5 Things My Teenager Taught Me About Business: Confessions of a Social Media Wannabe

Let me start this post by making two social media confessions:

1. I am a brand manager who hates using social media (for anyone who is following me on twitter @catherinepate this will become plainly obvious by my pitiful tweet count—I have NO social capital). I am no social media expert, and I have fallen off the wagon more than once. But I do recognize the value and, when appropriate I counsel my clients in its use. I have even been known to speak on the subject. I just don’t think everyone has to use everything social and some people just shouldn’t go there at all.

2. I hate articles with titles that start with “5 Things…” It’s like we seriously think everything (our health, relationships, finances, business and even our sex lives) can be boiled down to 5 things we’re supposed to know or supposed to do in order to be successful.

Having said all that, I have been thinking about who the real social media experts are and quite frankly, the first person that came to my mind was my sixteen-year-old daughter. I then began to wonder what key insights the way she interacts with social media might offer me as a small business owner, and it turn, my clients. So, here’s what I’ve observed from my resident expert.

1. Accept Everyone

My teen and her friends are indiscriminate about who they will “friend.” They are so indiscriminate, in fact, that I am not only “friends” with my daughter I am also “friends” with a good handful of her friends. As a Facebook mother I have access to more details about my daughter’s life (most of it centred around song lyrics she likes and funny things she and her friends have found on YouTube, mind you) than my mother would ever have dreamed of knowing about me. While I carefully screen my friend requests and limit access to my little world to only those I know and, quite frankly, like (144 friends and counting) my daughter is racking up friends like some people rack up Tim’s takeout cups (405 to date). She doesn’t care who sees that she and Rilee are going for Thai food on Wednesday or her inside joke dialogues with Krista. Ultimately, she feels she has nothing to hide. She also loves stalking people she barely knows and reading about their summer vacation or how their team did in the finals. She particularly loves to look at their photos.

The take-away

Businesses are finally starting to catch up to the idea that they too should have nothing to hide. Customers want to know who’s behind the brand and have some sense that there are real people back there, cracking jokes over the water cooler and going home to stalk their kids on Facebook. The other advantage to casting as wide a social net as possible is that businesses that do this (via LinkedIn and Twitter for example) gain valuable access to potential customers/clients, business partners or brand advocates (people who will say nice things about them). So, we’re all going to have to loosen up a bit, starting with me. This afternoon I’m going to tackle the requests sitting in my inboxes and my new response is going to be “Yes” I will connect with you. “Yes” I will be your friend. “Yes” I will follow you on Twitter. “Yes” “Yes” “Yes”… And then I’m going to clean-up the mess on my page floor before all of my new friends see it.

2. Stalk your friends…and your enemies

Stalking other people seems to be the primary activity of the social circle my teen runs in. They will spend countless hours together at our house huddled around my daughter’s laptop pouring over other people’s photo albums and “tagging” and “poking” them. They stalk their good friend and their not-so-good friends. This is where parents get concerned (rightfully) about bullying. With that kind of access to the life of someone you may recently have had a falling out with, you can do a lot of damage. I’ve seen some pretty destructive conversation threads (thankfully none my daughter participated in). But, with all of this profile stalking my daughter is pretty up on what people are saying about her. If there were bad things out there it wouldn’t take her long to find it.

The take-away

In business we have to devote time and energy to putting our ear to the ground—or in this case our ear to the web. This is where we are going to hear what people are saying about our brand, our industry and even where they think we should be heading next. Spending time surfing the social net should not only be acceptable behaviour at work, but employees should be expected to spend some portion of each of their day doing just that; looking and listening to what people are saying about their brand. I have recommitted myself to spending an hour a day surfing the net, reading about my industry as well as my other passions —who knows what or who I might find out there.

3. Live on YouTube

A good 2/3 of my daughter’s time on the net is spent on YouTube. She and her friends can find the most incredibly obscure videos (like the Vietnamese boy who posts videos of himself singing Lady Gaga songs). YouTube is where she goes for makeup and hair advice from peers. It’s where she goes to see recent episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance” and it’s where she goes to watch music videos of the newest boy band she’s in love with. One of my daughter’s friends is a YouTube diva. She’s been posting videos of herself doing everything including her Mennonite version of rapping (not pretty) since YouTube began. For these kids YouTube is where they go to participate in their culture in an up-to
-the-minute exchange—-to create culture. They are forming and being formed there.

The take-away

Smart businesses are recognizing that if they want to be a part of creating culture they too need to live on YouTube. Videos are a great way to tell your story, whether it’s about the efforts your company is making to help stop the spread of AIDS or to launch a new product, YouTube is where ideas are shared, voices are heard and movements are started. Not to mention, there is just some funny stuff out there. So instead of sending out Christmas cards this year post a video of your staff Christmas greeting or create a 3 minute social commentary piece that has nothing to do with what you sell, but says something about what you believe in.

4. Use multiple windows

It drives me crazy when I go to shut down my daughter’s computer (because she never does) and find I have to close literally up to twelve browser windows before I can shut down the system. I guess she doesn’t believe in bookmarks. Every brand page she associates with is open and waiting for her to return to tell her what’s hot today and what she just must have. The thought of not being in multiple places (chatting with 8 friends of Facebook, reviewing the latest trending YouTube video, getting makeup advice from the fourteen-year-old now sponsored by MAC, while simultaneously watching the new Justin Bieber video and shopping for shoes) is incomprehensible to her. Why would you limit yourself to 1 window when you can open twelve?

The take-away

Smart businesses know that my teenager is out there with a million different windows open and they better find some new windows to open too if they want to reach her. There is no longer 1 place to meet your potential customer and there is definitely not just one way to communicate with them. The good news is there are a lot more windows to try than there used to be. Social media is but one.

5. Post regularly (Do as I say here, not as I do)

My daughter updates her Facebook status at least four times a day. When she isn’t letting the world know she’s listening to Mozart while she’s studying she posting on someone else’s wall about what they’re listening to. She is constantly communicating. She is regularly participating in multiple conversations on and offline (how she manages 5 text conversations and 6 Facebook chats at one time I have no idea).

The take-away

I am terrible at this. I have a writing background and even I can’t be bothered to tweet more than about once a week or blog even as often as I change my furnace filter. I read what other people write, but almost never chime in. I could delude myself into thinking that the world doesn’t forget about me between tweets and that the throngs are just waiting for my long awaited next post, in much the same way his fans wait for Prince to drop a new album. But, alas I’m afraid that is not the case. The throngs are out there reading the tweets and blogs of other companies who bother to take the time to engage them. Two friends told me just yesterday that they both buy a particular brand of sugar simply because that company is so “nice” on Facebook. Really?… Really.
So, I’m getting back on the wagon. I’m going to turn my attention away from stalking my daughter and her friends for a while and see what everyone else is doing out there. Maybe I’ll see you around.

One response to “5 Things My Teenager Taught Me About Business: Confessions of a Social Media Wannabe”

  1. Earl Savage
    Earl Savage
    June 11, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    The kids have much to teach us about business and life, if we’ll only stop, look and listen!

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