I recently spent time with a Boston University (BU) PR class of 20 or so students to discuss the profession they are likely to enter. It's enriching to speak to any students about their lives and the perceptions they have about the working world, but this visit was even more interesting because the class focused specifically on new media.
Though we might think the next generation of employees is hyper-technological, consisting of young adults who create Facebook applications in their spare time, the reality is they are all having the same social-media discussions that take place in your organizations. Like any firm or corporation, there were gurus, new media cynics, and those uncertain of where they stood.
Above all, the students' questions seemed to follow a singular theme - curiosity regarding the expectations of their future employers. I posed that very question to the group of experts attending our digital roundtable (to be published in our next issue).
One responded: "If you need to explain to someone applying for a job [whether they are senior or junior] what Twitter is or how to blog, we're not going to hire you for any division."
That is frightening stuff for any prospective candidate. This is what I tried to impress upon the class - that the industry expects prospective employees to have competencies in all technologies affecting the media shift, whether or not they are active users. For some, it will be easy. For others, it will require some work.
Another panelist at the digital roundtable gave an example of the former. When the panelist asked this new hire - based on her grasp of Twitter and Facebook - how she got to be so tech savvy, she said, "That's how people my age live, how we communicate. It's not that I'm tech savvy. It's just what we do."
Contrast that with a student I met at a BU event to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the college's PR master's degree. She said - with an unintended sagacity - "I was Twittering during the panelist discussion, and I was wondering - 'Is anybody listening?'"
These were not the words of someone who felt she was born into social media and immediately knew the value of these tools. She was likely Twittering not because that's "what she does." She was using the tool because people expect it to be "what she does."
The lesson for employers is to make sure your organization incorporates social media skills into any training curriculum. Yes, it's true that the younger generation has grown up with the Internet, used Facebook throughout their college (and maybe high school) experience, and might communicate through text messages more than phone calls. But not all future employees will have the same understanding of how to apply social media to their job. Their attitudes toward - and experiences and comfort with - these tools vary. As such, so should employers' expectations.