Digital Natives Part 1

Are you a digital native? No one has agreed on a definite point on where the digital native generation began and where it ended, but in general it describes people who came in regular contact with computers at a young age sometime in the late 80’s and into the 90’s. They are now in the late 20’s to mid-30’s, and they are the pioneers of today’s social media trends.

So what characteristics do all digital natives share? The most important aspect is openness and an enthusiastic reception to new technologies, both hardware and software. While the older generations may view developing tech and trends with suspicion, frustration, and even fear, the digital native cannot wait to take it for a spin, check out its bells and whistles, and in some cases, find out how it can be broken! This behavior comes from their exposure to emerging software that don’t come with safeguards or pop-up warnings that tell them when their actions might be detrimental to the efficiency of their computer. They logged on to the Internet at a time when getting a virus was very nearly the worst possible thing that could happen! Everything was new, and they were thrust into open waters and allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

The Unsafe Internet

Internet services like AOL encouraged online interaction with chatrooms, instant messaging, and fun-sounding e-mail alerts.  Online predators and scammers took advantage of this anonymity, and from there the first chat bots were born. They had simple functions: find a username, send them an instant message with a link, and hope an unwary target clicks it. They often led to pornographic sites promising free access or downloads, and from there a vicious virus called a “Trojan” would be installed on your computer. This program scours your system for personal information, including IP addresses, usernames, and passwords, and it would send them back to the person who programmed the bot. Getting rid of the Trojan was more difficult in the 90’s than it is today because anti-virus programs were still building up their databases. Firewalls did not exist yet. If you wanted to keep your information and computer safe, you had to be vigilant and wary of anything and everything that pops up on your screen. If you find yourself staring at a link and wondering if it’s really your friend who sent it to you, then you might be a digital native.

The Internet and scammers are in a constant state of evolutionary warfare. Software that help protect you become more comprehensive and autonomous every day, and scammers find ways to step up their game to find cracks in the system. Before HTTPS existed, scammers would copy all the HTML on common and popular log in pages and create identical pages to trick unwary users into entering their usernames and passwords. The only way to tell for sure is to check the URL bar. Ingenious, really, and quite effective at the time. If you still check the URL of a log in page before logging in, you might be a digital native.

Personal Responsibility and Problem Solving

One defining characteristic of digital natives is the practice of personal responsibility when it comes to maintaining the optimal functionality of a computer. When something goes wrong, it’s not the computer that’s broken. It’s not a failure on the part of the software and hardware, it was something you did! And it’s up to you to find a fix. After you’ve exhausted every possible idea, that’s when you call tech support. Quite honestly it’s one of the most frustrating and satisfying aspects of being a digital native – frustrating when problems occur (and it’s most likely your fault), and satisfying when you fix it.

They younger generation tends to rely more on tech support or, in most computers today, the ability to fix itself by searching the Internet for a solution. But the moment the internet connection is severed, they’re at a loss. Like Marc Scott of Coding2Learn.org said in his recent article, kids say things like “The Internet is not working”, rather than “I’ve lost my internet connection” or “I can’t access the Internet”. Chances are the Internet is always working and there’s something going on with a) the computer and b) the user. If you check your network or browser settings today, there’s a fancy option of automatically detecting proxy settings and establishing an internet connection without you having to do anything. Back in the 90’s we had to configure these settings manually.

It’s not a matter of intelligence, but rather the baseline habits you’ve developed while using different technologies. Nearly everything comes prepackaged today: your operating system (that’s either Windows [Version Here], OSX, Linux, etc.,  young folks), the default anti-virus software, plug-and-play devices, etc. Think about it. When was the last time you inserted a CD to install a program that isn’t a video game? What about a 3.5″ floppy disk? Do you even know what a 3.5″ floppy disk looks like? Everything can be done with just a few clicks of the mouse, and for the digital native, these features are conveniences, not standards.

I realize this is a huge topic, and it’s going to take more than a single post to get this message across. Stay tuned for the next chapters on Digital Natives!

Internships: Give Us Documentation!!!

I’m a fairly outspoken person about the unfair and illegal practices of unpaid internships. As I have stated in my previous post, How to Take Advantage of Unpaid Internships Before They Take Advantage of You, there are very specific guidelines for how internships are supposed to work in the eyes of the law. It occurred to me that if an internship did not pay or offer any sort of college credit (which is also a joke, in my opinion), then there’s really no incentive for a company to offer any sort of documentation that proves you worked there at all. Recently HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes rectified its past mistake of having unpaid interns oversee their social media efforts by giving them all back pay. Kudos, Hootsuite! You’re the definition of “doing it right”! Unfortunately for us Americans this took place in Canada, and their laws have no effect on ours. However, if interns and future interns in our country understood their rights, they would be better equipped to weed out internships that take advantage of them rather than help them develop necessary skills to land a decent job.

If unpaid internships come with proper documentation detailing who they work for and for how long, the number of hours they dedicated to it, and the kind of work and supervision they’re provided, it would make it easier for them to take legal action if the situation called for it. It’s not a difficult idea. It forces companies to adhere to the rules and regulations already in place to protect new graduates and interns.

Buzzword #4: Trending

We’ve all heard about what’s “trending” on Twitter, but what does it really mean? Simply put, they’re the most popular topics of the day, hour, or even minute. It’s the conversation in a busy room that grabs the most attention, where a large group of people are paying the most attention and participating. It’s a massive communal dance floor where rings form around the most talented, flamboyant, or strangest dancers. So how can you predict what will be trending? You have to follow the news, whether it’s local, world, or celebrity. If President Barack Obama schedules a press conference about Swiss cheese, you can bet #swisscheese and #obamaswisscheese will trend. If a topic becomes extremely popular over a short period of time, it can take on a brief flash of viral status. However, virality occurs extremely quickly and stays popular for extended periods of time, whereas trending takes a little bit of time to build up and usually dies down in a day or two.

trendTrending topics are conveniently located on the left of your Twitter page along with their relevant hashtags. But how can this be relevant to you? With so many people throwing their voices and opinions into the mix, yours is likely to be drowned out, right? Well, unless you’ve got thousands of followers, that will most likely be the case, even if you throw out the relevant hashtags over and over again. So how do you set yourself up to be heard? It’s no guarantee (nothing ever is), but if you seek out the people or organizations that do have thousands of followers and reply to them, retweet their posts, etc., you increase the chances of being heard. At the very least you might grab a few new followers for yourself.

The social media sphere is like the ocean: dynamic with its ebbs and flows, filled with life, often polluted, and changing constantly. It is fickle, holds grudges, champions the most unlikely causes and topics…let’s be honest – the internet is a strange, exciting, and scary place. You need to learn to leap headfirst into the trending waves and hope you catch a really good one. If you’re lucky, you can become a celebrity for a day. If you’re already a celebrity, you’ll be the one making the waves.

Buzzword #1: Viral

Buzzword #2: Organic

Buzzword #3: Engage

Buzzword #3: Engage

speech-bubble-mdEngage. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it? The point here is not that you engage your customer or fan base, but how you go about doing it. We’re used to the idea of social media accounts being private or personal, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that everything you say and write can potentially be seen by anyone and everyone. The latest example of how social media engagement can go horrifically and spectacularly wrong comes from Amy’s Baking Company, or ABC, as illustrated in ZDNet’s article. It’s also a perfect example of something going viral in the negative spectrum (see Buzzword #1: Viral).

The potential for negative engagement is great, but the external and visible aspect of  social media can be used to your advantage! These accounts are windows and keyholes into your company’s operations, and they are the primary way by which fans and customers look in. This means you have a great deal o control over what they see, hear, and read about you. You show your hand first, and they engage you in response. If you pay your cards right, they won’t even know it’s happening.

There should be an ease to your interactions. Go with the flow. Be knowledgeable and professional to show you’re an expert at what you’re promoting. Be casual to show you’re a real human being with shared interests. While it’s easy to see just names on a screen, it’s imperative that you treat all your visitors as real, genuine people. They are your guests when they come to your page. You are a teacher and a helpful guide to those with questions. You are a friend to those who love what you promote. And remember this well:

NO ONE IS YOUR ENEMY!

KindDo not argue, and do not be defensive, offensive, or confrontational. Always be courteous, even in the face of dissatisfaction. If things get heated, take it to PMs (private messages). A majority of people will engage you in private messaging if you take control of the situation by making PMs the only place where they will get a response – and that’s ultimately what we’re after in social media, isn’t it? A response!  But don’t let the term “private messages” override any lessons you’ve learned. Anyone who knows how to use the “Print Screen” button can reveal the full contents of your conversation, and that’s the kind of power you never want to relinquish to anyone. Private or not, always be kind to everyone!

So how can you actively engage your fan base? Well, if an interest exists, there’s a group dedicated to it in social media. Facebook has Groups, Twitter has #hashtags, and Reddit has subreddits. Find these groups and become an active member. See how other members of these groups interact with one another and follow suit. The best way to market yourself and your product or company is to be as enthusiastic as your fans. You appear more trustworthy if you’re not just someone who works for your company, but rather an enthusiast lucky enough to land a job with them.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next Buzzword!

Buzzword #1: Viral

Buzzword #2: Organic

How to Take Advantage of Unpaid Internships Before They Take Advantage of You

unpaid-internWe’ve all seen this one too many times, especially in the past three year: “This is an unpaid internship”.  We were understanding at first, if a little grudgingly, because the economy took a nose dive, and we hoped it would turn around over the next few months. Little did we know, those months became years, and the “unpaid internship” became the norm, and the norm became annoying, and in many cases, illegal. Many of the ads I see on Indeed.com, Craigslist, Mediabistro, and other job listing aggregates include open positions that are, in every sense of the word, “jobs”. However, by adding the word “internship” to the end of the ad, that position magically becomes a source of free labor. Don’t fall into that trap. There are many things to look out for while job hunting, and once you recognize them, you’ll be better equipped to protect yourself against labor exploitation.

First and foremost, you need to understand the definition of a proper and legal internship. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are 6 criteria that a legal unpaid internship must meet:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Doesn’t sound like 99% of the job ads you’ve seen, does it? Most of the social media internships I’ve seen ask that you are an “expert” in social media. In many cases they’re seeking “ninjas”, “gurus”, and on occasion, “Jedis” (I’ll have a post about this coming up next). If you’re already experienced in social media, then the job lister had better come up with some advanced social media techniques to teach you, otherwise they only want your skills for free. What about number 2? Some would argue that the experience you gain from that internship is a direct benefit to you. True, to an extent. But if you’re not learning anything new, and you’re doing actual work, then you ought to be paid for it. Then there’s number 3. You need to be working under close supervision from existing (and usually more experienced) staff for the position to be a legally unpaid internship. And no, having someone check in on you once in a while doesn’t count. Most important is number 4, which is why I highlighted it on the list. It really speaks for itself. If a position needs to be filled, and that position serves an important function to the company in question, that position is, by definition, a job, not an internship!

This message is geared toward those who want to break into social media, because that’s where I have the most experience. This career path utilizes a tool that you use every single day to communicate frequently and effectively to large audience. You already know how to use these social platforms, and what’s left for you to learn are the bells and whistles you might not yet understand or even know about. If you’re looking to become more experienced, look for a legitimate internship where you know you will be taught the right kind of language, methods of written communication, and proper use of social media tools. There is a wealth of knowledge and tutorials on the web, and if you’re serious about becoming a social media marketer, you need to educate yourself on your time! So how do you know what to look for? By seeking out illegal unpaid internships.

Wait, isn’t that a little counter-intuitive? Not necessarily. By looking for these job ads (don’t worry, you’ll find them quite easily), you can find out what potential employers are looking for in an ideal candidate for a paid position. Once you know what employers want, you can take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, find the tutorials and online classes you need to bolster your skills, and become more desirable on the job market.

Just remember: internships are for learning and gaining new skills. Jobs fulfill a specific function for a prospective employer. You can learn and gain new skills without some company reaping the benefits of your hard work. You shouldn’t have to compete with more experienced people to land a position that’s supposed to educate and help the less experienced. It’s wrong, it’s immoral, and most importantly, it’s illegal. Find out what skills are required for the job you want and educate yourself. You can put these skills to practice on your own and make it as visible or invisible as you’d like.

Buzzword #2: Organic

urlWhat exactly does “organic” mean in social media terms? It’s actually very similar to the definition of the farming and food definition. Organic search results in search engines like Google come about from hard work and dedication without paid advertising or bidding on keywords. When an employer wants better ranking in organic search results, they are asking for the very basics of search engine optimization. While SEO may be the most cost-effective way to maximize your online marketing efforts, it is also the most time-consuming. It requires you to post quality content frequently while managing inbound and outbound links and making sure what you’ve submitted becomes visible and easily found on all your social media platforms. The process might be methodical, but the content is where you show off your expertise in whatever you’re advertising.

How can you be sure your submissions are counted by Google? Like I mentioned early, you need to post quality content frequently. But what does “quality” really mean? It means to avoid copying and pasting large blocks of text. It means flexing and expanding your vocabulary. It means to be creative. Organic results are awesome, but only if you put in the time and effort to make it worthwhile! As a long term investment, it will make you a strong and reliable source of information, which in turn maximizes the influence you have in directing traffic and generating hits.

Tips:

1. Avoid expository text in flash objects. Your text might very well contain the keywords required to improve your organic search results, but because they’re imbedded in videos or flash files, Google cannot pick findthem! If a video or flash object is absolutely necessary, make sure to have a well-written description that make use of your keywords.

2. Vary your terms! While it’s fine to use terms like “social media” frequently if you’re optimizing for social media, you can break term up and still be relevant to Google’s search bots: “See what media is saying about social networks”.

3. Pictures draw them in! If you’re going for a longer article, make sure to include a picture every few paragraphs to give the reader a different kind of mental stimulation. It will keep them interested in what you have to say. Likewise it is usually best to start off with a picture to get their attention in the first place.

Click here for Buzzword #1: Viral

Buzzword #1: Viral

Viral MarketingWhat does it mean when something goes “viral”? It’s quite literally an idea that’s gone pandemic – infections, far-spreading, rapid, and global. Sounds great, right? Not necessarily. While marketing campaigns strive to become viral, they must also be prepared to lose all control. How far it goes and for how long is completely dependent on the consumers, and the results can be spectacular on both ends of the good and bad spectrum. Take, for example, the ever popular music video “Gangnam Style”, which features a Korean pop star making his debut return to show biz.

Here you have a video that was already popular in the Eastern hemisphere, generating thousands of hits within days of its release. But once it caught wind in America and the rest of the internet, it went full blown viral, becoming the first Youtube video to hit ONE BILLION views in the space of a few months! You can’t hope for anything better than that!

On the other side of the spectrum you have Mitt Romney’s 47% video, whose viral status may very well have cost him the campaign:

Going viral may be an unstoppable force, but if its influence falls in your favor, you can build upon it and ride the wave like Old Spice with their body wash commercials with Isaiah Mustafa.

This video is 33 seconds long. Thirty-three seconds! And that was all it took to make it one of the most effective ad campaigns to date! Granted it cost Old Spice a pretty penny to have it air during the Super Bowl, but it was money well invested in a clever idea that tickled the audience in the best possible way. From there Old Spice released more commercials and videos featuring Mustafa, and the internet fell in love with his smooth, rugged, and manly…advertisement.

Sometimes unintentional ideas become viral, like with the straight razor scene featured in the movie “Skyfall”. Since its release, straight razor sales have gone through the roof by as much as 405%! As a social media marketer, you must be ready to latch and take advantage of any ideas that have the potential of going viral. That means you must stay connected, jacked in, and ready to go. Looks like there’s no time for rest when it comes to social media. Or maybe that’s just an excuse to surf just a while longer :).

Click here for Buzzword #2: Organic