A lot of baby boomers seem to trust that millennials know social media just because they’re millennials. I used to think this too — until I attended Social Media Week six months ago.
A career change
I went to school for journalism. I decided when I was just 12 years old that it’s what I wanted to be. I was on the school newspaper every year. I was in yearbook every year. I went to journalism summer camp — hey, don’t knock it — the last two summers of high school. I was on college newspapers and did five internships.
After two years as a freelance journalism and getting very steady work — mostly in hyperlocal news — I had had enough and wanted to quit.
I had no idea what the heck to do next. But I figured what made the most sense was to transition into what we called “the dark side” in journalism school — that’s right, public relations.
I soon nabbed a contracting job at a startup events agency — and I knew a bit more about social media than my boss. Suddenly, it became my job to tweet, post, and write blogs.
I realized I really liked this — and I kind of had a knack for it!
When millennials joined social media, it was a different ballgame
I joined Twitter in 2009, three years after it was founded — basically at the very end of the social media site’s infancy. I didn’t even want to join, but since I was in news, it was kind of required.
I followed local organizations, things related to my university, news people, and local businesses. Being a TV newsroom intern, I got mad praise — like, the mental equivalent of a red velvet cupcake with butter cream frosting — for knowing things via Twitter before my superiors.
My bio read “Journalist. Student. Adventurer. Veritas Inlustrat.” My location was listed and anyone could see my account.
Back then, that was enough.
Hip, aggressive businesses and state organizations followed me. It wasn’t long before I had 500 followers. I literally didn’t have to do anything but exist on Twitter as a journalist and the stories found me.
I started picking up stories from organizations I found out about or from people I’d talked to on Twitter. I got an internship later doing legislative news and even found business and political advocacy trends because people followed me and tweeted about them.
When I started my boss’s Twitter account, I did not earn 500 followers by doing nothing. I did a ton of things and got 200 followers — most of which were probably not going to hire us.
Looking for learning opportunities
When I was in school, I learned the basics in my journalism classes: how to use hashtags, how to search for things, how to tweet your stories. But most of that stuff evolved and was useless two or three years later. Everybody (including both of my parents) had joined Twitter, and there was a lot more static.
I started trying to self-educate. I read social media blogs, but I hadn’t yet found the sources I read now (Social Media Examiner, Mashable’s social media section, and Forbes’ social media section). It wasn’t enough. I asked a friend who was in social media what I could do to learn.
“Well, there’s a conference called Social Media Week,” she said. “Look it up. I might go.”
This was last summer. I had never heard of Social Media Week. When I looked it up, I knew I had to go.
I convinced my boss it was the right thing to do, and off I went!
You think you know, but you have no idea — this is the real world, social media
I completely overbooked my schedule at Social Media Week Chicago last September. I was literally running from place-to-place.
I felt like the smarty-pants in a few sessions, but most of the time I’d never felt so dumb in my life. I’m ashamed to say that I had no clue what ROI was (give me a break, I only took into to marketing in college and I was more focused on making fun of my professor’s True Religion jeans than anything on the smart board).
Another thing I didn’t know about social media was that depending on what you use it for, methods greatly vary. This is obviously a problem for someone who has more than one social media client. I was struck by how many different sessions there were and how many ways businesses use it — from marketing to journalism to analytics to law to human resources.
I tried to go to sessions in which I didn’t already know what I was doing — and it turned out to be the best thing for me. Most of what I learned at Social Media Week 2013 in Chicago is what I use at work now.
Why I’m going again
Feeling like I was in over my head in some sessions at Social Media Week wasn’t discouraging. In fact, it was encouraging.
Although social media wasn’t my expertise yet — and I literally had no idea I was so oblivious until the conference — I realized I’m lucky enough to have a different background. Journalism taught me how to easily ace original content creation and have good judgment on what’s interesting and what’s not.
Furthermore, when I got home I did “interviews” with other professions — otherwise known as networking. I soon learned social media’s dirty little secret: nobody really knows what they’re doing. I met people who work in it, have better jobs than I do, and realized after looking them up on Twitter that I have more followers than they do. Or I notice they could be using their company’s Facebook page better.
I’m not pointing these things out to criticize anybody or be the smarty-pants in the room, I’m pointing it out because it’s so clearly something that will always be evolving. It will be difficult to learn what you do can better in social media from year-to-year if you remain stagnant. That’s why I immediately decided to go to Social Media Week in New York City. Although I now have some good sources of information, that’s certainly not enough.
Given I’m just starting out in social media, thus I don’t have much money, I’m not sure I’ll be going to the next conference. But I do know that I’ll certainly try to get a grant or convince a boss to send me.
Lane Blackmer is a self-employed former journalist. Although she’s no longer a newsie, Lane since discovered other uses for social media such as public relations, marketing, job searching, and trying to win gift cards from her favorite local businesses through contests. Lane inhabits Philadelphia, where’s it’s not always sunny…but at least there’s cheese steaks. You can follow her on Twitter at @LaneBlackmer.