Advice For Graduating Seniors

I started off this week speaking to Dr. Nora Barnes’ social media marketing class at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. I try to speak to college classes at least four or five times a year, in part to give back something to the next generation and in part to learn more about what’s on their minds.

I always ask them the same question: How many of you subscribe to a daily newspaper? The response from this group was pretty typical: three students out of a class of 34. With that as a backdrop, I talked about the momentous changes going on in marketing and media. Here are some of the things I told them:

  • Much of what you’ve learned about marketing over the last four years will be irrelevant five years from now. The field is changing too quickly. You’ve been learning about how to tell a story and position a brand, but in the future your job will be much more about listening to customers and working collaboratively on brand definition.
  • You should discard much of what your teachers have been telling you about the media. Traditional media is collapsing and what emerges from the rubble will look very different than the institutions we now know.
  • The best skills you can bring into the marketing field today are resourcefulness and curiosity. You must be willing to reinvent your skills constantly because the playing field is in a constant state of turmoil. This is very exciting for you and it’s very scary for the people you will be working for. Be sympathetic, but don’t get stuck doing things the old way.
  • Traditional media was built upon a foundation of inefficiency. The clothing retailer who wanted to reach the .01% of the population who want to buy a wedding gown at any given time has had to pay for the 99.99% who don’t. That’s crazy, but it’s the only way we could get a message across in the past.
  • The worlds of media and marketing are undergoing enormous improvements in efficiency right now. Unfortunately, efficiency is usually painful because it destroys institutions that were built upon inefficiency – institutions like newspapers and magazines. In the end, we’ll be better off, but we’re still in the ugly destruction phase right now.
  • In the last decade, Americans have shifted from browsing to searching for information. This has huge implications for the way decisions of all kinds will be made in the future. Search engine marketing and search engine optimization should be part of any core university marketing curriculum today.
  • The shriveling of traditional media creates new opportunities for organizations — and that includes businesses — to fill the trust gap that’s been left behind. Businesses can become media if they so choose. Most of them haven’t accommodated themselves to that fact.
  • Trust is complex in the new world because we are losing our traditional trusted brands. I trust Wikipedia to tell me the date the Yalta Treaty was signed, but not necessarily to interpret the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Trust is also situational. We are learning to trust some sources for certain kinds of information but not for others. It will take time for us to sort this out.
  • Today, individuals can choose to be celebrities all by themselves. They need to have something interesting to say and the knowledge to use new channels to say it. This is very cool. We no longer have to depend on others to decide if we can be important or not.
  • Today, individuals can choose to be celebrities all by themselves. They need to have something interesting to say and the knowledge to use new channels to say it. This is very cool. We no longer have to depend on others to decide if we can be important or not.
  • This is a great time to be a college student getting into marketing. The old guard is struggling to learn the new tools that this generation intuitively understands. Companies like Edelman are going so far as to create reverse mentoring programs in which younger employees train senior executives. This doesn’t mean you young people know it all. Be open-minded about learning from the experience of others and be generous about sharing what you know.
  • In the old days, the marketer’s job was to media-train a few key executives. In the future, the marketer’s job will be to media-train the entire company. This will be enormously empowering for marketers.
  • Marketing’s traditional role has been to talk. Its future role will be to listen. Branding and positioning will be defined as much by a company’s constituents as by its employees. If you choose simply to talk, people will choose simply not to hear you. Marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to increase their importance in the organization by becoming listeners.
  • By the time you graduate, have a LinkedIn profile. And for goodness sake, clean up your Facebook profile!

What words of wisdom would you give to today’s graduates? Share you advice as a comment below.

Tip of the Week: Picasa3

One of the lesser-known free goodies from Google’s treasure trove is this photo editor that delivers the features of a paid product for free. Picasa is intended to be used as a companion to Google’s namesake photo album service, but it also works splendidly as a stand-alone editor.

You can quickly import and organize your photos, tag them and save the results for upload to any service. I personally use Flickr, but Picasa is my editor of choice. One of the nicest features of this program is geotagging, which enables you to categorize images by their geographic coordinates. You can then use Google Earth to focus in on photos of, say, a Caribbean resort, and see pictures others have uploaded from that area. The features for cropping and adjusting color balance and contrast are also outstanding. I particularly like the “I’m Feeling Lucky” option, which can take a photo shot in poor light conditions and instantly fix the contrast and highlight problems. Download Picasa here.

Just For Fun: Urban Legends Explained

  • Does the number of hooves lifted into the air on equestrian statues reveal how the rider died? (No)
  • Was a baby strapped in a car seat really left on the roof of a car? (Yes)
  • Is it true that no one is ever declared dead while on Disney theme park property because Disney has the bodies removed before the declaration is made? (No)
  • Can a baseball be hit farther with a heavy bat than a light one? (Yes)
  • If you fell from a height of 10,000 feet, would you die? (Not necessarily)

These are just a few of the trivia gems from my two favorite sites for unconventional wisdom, and The Straight Dope. Snopes specializes in telling the truth about urban legends. Founded in 1995, it is the product of two indefatigable researchers named Barbara and David Mikkelson who have exhaustively documented the true facts about thousands of items of conventional wisdom. Are there really alligators in the New York City sewer system? Nope. And after you read the Mikkelsons’ dissection of this popular myth, you’ll agree with their conclusions.

The Straight Dope has been published by Cecil Adams since 1973. The column has appeared in more than 30 newspapers throughout the US and Canada and has been published in five collections of his work. Unlike Snopes, The Straight Dope presents detailed responses to questions in which a yes/no response is not always appropriate. For example: “What do the mysterious letters ‘YKK’ mean on zippers?” You’ll have to go here to find out.

Some people say that the Internet is a font of misinformation, but these two sites prove them wrong. They’re a great way to get clarity on myths that have persisted, in some cases, for generations.