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7 Things About Social Media That College Won’t Teach You

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Steve Radick lists “7 Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College,” including: “Social Media” is not a career option, some people just aren’t cut out for social media, you’re always online and everything is public and you’re going to come across a lot of jerks online – don’t be one of them.

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Join Steve Radick and Steve Ressler for their online training session, When a Star Leaves: How to Sustain Social Media Efforts Over the Long Term, on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. Register Now

I talk a lot about the need to do a better job of integrating social media into the world of higher education. That’s why when my alma mater asked me to speak at their annual Communication Week this year, I jumped at the opportunity. Because these students are already learning the basics of social media in their core communication classes, I didn’t want to do yet another Social Media 101 type presentation. Instead, I wanted to help them understand that even though they may learn what Twitter is, how to use it, and some case studies, there’s nothing like doing it in the real world. That’s why I gave a presentation titled “The 7 Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College.”

Here’s the presentation I gave, with the key takeaways below:

1. I am not an audience, a public, a viewer, a demographic or a user – I am an actual PERSON with a VOICE.

Throw out what you learned in Mass Communications 101 and instead focus on what you learned in Human Communications or Interpersonal Communications. You’re better off knowing and understanding the fundamental principles behind communicating with someone face-to-face than trying to replicate the influence that the War of the Worlds broadcast had on the American public. The megaphone approach doesn’t work when everyone has a megaphone. Learn to interact with actual human beings instead of nameless audiences and users.

2. I don’t care how many friends, followers, likes, or blog comments you have

I really don’t, not when anyone can go and game the system by buying thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Whether you have 100 or 10,000 followers is irrelevant to me. I want to know that you’ve at least tried to use Twitter/Facebook/blogs/Foursquare for a purpose other than getting more people at your Edward Forty-hands parties. Having demonstrated social media experience on your resume is great, but not because I care about the numbers, but because it shows me that you’re willing and able to try something new. It shows me you’re willing to take a risk and follow through. So don’t tell me that you have 10,000 Facebook likes, tell me how you used Facebook to increase the donations to a local animal shelter. Using social media in a professional context is hard, especially if you’re not learning it in class. I understand that – that’s why I care more about the effort than the numbers.

3. “Social Media” is not a career option

The New Media Director is just a means to an end
. Sure, there’s lots of demand now, but what happens when social media is no longer the new hot thing? You can’t JUST be a social media specialist. That’s a short-term role, much like the “email consultants” that sprouted up 15 years ago. I always tell people that I’m not a social media consultant – I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media.

4. Some people just aren’t cut out for the job

Not everyone has the personality or interpersonal communications skills
to take full advantage of the full potential of social media. Are you comfortable introducing yourself to new people? Telling someone you really liked their work? Building a relationship with someone without having an ulterior motive? Disagreeing with someone in a very public way without offending them? Knowing how to apologize? Comfortable with having every aspect of your professional life available for public criticism? It takes a special kind of self-confidence and self-awareness to be really good at using social media to effect some sort of impact. I can teach someone how to tweet, but it’s much more difficult to teach someone how to really enjoy getting to know other people.

5. Your innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge ideas aren’t as innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge as you think

Most of corporate America has VERY little knowledge of social media for business purposes, so by simply proposing that you use Twitter as part of your marketing plan during your internship, you may end up becoming THE social media subject matter expert. Here’s a news flash – you’re not.  Senior leadership, your boss, your peers – they may very well start referring to you as a guru, ninja, SME, etc. but just because you know the basics doesn’t mean you’re an expert. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell defines an “Expert” as someone with ten years or 10,000 hours of experience. Twitter just turned five years old. You do the math. You MUST continue to learn, to network, to read, to listen because that’s the only way you’re going to keep up.

6. You’re always on and everything is public

Your day will not end just because it’s 5:00 PM. That picture of you doing bodyshots off that waitress? Your boss, your clients, your peers – assume they’ll all see it. It doesn’t matter that it’s up there on your “personal” account or because it happened while you were on vacation. Your online life is your online life, both professional and personal. Your name and face will be freely available to everyone online – are you comfortable with a client recognizing you at the bar on Saturday night?

7. You’re going to come across a lot of jerks – don’t be one of them

Ever meet someone and the first thing they do is tell you all about how they graduated magna cum laude from Harvard or Yale? Or, they throw around their job title? Or, how much money they have? Or how they’ve got this great idea you have to invest in? Maybe you have a friend who never has money and needs you to spot him when you guys go out?  How about that guy who always seems to have an ulterior motive – he always needs a favor, some money, a ride, a recommendation? Do you LIKE being around them? Do you WANT to do them any favors? You can’t hide anymore – you can’t lie, you can’t be a jerk. People talk….about you, about your work, about how you talk about them.  Everyone is connected – that guy whose blog post you stole last week?  He’s probably in a Facebook group with your client, and guess who’s going to see him complaining about you?

Ultimately though, none of this matters because you’re not going to have a choice. While the tools that we talk about will change over time, the kinds of communication that social media enables isn’t going away. As communications students, you can either start learning about social media now and be a forward-thinker or be forced to learn it later on the job where you’re expected to know it already.

This post previously appeared on Social Media Strategery.

Steve Radick is the Lead Associate with Booz Allen Hamilton‘s digital strategy and social media practice. You can follow him on Twitter at @sradick.

About the author

Steve Radick

Steve Radick is VP, Director of Public Relations and Content Integration at Brunner. Previously, he led the PR team at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago and spent nine years at management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. You can follow him on Twitter at @sradick.


  • This is extremely well written.  It’s all so true as well.  I may have a lot of friends on FB, but that doesn’t mean I know NEARLY or even remotely CLOSE to everything that’s related to social media.  While I am taking a class about social media and gradually learning about many of the different sites that are out there, I do not call myself an expert.  Also, one of the mail things my professor keeps reiterating is the fact that no matter how private you think your settings are, everything is still out there in the open and can be read to everyone.  It’s sad , but true. Things you used to think you could hide from mom and dad, forget about it.  And as for employers, they see everything too.  They actually hire people on to hack into  people’s personal pages and see what they can gather about the candidate before the interview.  Everything is public on the net these days, everyone just needs to be ready. 

    • Once you hit “upload” or “submit,” assume that it already is, or will soon be, publicly available. I’m tired of seeing students complain that an employer saw pics of them doing bodyshots off a drunken stripper and didn’t hire them – that’s not Facebook’s fault or the employer’s fault for doing their research. That’s the student’s fault for uploading that in the first place.  On the other hand, employers are getting a little more permissive when it comes to that stuff – they (we) realize that people have personal lives, they go to bars, they have a few drinks. That’s not the issue – the issue is that it makes the employer wonder, “if this person is so irresponsible that they can’t Google themselves every once in a while to see what’s out there about themselves, how do I trust them with to be able to handle social media for my company?”  

    • I don’t think “social media” should ever be someone’s career – that’s like saying “phones” or “email” are your career.  No, instead, I recommend that you use social media to be the best PR professional or marketer or intelligence analyst or whatever it is that you’re going to do. Social media are the tools someone uses, not a career in of itself. 

  • As for rule number four: ‘Some people just aren’t cut out for the job,’ – even people with superior
    communications skills need to adjust to social media communication. When
    socializing in person, sometimes less is more. But when it comes to social
    media, seems like dominating the conversation is less of a concern. Online, you
    might need to rephrase your words to make sense to more people and be a lot
    more willing to post something you wouldn’t normally announce in public.

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