You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. But can you teach the puppies?

I spent a few days of my COM 107 class talking to my students about social media. My point was to help them see the light and encourage them to get involved in the social media space because, let’s face it, we’re not ahead of the curve anymore.

To illustrate, Mashable and TechCrunch are mashing and crunching up dozens of new blog posts on a daily basis, which — correct me if I’m wrong — means we are all technically dropping the ball and having to pick it back up constantly.I was very concerned to learn about the social media usage habits of my classes of 48 (total) 18 – 20 year olds. Their use of social media is limited to sites like Facebook where they post on friends’ walls, update their status and, most recently, become virtual farmers of pink cows that I believe, when processed and canned, make spam. They have heard about Twitter but have no clue or interest in “knowing what people have for breakfast” (sigh). Of course, they know all about YouTube and how hilarious it is. A few of them have heard of Flickr. None of them had heard about LinkedIn… Honestly, none of this should have come as a surprise after I asked who had an email account outside of their university account and only 7 out of 48 students raised their hands. Needless to say, all of them were simply AMAZED when I showed them the Conversation Prism.

My concern is that my students are caught in a sort of social media limbo. While they are worried about turning in papers, attendance policies, homework and exams the world outside of the university microcosm is rapidly changing. The problem is that those of us “out there” are also learning. This is where initiatives like the Social Media Club‘s “ad-hoc” Education committee (#SMCEDU) are very commendable. They are getting educators together to talk about introducing social media curricula at higher education institutions so that students — not all necessarily majoring in communication, public relations, journalisms, etc. — can catch up. However, while we might be able to institutionalize and pass on our knowledge about social media to future students (those who are currently in their teenage years or just about to start college) … what happens to those in school now?

In his post, “Revealing the people defining social networks” Brian Solis indicated that the 18 – 24 year old demographic comprises the smallest percentage pretty much all across the board. Not good.Firs-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors of the world. I urge you to get a clue. It doesn’t matter what your major is, social media WILL affect your life WAY beyond Facebook. Don’t be surprised that your parents are on Facebook either, be surprised (and very concerned) with the fact that they might be BETTER at Facebook than you. A few more suggestions:

  • Get a Gmail account and start using Google. You can forward your university email there so that you can check everything from one place. Once you are on there learn to love: Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader and make sure you fill out your Google Profile
  • Get smart about your Facebook privacy settings. You don’t want to be the kid who doesn’t get hired for an internship because your Facebook pictures gave a bad impression of who you really are
  • Get an internship, or several! (I know, not social media-related but important nevertheless)
  • Hop on Twitter and realize that it is not all babble
  • Figure out what RSS means and use Google Reader to subscribe to blogs that interest you for fun, subscribe to at least a couple of others that post useful news information on a regular basis, and get comfortable with the idea that you will be a student for the rest of your life — the learning process never stops
  • Create a profile on LinkedIn and start building your resume there. You may not use it as often as other networks but it will come in handy at some point
  • After the “magic three” – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – you should take some time to see what else is out there and then make the most of all of this by synchronizing your life. For example, if you like photography, upload your pictures to Flickr and synchronize your account so that it will publish on your Facebook wall and send a tweet with a link to your Twitter account. Who doesn’t love more exposure?

I’m sorry if this sounds like homework and I’m sorry if it was an overwhelming post that I had to get off my chest. I promise that once you get to know the social media space for all the great things that it is you will actually think it’s fun.Teachers, parents… encourage your students and kids to get our there. Heck, teach us the way… you are the fastest-growing demographic here after all.Everyone else, sorry if I just beat a dead horse to the ground, however, it might help you to know that this is still a pervasive issue among the group of people you will very soon be hiring from.

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