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.

  • Mike Schaffer

    Interesting post, Ben.

    As a Director of Social Media for a PR agency, I want to echo the sentiments of Lauren, Kasey, Rachel and other commenters.

    Social Media is not the “new kid on the block” job. It is a critical part of branding, with direct access from company to consumer. To rely solely on new hires to moderate this increasingly important segment does a disservice to everyone.

    Much to Rachel’s point, a social media presence is entirely personal, so having someone else run it for you completely ruins the purpose of it.

    When I started working in PR several years ago, I was right out of college and my company knew I would only get better. So they staffed me on smaller clients so I could learn to interact with them on a low-risk level while still giving me valuable experience. After a year or so, I was able to run with the biggest clients our company had.

    That first year accelerated my development and was much more productive for me, my company and clients than carrying a latte. I hope that you give your younger employees a similar jump start that will help them help you as soon as possible.

  • bgarrett

    I’m very happy to have so many comments in a short time and glad the posting stirred some debate. The intent was to create some interest in the presentation I’m doing for the New Professionals Group coming up in Atlanta. Hopefully the discussion will be just as lively!

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  • Beth Harte


    Wow. Just wow! You have just solidified exactly what social media IS NOT with one comment. All of these people took time and effort to communicate with you and you blow them off with a self-promotion comment? Wow!

    Oh, wait… you’ve deleted the comment! Don’t you know that’s a social media don’t?? Come on.

    Have you checked Twitter? You AND the PRSA are getting a lot of negative publicity because of your post. People have stated they will NOT be attending because of what you wrote here. Now THAT is how social media works.

    For any PR professional reading this and making it to the comments please take the time to learn what social media is and how it is fundamentally changing your industry (and it’s not what’s written here).

    I won’t regurgitate what smart folks like Lauren, Rachel, Sasha and Kasey have pointed out with what is fundamentally wrong with your post. But I will say that I truly hope you are not presenting “this” as social media at your conference because it’s way off base.

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs

  • blockgreg

    As several others have posted above, I am really having a problem with some of the statements in this blog. I am the Director of Media Relations and New Media for a very large university. And I am the lead “social networker.” My staff takes its social networking cues from me. I can’t imagine having an intern post things for me or “building my profile” in my stead. Those who do not participate in social media, can not in any way lead programs that incorporate it. It is a tool and an audience that needs to be understood just like an email campaign or a media tour. If I were a client looking for advice and direction about just how to use social media in my outreach, I would want to be certain the primary strategists working on my account were the experts, not new professionals. To me, that’s just lazy.

    Certainly there is something to be said for young professionals understanding social media and what’s “hot.” But just because something is hot doesn’t make it the appropriate venue for a particular organization’s message.

    Greg Block
    @blockgreg, @SDSU_NewsTeam

  • Shonali Burke, ABC

    First of all, I want to be clear that I have worked with Ben and he did a dynamite job on a multimedia project for me at my last job.

    Having said that: Dear Ben – seriously. I mean, SERIOUSLY.

    If all that recent grads/interns are good for are projects that “capture their attention,” that doesn’t speak much for their commitment to the field, does it? Many of the young professional I’ve been privileged to come into contact with don’t just want to do “cool” projects, they are intent on learning and honing the craft, willing to do the often tedious tasks that go along with paying their dues, and understanding the difference between, and progressing from, tactics to strategy. They are also generous of their own passions and expertise and when “senior” staff are willing to learn from them, it makes for a great two-way street. Can we please not place limitations on what younger professionals can or cannot do? Just as we should stop assuming everyone who has actually used a typewriter is a dinosaur?

    And, every time I hear a “senior” professional say, “if you want to get your SM program started, get someone out of college,” it drives me crazy and makes me think they have absolutely NO clue what strategic communication is about.

    Why WOULDN’T you want them speaking to clients, “let alone produce messaging?” If you’re training them right, isn’t that the best test of all? Sure, don’t throw them in the deep end, but teach ‘em to fish, etc. etc. But if you wouldn’t want them producing messaging, why is it ok (according to your post) to let ‘em try out “different messaging and programs” in the online space? Isn’t the underlying assumption of that statement that the online space just isn’t that important to you?

    Come on, Ben. You know and can do better.

  • ayann

    I’d like to jump in with PRSA’s perspective, if I might.

    We regularly invite our members to write posts for the ComPRehension blog that speak to areas in which they are passionate and involved. Ben Garrett is a valued member. We appreciate his involvement in our organization, and we respect that he took the time to offer his opinions on our blog as a way to drum up interest in a Young Professionals event in Atlanta later this month.

    I don’t agree with everything he said, and I would have expressed some of his thoughts differently. Ultimately, I believe he’s making three points. First, reverse mentoring can be valuable. Digital natives are familiar with the tools and comfortable with the technology. Learn what you can from them, as they learn what they should from you. Second, young professionals want real responsibility. Give it to them in a way leverages their strengths, acknowledges your weaknesses and helps them grow professionally. Finally, match job responsibilities to an employee’s skill set.

    As an organization that advocates the free flow of information and listening to all the many different voices in the “marketplace of ideas,” censoring blog posts is an untenable position for us, especially when it comes to those that express our member’s opinions. Is Ben right or is he wrong? There have been opinion’s expressed on both sides of the issue.

    I also don’t think that the Twittersphere’s derision cast at PRSA as an organization, as a result of our posting one member’s opinions, is fair, accurate nor justified. Few organizations are attempting to do as much instruction in the social media space as PRSA is, and we’ve engaged several, well-respected thought leaders in the space to assist us. Not everyone will agree with everything they say every time.

    PRSA understands the strategic nature of social media and believes it is definitely one of the tools our professionals are using day in and day out. Could this blog post of done a better job of presenting the issues with a broader perspective that invited dialogue on an appropriate role for new professionals in an organization’s social media efforts. Absolutely.

    If you feel like you can help us improve, our requests for speakers and contributors are widely publicized. Consider this your open invitation.

    Arthur Yann is vice president of public relations for PRSA.

  • Mike Schaffer

    Hi, Arthur–

    I have no problem with respectful disagreement. All of us have differing opinions, which helps us learn and grow as professionals. I don’t have any animosity at all towards PRSA, and I would hope that most people can separate one person from an organization.

    You mentioned the goal of creating dialogue. The commenters tried very hard to do just that.

    As someone who commented on this post, and as a blog writer, I make a point of responding to comments.

    The writer posted a quick comment promoting his upcoming speaking engagement, and brushing off the respectful questions and criticisms–and support, too. That comment quickly disappeared.

    We read his argument and responded with thoughtful replies.

    I truly hope he thinks about and responds to his readers on a post he identified as controversial, before his comment was erased.

    Thank you for your response…I know I appreciated it!

  • Beth Harte


    Thank you for taking the time to comment. As a long-time member, I am glad to see that the PRSA is moving toward educating members in the strategic nature of social media as well as the wonderful opportunities it presents to organizations to have meaningful, authentic, transparent, and two-way relationships with their constituents.

    I am also glad that you (hopefully) monitor social networking sites for conversations like the one we had today regarding Ben’s post, the PRSA and social media — doing so is an integral part of social media.

    The one thing I am concerned about however is the fact that Ben brushed everyone off with a comment that basically said (paraphrased) “I just wanted to promote the event hope we can continue the conversation there.”

    You know as a PR professional that is not an acceptable response to a situation like this. As well Ben deleted the comment, which is not acceptable in the social media space. A lot of us saw it and saw that it was deleted. He may not be the voice of the PRSA, but I think you might want to consider guidelines for your bloggers that include social media etiquette because actions like that do ultimately reflect on the PRSA.


    I am disappointed that you haven’t engaged in the conversation either here or on Twitter yet. I truly believe that the community and PRSA members would have welcomed a conversation and the ability to continue an intellectual dialogue/debate. Your inaction to do so, unfortunately, speaks volumes.

    Trust me when I say we are not a “lynch mob.” We are very passionate about our professions (PR, communications, social media, marketing, etc.) and it comes out in our responses. A lot of the people who commented here and elsewhere are at the forefront of changing our industry and age has nothing to do with it…but passion, hard work, and thought leadership has everything to do with it.

  • Samra Bufkins, MJ, APR

    And as a follow-up to my comment and those posted afterward, let me reiterate that I would not hesitate to hire any of my students for a project. They are smart, eager to learn, fascinated with the craft of public relations, and I know they will be great employees of any firm they join after graduation. No, they’re not SM experts now. Hopefully they’ll be on the path to greater expertise in SM by the end of the semester, but I fear Ben would not hire them because of their youth, and if he did, it would be a crying shame to waste their talents having them fetch lattes and update Facebook profiles.

    When you hire good people you make an investment in your company and in their career. It is your job as a leader to help them find their niche and grow into a top-notch contributor to the firm and the profession of public relations, and that holds true whether you’re hiring a 20-something just out of school or someone in their 30′s, 40′s and beyond.

    And like others I’m very disappointed that Ben hasn’t responded in some meaningful way to the many thoughtful postings here and elsewhere.