An Open Letter to Baby Boomers & Older Generation X Communications Professionals

When I first entered the world of PR, we didn’t have email, cellphones or the Internet. In fact, I only knew my career was on an upward trajectory when I received my first pager.

Back then, PR professionals focused on finding TV, newspaper and magazine placements for their clients. A mention in the local paper was a “win.” Landing a clip on a local news program was even better. Getting into the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal was a home run. And to get a hit on a national network like ABC, NBC, CBS or even CNN? That was the PR equivalent of winning the lottery.

Then Al Gore invented the Internet and nothing has been the same since. I might be a Baby Boomer, but I plan to work at least another ten or 15 years in this industry before I retire.

Technology profoundly changed the game and I was admittedly slow to adapt. But when the then-head of news at BBC in London invited me to join Facebook in 2007, I figured it was time to check out the new-fangled new media. Facebook proved to be a fun diversion, but I struggled to make it relevant to my professional career. The same went for other channels: YouTube was quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon filled with fun videos, but how could you exploit that to reach new audiences? LinkedIn was intriguing for job seekers, but how might it be used as a communications tool? And when Twitter burst on the scene, I thought that I would never fit an interesting idea into 140 characters: personally nor professionally.

I slowly and perhaps grudgingly adapted, networking a bit on Facebook and sometimes tweeting about exciting trips to the grocery store. But it wasn’t until I joined Lumentus in June 2012 — and began working with a team of seasoned veterans alongside incredibly creative young guns — that I learned the true communications value of social media.

Now that my role includes evaluating résumés at Lumentus, I’m stunned that many of my peers (let’s say those in their 40s and 50s) tout their communications acumen, yet make absolutely no mention of social media skills. They’re still proud to be pitching stories to newspapers (half of which probably aren’t even in print); not to mention the number of times I’ve heard “hey, we got a client on CNBC.”

In this competitive field, if the words “social” and/or “digital” aren’t on your résumé and/or cover letter, your application is going to quickly end up in the “Rejected” pile. Sure, you can still reach other retiring Boomers if you remain a traditional publicist, but how long will you survive if constantly missing the boat on anyone under 40? At Lumentus, our answer is “about a nanosecond” (which is conveniently also the amount of time that it takes a misjudged tweet to go viral).

At the same time, you can’t “do” social media for the sake of social media. Understand its value and embrace it.

So, in true 2014 style, here’s my top 7 list (top 10 is so traditional media) of digital media survival tips for Baby Boomers (and older Gen Xers) in the communications industry:

  1. You don’t need to adapt to social media. You must embrace it.
  2. No matter how reticent you are about some social media phenomenona (“Twitter,” anyone?), you must keep working until you intuitively understand it.
  3. If you don’t already have an account on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, stop reading and sign up now. Then, use them daily! Build networks and follow influential figures. Share insights from others and contribute your own expertise if — and only if — it’s relevant.
  4. Follow some worthwhile sites that will help you figure out the tips, tricks and value of social media. Some of my favorites include:
    • Mashable
    • TechCrunch
    • AdAge
    • Emarketer
    • Clickz
  5. Plain text is dead. Once you learn the ropes, learn how to make your campaigns visually interesting. Photos, videos, memes (a concept, catchphrase or piece of media which may be spread from person to person) and infographics generate exponentially more click-throughs and engagement.
  6. Once you “get” social media, figure out how to integrate it into your social communications campaigns.
  7. Use social media wisely. A spectacular social media “fail” can harm your brand quickly and dramatically. Just ask the folks at any number of companies and even PR firms after their Twitter campaigns blew up on them. As the Brits would say, “They scored their own goal.”

Finally, remember that social media is just that – social. Successfully engaging people on Twitter isn’t all that different than doing so over the phone. Be interesting and relevant, don’t spam other users, and most of all, look for real connections. Just because you’re now separated by a screen instead of a telephone cable doesn’t mean that the “rules of engagement” are any different.

So you’re now embracing social media and the digital world. Congratulations and welcome to the 2010s – you may still get to work until retirement age in this industry after all!