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Social Media (Social Media… Social Media… Social Media… Social Media…) September 26, 2006

Posted by James Warren in pr, social media.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with 20 young PR graduates to talk about social networks, consumer-generated media and its implications for the future of our industry.  I was really looking forward to it, as I hoped I might actually learn a lot from this fresh-from-university crowd about how they and their peers are using social media to connect and ‘play’.  But when I asked how many of them visited MySpace regularly, no hands went up.  I asked them whether they used any other social networking sites – one or two had used Facebook.  Okay, so surely you’ve all got blogs, right?  One hand went up – and his was in development.  Visit blogs regularly?  A couple, one of whom had spent a lot of time in the US.

I admit it, I was shocked.  Fortunately they were an enthusiastic crowd and I soon had them quivering with anticipation at the opportunities available to PR within Social Media.  But it raised the question – is all this digital-native-super-public-youth-obsession hype just hot air?  Are we stuck at the heart of a social media echo chamber?  Are the stats wrong?  Or was this not a truly representative sample of the UK population?  I’d love to hear what people think.  I’m going to do some vaguely official research of my own to try and discover the extent to which social media *really* has infiltrated UK society, and youngsters in particular.  I’ll come back to you.



1. Tina - September 26, 2006

James: I meet regularly with a group of young (mostly American) PR people about social media issues. I am an old-timer and get really excited about the possibilities of CGM and the new media tools & technologies. I truly believe they are changing our profession as we speak.

So, I asked (and still ask hoping the answer will change dramatically) the same question you have: Who places videos on YouTube? Who visits Second Life? Do you have a MySpace page? Etc, etc.

Pretty much all the time, I get the same answer you did. Yeah, visit MySpace once in a while, just watch YouTube videos never placed on myself, no, don’t have a blog, etc.

So, first of all, I don’t think it’s a UK issue. Second, it’s like with many new movements. You need some of the old(er) practitioners to embrace change. The young & the wild generation know how to use these new technologies intuitively and we don’t. So they’ve got a big advantage (and some are truly enthusiastic about it) but they don’t make so much fuzz about it (’cause it’s not that new for them). I think the combination of Generation Y and BabyBoomers make an explosive PR cocktail.

Continue to infect the young crowd with your enthusiasm and they’ll catch fire and implement social media in ways you might have never dreamt of.

2. Stephen Davies - September 28, 2006

As a recent graduate myself I found it totally the opposite at uni. Everyone had a Bebo page… well not everyone but you get the idea. A lot had MySpace pages and , even though we had every national newspaper delivered daily, most read their news online.

Maybe it’s just the Web Shand grads? 🙂 Just kidding.

Thanks for raising it though.

3. jameswarren - September 28, 2006

Tina – thank you. Your comment seems to be in line with what others are telling me. It’s strange – maybe we’re not looking in the right places (in that those youngsters determined to forge a career in PR are more focused on the traditional media, because that is currently how they are measured/rewarded – LEWIS PR recently highlighted the paucity of focus afforded online media/PR by UK university PR courses)…? I look forward to sharing my findings with you.

Stephen – thank you too. Perhaps you (and your erstwhile peers) are the exceptions that prove the rule… Either way, it’s good to know there are at least some of you out there! And by the way, who said they were WS grads 😉 ?

4. Anon - October 4, 2006

Working in the industry it is hard to ignore the opportunities to be had through social networking sites like MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Second Life and YouTube, but do they really show the results your client wants and do enough people within the PR industry really understand how it all works? Social networking sites are now being used more by brands to tap into communities, you only have to see what Lynx recently did on MySpace and what Adidas did in the US on Second Life, but this is all still very much in its infancy. I just wander though like yourselves whether this is a form of communication that we have started to embrace in the UK and whether PR’s really know how to use social networking sites as a communication tool. I think that there are a handful out there that like to think they really get it (and by no means do I think that I do), but in all honesty they don’t have a clue. Communicating with people through this kind of medium is very different to communicating with people through traditional forms of media. Could it be a reluctance from PR’s to try to get their clients to go down this route when they won’t see any immediate return on investment? Probably, but then that’s why we’re called consultants and that’s why we should be in a position to give them the rationale to do things like this – I do feel there is enough people using these sites to communicate with… i just don’t think there are enough PR’s that really get it…..

5. Ged - October 4, 2006

James, I guess a lot of it depends on how they look at computing. For many students the computer equals work rather than leisure. Also a modern student with no grant, fees and living expenses may be time poor as well as cash poor.

Secondly, since they are consumers as well as professionals it would have been interesting what would have enticed them to use these social networking sites even more.

Best regards,


6. Anon - October 6, 2006

To add further comment to this an interesting article has appeared on Media Guardian today http://media.guardian.co.uk/newmedia/story/0,,1889352,00.html discussing the fact that teenagers are turning away from MySpace as over 35’s now account for over half the visitor traffic to the site.

The research does say that as the social networking site has become more mainstream the demographic composition was likely to change. Call me synical, but maybe it is the sudden rush of senior execs jumping on the social networking bandwagon that has caused this change in demographics….!

7. doctordi - October 10, 2006

James (hi, I’m a mate of Rubes’ in Sydney), I researched MySpace Australia for a story a few months ago, and I suggest you drop to pre-university teens to find your groundswell. Certainly the 16-17 year olds I spoke to were highly adept, regular users with their own often very sophisticated profiles. According to my interview subjects, MySpace is one of the chief social diary vehicles in their lives.

I found the whole thing riveting, not least because they are so utterly savvy about creating their own mini-celebrity through the site. I spoke to two 17 year old jaded super-glamours who get mail from younger girls saying “I love you hair, I’m taking a download of your hair to get it done just like that,” and both of them have been recognised and approached whilst they’ve been out in clubs around Sydney on weekends. “Oh my god, aren’t you Jackie from MySpace?” – seriously. There’s somethin’ happenin’ here…

8. Carsten Marmulla - October 10, 2006

Well, that’s not very surprising to me. Based in Germany you would nearly get exact the same result. The thing is that you have the wrong people! I guess they’re too old to see any use in MySpace anymore, that’s focussing the 11-16 y.o.; facebook is strong in the US, but nearly unknown in Europe. What’s big in Germany is openBC, but that’s more business focussed, but starts to get attractive to students, too. YouTube is much wider known and used, but surely more on the passive side – as consumer and not as content-producer.

You must remember, there’s quite a culture shock going on, for decades people were used to consume – products, services, media. The development from couch potato to (relevant) content generator needs time – and some technical background. Today it’s a lot easier to start a blog that it was some years ago to put your own homepage together.

Don’t worry, maybe your graduates haven’t had the time or knowledge of what’s going on nowadays. But as soon as they’re getting interested in social media/networks, they won’t stop using them so soon. You simply haven’t found the early adaptors…

9. Jeremy Pepper - December 31, 2006

It could just be the UK, but the varying degrees of knowledge in the States depends on the person’s desire to learn about new tools and trends, and how smart the school programming is to showcase the new tools and trends.

But most of the students I deal with are either on MySpace or Facebook, at the least.

10. Nguyen Thu An Ha - April 24, 2007

Hi James,

As a postgrad student at Stirling Uni doing MSC in Public Relation, it’s part of our course work to engage in social media. Although our number is small, 7, out of 16 tok the tech module, we are learning and using all the tools you mentioned. Certainly the extend to which students use what form of social media is different and the benefit of each tool for individual is also varied. I personally use yahoo360, myspace, secondlife, twitter, bebo, tagged, blogs yet with a purpose of communication with friends and family who are overseas. It would be interesting to see a research among PR students although i doubt you would see anything interesting there. Maybe undergraduates will tend to adopt the technology quicker than graduates…late adopters perhaps. Communication technologies really only have meanings to those who think it’s useful and perhaps there are some resistance, or fear of the unknown, I truly don’t know. But im glad to be learning and using this. I think all of us are….
This is our uni blog, mostly for postgrad
This is my:

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