Where Are The Digital Natives?

Ken Kadet, an independent communications consultant (previously an agency guy) left a great comment here the other day that got me thinking.

Let me pull out the part I want to focus on:

“Back at the agency, we kept waiting for the Digital Natives to show up, but they never did. There are plenty of 20-somethings entering the workforce with no clue how social networking can be used for anything beyond posting a plastic-beer-cup toast on Facebook, let alone marketing.”

I think it’s interesting he makes that point, as I grew up building computers, making websites, interacting online and ultimately being passionate about technology for as long as I can remember. I figured most of my peers had as well, at least the ones who saw how incredible the emerging tool was for society. It was just too cool of a movement not to be a part of.

It actually turns out that I was a rarity, as most of my peers are products of their education and experiences gained working with others. This isn’t a negative thing, and I’m sure they’re doing just fine. The thing is, while my peers grew up using tools like instant messaging and texting, sharing content online, etc, most didn’t dive in deeper because it wasn’t part of their education, nor were they surrounded with it during their intern experiences.

At UF, for example, to get a marketing (or any business) degree, you merely have to take the CS 101 class, which is nothing more than learning the basics of computers and how to manipulate MS Office products. I did not learn a single new thing in that course, it was a complete waste of time (side note: they should allow you to opt out of a class if you can get every exam question right without even buying the book).

The communications courses I took (in 2003 or so) were all focused on traditional media. No one taught us about blogs, no one taught us about HTML or CSS, no one taught us how to build networks or build a web brand. What I was taught was how to use other people’s networks to my advantage – an important skill for sure, but I had to learn how to use the web properly on my own.

The difference is, while many of us have been mastering the art of bending technology to our needs for years – whether for communications, marketing or just for fun – only recently has the marketing industry caught up. And, what lags behind the edge of any industry is education. The educational world needs to also realize that programming is the new literacy.

Hopefully this explains where the digital natives are. I think that they exist, in that my generation (I’m 25) grew up using technology/the web and is comfortable using it as a communications platform. However, there are few who actually have taken the time to dive deeper and learn how to use the system strategically to their advantage.

I know plenty of incredibly smart people who are successful at using the web as marketing professionals, and many of them didn’t grow up on technology like I did. Age does not appear to be a qualifying factor for being successful at using technology for marketing.

Talented marketing folk can spread their messages anywhere. But, understanding the tools, the culture and how to properly communicate with your team members (whether they are coders or clients) are all necessary elements for success.

A deep understanding comes not from any available books or structured education; the internet currently morphs far too quickly for them to be useful. The understanding comes from being an active participant in this space and keeping your finger on the pulse of trends and what’s happening. (To me) that keeps it interesting too.

Related articles from The Future Buzz:

Geeks: The New Influencers

The Quandary It Must Be

Your Resume Is Meaningless (And Building Career Security, Not Job Security)

Related articles from around the web:

The Go-To Guy (Shoe String Branding)

Because We All Just Wanna Be Big Rockstars (Social Media Explorer)

Who’s Telling The Truth About Your Online Personal Marketing? (Seth Godin)