personal stenographer because they’re invariably going to have to write down what you’ve reported to process a service request AND to make sure that they responded to each individual request.

  • Solution: Take the time to document your question or concern in an email – especially if it’s more complicated than resetting your password.

Appreciate the Nature of IT Work:  People only notice the IT department when things go wrong.  They never pay attention the 95+ percent of the time when things are going right. As a result, the feedback IT people usually end up getting is negative feedback.

  • Solution: Put a note on your calendar to express your gratitude once in a while.  A simple thank-you card will do (if you want to go the extra mile, anything bacon-related tends to be appreciated by the geek set).

Respect Their Processes:  I know it’s convenient for you to keep contacting the same person every time, but what you have to understand is that IT people are ruled over by left-brained overlords who thirst for processes and scrutinize productivity statistics (kind of like the overseers in cotton fields, except much pastier and usually without mutton chops).  Most likely your IT department has a ticketing process whereby all requests are recorded and delegated (based on workload/availability/expertise).

  • Solution: Don’t be a jerk and try to make an end-run around the process – it’s important to submit those tickets because they’re used to track systemic problems.

Handle With Care: You know that boxy typewriter thing you use to pound out TPS reports?  … Your Laptop?  It’s a highly-sophisticated piece of machinery that would have made Thomas Edison poop his pants if he’d run across one.  The people who repair these devices have a bit more respect for them than you might think – so it’s demoralizing when they’re treated like Tonka Trucks (in addition to being time-consuming and expensive to fix).

  • Solution: Treat your equipment like the sophisticated machinery it is.  Carefully bundle it up when traveling.  Try not to lose all of the things that plug into it.  Don’t leave it on when you’re not working for it.  (In other words, glance at the manual and follow the care and feeding instructions).

Just because not all of us understand binary code doesn’t mean we can’t all just get along.  Srsly.  Don’t be a n00b.

No, I Will Not Fix Your Computer

There is Such a Thing as a Stupid Question

July 24, 2010 Leave a comment

A caution to professionals; in the era of Google, asking a question that is easily-answerable with a quick search engine query is increasingly going to reflect poorly on the inquirer.

It means you’re either not tech-savvy enough to instinctively reach for the power of the world’s most powerful information storage-and-retrieval tools, or you’re lazy. Neither looks good to colleagues, clients, or potential employers.

I’ve been unfairly/condescendingly thinking this since the late 1990s because I’ve long been a geek, but now I feel comfortable saying my opinion is the dominant paradigm.  Sorry.

(PS – All of this goes double for Twitter, where your request for information is even more public and archived).

Remember the Opportunity Cost

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

A Case Study in Opportunity Cost: Gardening

I’m definitely not the first one to point this out, but I was reminded today how important it is to consider the opportunity cost of what you’re doing.  It’s not easy to do, because we frequently get caught up trying to keep up with the volume of work coming our way and rarely have time to look up and consider long-term strategy.  We also have to fight appeals to tradition (“this is the way we’ve always done it”).

Once-a-year planning retreats aren’t enough either – it needs to be something everyone continually re-evaluates (if for no other reason than how quickly the communications mediums around us are changing).

Every task you perform at work is like a square in a garden box; completing it removes the possibility of something else.  Not only that, but we’re increasingly having to do more with less.  Is that newsletter as effective as a Facebook fan page?  Is Yellow Pages advertising as effective as a Facebook ad campaign?  Is that annual fundraising event really worth all the bother, or could you get better results with a lot of personal appeals?

You likely know the answers, and you need to give yourself permission and time to ask the questions.

Recommended Slideware: Prezi

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

A few people have asked what I used for the slideshow that accompanied my Social Media Best Practices presentation; it’s a web-based tool called Prezi (www.prezi.com).  If you’re so inclined, you can interact with the slideshow here.

an example of a Prezi presentation

A screenshot of my Prezi slides.

It gives you a huge canvas to work with and streamlines the process of putting together a slideshow by limiting the options for adding content.  One of the coolest features of Prezi is that you can either map out a path you’d like to navigate through OR you can click on any item to zoom in on it (giving one a lot of flexibility in doing an extemporaneous presentation).  In addition to online hosting – Prezi offers the option of downloading your slideshow as a flash document.

The only problem I’ve had with Prezi is that on occasion it will fail to load images that I’ve uploaded (they just go dead and never fully load and one has to delete them and replace them.  Other than that the experience has been excellent.

For my peeps in education, Prezi currently offers a free education package – for details click here.