Growing up with (and out of) social sites

I may not quite make the cutoff to be considered a digital native, but I do think I’m at least a digital dual-citizen. But one thing’s for sure: I’ve definitely matured alongside social media.

The same way we go through stages in our adolescence (for me, Hot Topic kid, otaku, and band geek were some of the more notable ones), me and my peers have gone through different social network phases. Before MySpace—and before I had any right to be making online profiles, as a poor misguided pre-teen—I was on Bebo. Do you remember Bebo? Yeah, and thankfully neither does anyone else. Because just as people were starting to join, us millennials and MySpace simultaneously hit our growth spurts.

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Trudging towards adulthood, Generation Y has left a trail of abandoned profiles, mirror pictures, ever-changing avatars and friendship stars in its wake. Photos by Gabrielle Nygaard

It’s fascinating how readily MySpace was absorbed into our middle/high school lives. It seemed completely natural to make angsty bulletins, painstakingly pick our top 8 friends and obsessively search for the perfect display picture. It was overly dramatic, it was tacky, and it was just right for a 14-year-old.

Then, as graduation and college neared, came Facebook. The timing here was also fortuitous, as we were ready to mature and let go of the sparkly gif-ed out pages that defined us as young teens and migrate to more mature profiles and identities. Facebook was more streamlined, and proved a better way to manage our increasingly complex lives.

Twitter wasn’t so lucky with my classmates at first. Many, myself initially included, perceived it as the unwanted tag-along of Facebook. We complained,  “It’s just Facebook with only status updates, how dumb. Who would want to do that?” Well, me, it turned out. At first I resisted, but once I caved in and joined, I quickly had hundreds of tweets, and eventually multiple accounts. Needless to say, I now compose tweets for internship credit.

These days, I’m hunkered down hoping Pinterest blows over (I’m afraid I missed the boat with that one) and anxiously waiting to come into LinkedIn maturity. As my fellow intern noted, it seems that older people “get” LinkedIn while we struggle to transition into it, despite our Facebook prowess. We only hope this doesn’t foreshadow rough seas in our passage from college students to full-fledged adults.

Many of the takeaways I’ve gleaned as I stumble towards social media adulthood strike me as relevant to the PR profession I wish to pursue. Among them, I’ve learned:

  • There’s a time and a place for each social platform. Certain content is appropriate for one site but not another (sorry, but nobody wants to read a tweet about what color shirt you’re wearing, and you’ll cause many a facepalm if you use hashtags on Facebook). Choose platforms purposefully, and cater content and form to fit.
  • Less can be more. Trying to maintain a presence on every social site will spread you thin and eat up your time.
  • But don’t get complacent. Adaptability is everything. If you’re stubborn, you’ll be left irrelevant and alone on Bebo.
  • Tie up loose ends. An out of date social presence is more harmful than helpful (you can bet I’ve done my utmost to hide my embarrassing pubescent profiles).

P.S. MySpace: Please stop trying to make a comeback. You’re embarrassing us.

We’re looking at you, Justin Timberlake.

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