HomeBlog Digital Natives vs. Marketing Natives

Digital Natives vs. Marketing Natives

November 10, 2011 | By Erin Provey

We spend a lot of time discouraging B2B marketing teams from offloading their corporate social properties on “the interns” — that sometimes nameless rotation of young faces seeking meaningful corporate experience and/or college credit. Don’t get me wrong: I think that interns can serve as useful objective voices within the organization — young, creative, energetic, fresh and unfettered by conventional wisdom.

Marc Prensky coined the term “digital natives” in his 2001 essay Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, in which he introduced the metaphor of technology as a culture to which one may be either indigenous or an immigrant (needing to learn, adapt and adopt the local customs). Classifying entire generations as digitally native or immigrant is inherently problematic. The generations most likely to be pegged as “immigrant” are also those from which the technological advances and inventions sprang; however, the terminology is useful as we consider the challenges and opportunities emerging as social media becomes a more established part of the B2B marketing and sales toolkit.

We spend a lot of time discouraging B2B marketing teams from offloading their corporate social properties on “the interns” — that sometimes nameless rotation of young faces seeking meaningful corporate experience and/or college credit. Don’t get me wrong: I think that interns can serve as useful objective voices within the organization — young, creative, energetic, fresh and unfettered by conventional wisdom. But you should never rely on interns for the growth of your B2B corporate social strategy; dexterity is not the same thing as acumen. Most digital natives (including junior-level full-time employees) are not experienced enough to turn your social properties into a strategic tool for brand engagement and demand generation. You don’t hire a nimble-fingered typist to compose your white papers, do you? Just because your intern understands how to use hashtags to make jokes about how everything is #betterwithconfetti doesn’t mean he/she is going to tweet responsibly and strategically on behalf of your organization.

Many digital immigrants are comfortable using social media for personal purposes, but remain uncomfortable using it for professional purposes despite their decades of professional experience. Given this…what psychological phenomenon enables the casual offloading of corporate social responsibilities onto someone who has, presumably, a lot of personal social comfort and little to no business experience?

There are, of course, many other issues with entrusting an intern with your social logistics – consistency of voice and related authenticity issues most prominent among them (the intern population is inherently transient, after all). But this one fundamental flaw in thought, this frightening equation of dexterity and strategy, speaks to a larger flaw in the thinking of many organizations regarding social media whereby the medium unto itself is considered a “strategy.”

Social media is not a strategy unto itself. It’s a set of tools, tactics and virtual locations where strategies can be executed. You don’t go around executing email campaigns just to get out there and make a name in the email space. You use email as an essential tool for sending a larger strategic message — part of an integrated campaign. Certainly a ramp-up period for social media engagement is necessary, during which the organizational competencies, roles and processes are implemented, tested and operationalized. After that, though, traditional campaign planning must be used to guide content strategy, identify objectives (and definitions of success) and set the stage for measurable impact beyond growing the number of followers or fans.

Digital natives may be adept executors. However, to make the case to build a strategic social operations team within your marketing organization, you must have a “marketing native” at the helm — leveraging industry expertise and organizational/strategic insights to forge the organization’s social identity. Who’s taking the wheel of your B2B social operations: a digital native or a marketing native?

Erin Provey

Erin Provey is a Senior Research Director of Corporate and Executive Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 10 years of experience in brand strategy, including positioning, identity, public relations, digital strategy, copywriting and account management. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinprovey.