Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
September 17, 2009

Status Update: Millennial Staffers Can Update Your Social Media Plans

Recent college graduates and interns may be consigned to carrying lattes and other administrative tasks, but there’s a real opportunity to advance your organization’s value proposition by building on their social media skills.

Millenials grew up in the glow of the computer screen, and have spent a significant portion of their lives socializing on Facebook, Twitter and other new media sites. Senior professionals who (ahem) remember mimeographs and Betamax are probably less savvy in the social media space.

Tapping on these new professionals may seem like a gamble. You don’t want them speaking to clients, let alone producing messaging. However, to increase your organization’s toolbox and capture the attention of younger staffers eager to get ahead, the social media space is an ideal testing ground.

Depending on your confidence in younger staffers, there are a number of ways your organization can tap on their expertise and also teach them about the industry.

A good starting point is to task new professionals with building up senior staffers’ profiles and networks on the organization’s social networking accounts. New professionals can learn who the key players are and what types of business opportunities are currently being sought. Also, they may draw in new leads.

Another online responsibility can be to regularly track your online messaging through sites like and In this way, new professionals can improve your organization’s grasp on target demographics by tracking what is creating hits and what’s falling flat.

Finally, the online space is an excellent opportunity to try out different messaging and programs, like tweetups and viral videos. New professionals can propose programs that are just gaining traction, that you may not have heard of. So always ask them what they’ve heard is the next big thing.

If you have a new professional you’d like to provide professional development in social media programs, please register them for our upcoming seminar and networking event, “Honing Your Social Media Skills While Networking with New Professionals in Atlanta, on September 24 in Atlanta, GA.    

 Ben Garrett, PRSA Health Academy board member and co-chair of the 2009 Health Academy Conference,  is an award-winning health producer with more than 28 years of experience in broadcast public relations, and an innovator in health care communications on the Web. Garrett is currently the executive producer of On the Scene Productions. Connect with Ben on  on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter@bengarrettotsp.

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  • bgarrett

    I appreciate everyone who took the time and effort to respond to my blog. I think it’s important to emphasize that the opinion stated is my own and not PRSA’s. But my thoughts are consistent with a lot of my colleagues. My message to Young Professionals is somewhat different than what I would say to PR veterans, particularly those who precede even Web 1.0. I want them to understand the mindset of what management may be as the embark on their new career (keep in mind New Professionals are those within the first three years of the career). By encouraging them to help boost their managers’ online profiles, they may be helping their new agency be more relevant and visible in social media, thus also improving their value as new employees. It’s hard for senior managers to strike the right tone online (as my own blog bears witness).

  • Bill Sledzik

    Nothing like a good controversy to drive traffic to the blog. I haven’t stopped by here in months, but the tweets made it impossible to ignore.

    As one of the old guys (I’m 55) who is also immersed in social media, I see points on both sides. My views tend to align with Alexa’s. It’s perfectly fine for the millenials to help the older folks understand SM and build on their involvement within it. In fact, graduates of my program, Kent State, have been furthering their careers doing just that.

    There in nothing in the rulebook that says mentoring must come from the top down. As for ghostwriting tweets or conducting conversations on someones behalf — I do have the issues there. But that isn’t what Ben suggested — not even close.

    Ben’s choice of words is unfortunate: “Tapping on these new professionals may seem like a gamble. You don’t want them speaking to clients, let alone producing messaging.” But having been a senior practitioner overseeing new staff, I understood what he meant. You don’t put the newbies out front until they’ve learned the ropes.

    As for having junior staffers schlepping lattes, well, it’s one of those comments that’s sure to piss people off. But again, it’s an unfortunate choice of words that appears condescending.

    I won’t comment on PRSA’s “understanding of social media,” as I don’t pay much attention to it anymore. But PRSA as a whole should not be judged by Ben’s post, unless PRSA is acting as a gatekeeper and editing all posts. I know that’s not the case. Ben’s post is Ben’s viewpoint. (Now, if you want to talk about PRSA 1996-style website, we can chat for hours. It’s awful.)

    So you know, I’m a frequent and outspoken critic of PRSA — a 25-year member, APR and College of Fellows. So from my “lofty” perch, let me suggest you’re making way too much out of one blog post. That said, if PRSA learned a few things from this, then that’s a good thing.

    Have a great weekend. I’m signing off.

  • PodcastSteve

    It continues to disturb and frustrate me that people position themselves as experts in something and completely misunderstand the space in which they claim expertise.

    I am offended by the suggestion that because someone is young they understand “social media” or some other technology better than someone with a few years in the business.

    I’ve had an email address on my business card since 1988.

    Even earlier, in 1977 I was one of two reporters who lugged a 60-pound “portable” computer terminal onto a helicopter to be flown into a Grateful Dead concert where we filed our stories by connecting that terminal to an acoustic modem coupler and then placed the telephone handset into the coupler to do the transmission.

    I also remember mimeographs and Group 1 fax machines that took 6 minutes a page.

    My age doesn’t make me incapable of understanding new communications channels when they come along.

    My 20-something children make fun of me because I use Twitter — they don’t use it at all, and my youngest daughter has very little interest in posting on Facebook.

    And if the author (remember, a self-avowed social media expert) had done a smidgen of research, he would know that the fastest adopting demographic on Facebook for the first nine months of this year was overwhelmingly women over 55.

    So much for the millenials being the key to PR nirvana in the social media, huh?

    People who advocate leaving social media to a particular age group are doing the entire profession a disservice.

    Those of us with gray hair have some experience of value that can be integrated with the enthusiasm that some, but not all, younger practitioners have for these new channels.

    It’s most important to remember that these are just channels of communications, not the be-all and end-all.

    As I’ve said on many social media panels where I’ve appeared — including at the US State Department, which seems to think I’m not too old to help them understand this stuff — I’m anxiously awaiting the day when it will sound as strange for a newscaster to say “Oprah Winfrey used Twitter today,” as it would to say “Oprah Winfrey used the telephone today.”

    Get over the glitz of the tool and get your entire team — of all ages — engaged to figure out how to make it meaningful for your clients!

    Steve Lubetkin, APR, Fellow, PRSA
    @PodcastSteve on Twitter
    Past PRSA National Board Member

  • blockgreg

    Another part of this discussion that people are missing is the fact that the younger generation really isn’t even on Twitter. I actually just did an informal survey of faculty members on our campus who are using social media in the classroom and almost every response I got was something to the effect of “I’ve tried it but the students just aren’t embracing it.” Young pros, new college grads, use these tools for their own personal uses. But they have no idea how to use it to help brand a company, be it a client or their own CEO. They have no idea how it relates to the bigger picture of corporate America.

    And so if you have the head of a PR firm or department who doesn’t engage regularly in social media, and you have young professionals who don’t have any idea as to strategy (not saying they aren’t smart, but strategy takes time and experience to learn) you have a failed social media program.

    Exactly as Steve was alluding to above: We used to use fax machines on a daily basis to communicate with reporters. Now we use Twitter and Facebook. Frankly, it’s every PR person’s responsibility to understand how to use these tools. EVERY PR person. Not just the young folks.

  • Deirdre Breakenridge

    I think it’s refreshing and a step in the right direction to share opinions with other PR professionals, especially considering this is what social media communications is all about — to spark such a dynamic conversation that stems from one blog post. What this tells me…PR people have a passion for this industry and together we will learn a great deal about our profession.

    I am a member of PRSA, I speak at PRSA conferences and I’m working with PRSA on their social media efforts. In my professional experience, PRSA has always been the go-to PR organization that has brought its members together to strive for excellence. The discussion over the post is just one more way that my professional society is hard at work with a membership that truly cares.

    I’m happy to see the conversations, opinions, and passion, which define the essence of the social media landscape. Our conversations should be open and transparent; social media allows our dialogue to reach new levels. I believe everyone involved had some excellent points and commentary that needed to be shared. I see vision and learning, education and the strength of an organization and members who can agree or even agree to disagree. But it’s the engagement that needs to turn into further action. As a blogger, author, PR veteran and 2.0 enthusiast, I say keep the conversations going. Don’t stop here. Use this valuable information for the PRSA organization, its members and all PR professionals to harness the very best in each other and to learn and grow.

  • Shelly Cone/Beach Betty PR

    Ben, I’m just really sorry about this post. Partly because I think I understand what you were trying to say. But also because you were a bit misguided in saying it. I’m in my mid-late 30s, but I have to side with the Millennials in this one. Social media is about just that, being social. If you don’t want your “interns” talking to clients you probably also don’t want them representing your brand online.

    Bottom line, if you want a social media campaign why not hire the most qualified person (millennial or not) and have them teach the senior staffers how to get their own profiles going? Social media requires strategy not just convenience to be successful.

    Shelly Cone

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  • PodcastSteve

    Ben Garrett will be the guest on the next Social Media Hour on BlogTalkRadio, Tuesday, October 6 at 1pm Eastern Time (12 central, 10 Pacific) to discuss this blog post and the conversation around it. Please join us by visiting Social Media Hour is a presentation of the Ad Hocnium social media collaborative partnership, on the web at

    Steve “@PodcastSteve” Lubetkin, APR, Fellow, PRSA

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