Today’s college students are digital natives. An 18-year-old entering her college freshman year this fall was around six years old when Facebook was released and around eight years old when the world met Twitter. Because college students can barely remember a time before social media, many are beaming with confidence about their social media savvy. But comfort and confidence with social media alone doesn’t make one ready to handle a brand’s Snapchat account.
Indeed, the digital native as social media expert fallacy is real. Just ask the interns so often blamed for social media gaffes.
In a recent study I co-authored with Emily Kinsky, Karen Freberg, Carolyn Kim, and William Ward, students completed Hootsuite Academy training as part of a social media class at one of five universities.
At the start of the semester, and prior to taking the training, we asked students “What is your comfort level on social media?”
We asked that same question after the students finished most or all of the course and had earned Hootsuite Certification.
While the average score went up a little, some students were more confident at the start of the semester than after taking the course and completing the certification.
It appears these students were facing somewhat of a social media paradox. Despite being digital natives, it seems some students may have been uncomfortable in the realization of how much they didn’t know.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A false sense of confidence does no one any good. What I’m sure most employers would say they want are social media workers who are confident because they have gained the appropriate education and preparation.
And the only way we prepare students to become truly confident leaders in the social media profession is by committing to social media as part of the curriculum.
In fact, what we found for many participants in our study is that the social media education experience gave them specific reasons to be confident. In talking to students following completion of most or all of the course and after they had earned their Hootsuite Certification, many reported how their experience boosted their understanding of the professional application of social media tools, concepts, and strategies. This knowledge helped empower the students to be leaders in their jobs and internships.
That type of confidence, when coupled with education and preparation, can produce results that benefit the student and the employer.
For example, student Gisselle Kohoyda, who worked as a social media coordinator at SwimSam, told us: “Most people are afraid to pass off such a large portion of their company to a 23-year-old kid with an Instagram account, but after I elaborated my formal training and my experience, they are almost relieved to be passing off a piece of their business, especially to someone who actually knows what they are doing and has a very concise plan on scheduling that will benefit them.”
Another student, Nicole Gabriel, told us that before she joined the nonprofit she’s working at, there was no cohesive approach to posting to the organization’s Facebook and Twitter feed. This, she said, resulted in “a confusing wall and news feed that didn’t mesh well together.”
As a result of her education and training, she was able to shift social media management to Hootsuite to produce a more effective social media posting schedule.
This is the type of confidence we want our students to gain—confidence that comes from education, training, and experience.
Yes, our students are digital natives. But, for those of us teaching in communication and related fields, we can’t take that fact for granted by failing to make social media education a robust part of the curriculum. When it comes to the professional use of social media, today’s college students still have a lot to learn.
With the right education and training, digital natives can become true social media experts.
Add social media education into your classroom—with resources that have helped almost 40,000 higher education students gain industry-leading digital skills.