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Young People Not Quite Ready for Twitter Primetime - 7/10/2012 -

Association communications professionals need to be ready to help the younger generation transition from social media for fun to social media for business.

By Cecily Walters

Many of us in today’s workforce use Twitter professionally, either as part of our job responsibilities or to stay attuned to the latest trends and conversation topics in our respective industries (or perhaps, a combination of both). But what about members of the younger generation? Do they seem to have an understanding of Twitter and the role it can play for them professionally? (Editor's note: Join the conversation on this topic at Association Media & Publishing's blog, blurb.)

To find out, I talked to a couple of professionals who have experience with leveraging social media. Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, who shared an interesting and timely Los Angeles Times article, notes that she had observed at one point that Twitter was skewing toward older users. Now, though, that’s starting to shift, she says. (Research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project from 2011 indicates that 13 percent of online adults use Twitter, with 18 percent of online users ages 18-29 identifying themselves as Twitter users.)

But with the increase in younger people using Twitter comes some careless behavior at times, McGary points out. Her experience tells her that, in line with the Los Angles Times article findings, today’s high schoolers seem to be migrating away from Facebook and toward Twitter and Tumblr. Many of them, however, "have no concept of privacy,” she notes. "They are used to the relative safety/closed nature of Facebook and don’t seem to realize Twitter is public.”

Down the road, McGary believes that those young people using Twitter for this purpose today "will have a hard time transitioning to using any social networking platform for business because they’re used to using it in a purely social, very filter-free context…I think it will be a challenge for them to clean up their social profiles when they transition to being business people.”

With the tendency of many young users to publicly overshare on Twitter, should today’s association industry be concerned? McGary acknowledges that while many associations often at least recognize that social media is here to stay, they are not leveraging social media as effectively and strategically as they could. Given this, she explains, "I wouldn’t say that in the next three to five years, social media savvy will become an essential association staffer skill. I do think social media and community careers are very hot now—in the for-profit and start-up sectors—and that those careers could be attractive to new grads, but in the association world, I think those new grads would quickly become frustrated at the lack of social culture at most associations and would quickly get burnt out of those jobs.”

Looking at another layer of the onion that is the younger generation and social media usage, McGary feels that while an association should understand how to leverage Twitter as an association, Twitter "may well become less effective as a business tool” in the next several years, as she views it as "turning into more of a celebrity and social platform.” As a result, she concludes, the younger generation may be less likely to view Twitter as a professional tool because of how they are currently using the service.

What should associations who will be hiring today’s younger generation do to ensure that they are bringing in effective social media staffers? McGary says that if associations take up the challenge of developing successful current social business cultures and practices, "in a few years’ time, they’ll recognize that a good social media hire is not just a new grad who’s used Twitter if all the person has used Twitter for is profane tweets and posting photos of their tattoos. Associations should be in a position to help these people transition from using social media for purely social reasons to using it professionally.”

From a slightly different perspective, Melissa Feuer, director of career services for the College of Professional Studies at The George Washington University, evaluates Twitter and other social media sites from a networking angle. She notes that the students she works with tend to be older than the traditional college-age student, as often they are pursuing master’s degrees and/or have been in the workforce for a while. While Feuer says that "very few of my students and alums seem to be on Twitter,” those who are generally use it to promote their own businesses or blogs.

Feuer has suggested to many of her students that they explore using Twitter. "Some think of it as a nuisance,” she reports, "but others seem receptive to the idea of following people or organizations in the field they want to enter. I recommend that rather than focusing on what they will ‘tweet.’”

Because Feuer does not believe that "the job market will improve so much that people can just hop on a job site, find a position and apply and get it,” she anticipates that networking will continue to be vital. Accordingly, she says, candidates can use Twitter as one tool to find people with whom to network. Feuer also strongly encourages her students and alums to participate actively on LinkedIn.

So, how does a young Twitter user get from point A—perhaps posting at times inappropriate, overshared content, as cited by McGary—to point B—posting valuable and relevant professional content, as described by Feuer? For some, this shift may occur naturally, as they move from having a greater number of casual interactions to having a greater number of professional ones and conducting themselves in a business context. For others, the transition may be a bumpier one if they do not either consciously or subconsciously draw a distinction between their work and non-work selves.

Whether it’s an easy transition or a difficult one, Feuer feels that it’s one that the new generation of professionals will have to make. Most likely, employers will continue to search for candidates’ online presence and may come across their Twitter profiles. "Having a Twitter presence, following good people and companies in the industry, and tweeting useful information [are] all good signs for a potential employer to see,” notes Feuer.


Cecily Walters is assistant editor for the School Nutrition Association’s School Nutrition magazine. She is a member of Association Media & Publishing’s Content Creation Committee.


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