earn verb ərn\: to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered (Source: Merriam-Webster)
I've been engaged today in a running dialog on Twitter, my blog and Social Media Today about why 20-something social natives are not better suited than older people to lead social media. The thing that frustrates me most of all is not the lack of self-awareness of young adults; after all, we've all been there, and today's Millennials are no better or worse than Boomers or Gen Xers in their 20s. Instead, what annoys me is that so many people think social media offers some sort of shortcut--a way to bypass time and hard work for their careers or their brands. Social may change a lot, but it doesn't change what really matters, and this means there are no shortcuts to earning success.
Relationships are not formed, value is not created and skills are not honed without time, investment and effort. Getting someone to have a true relationship with your brand is not accomplished with the click of a "Like" button, and attaining positions of leadership within the corporate world does not happen because you tweet constantly and have a cell phone surgically attached to your hand. Facebook, Twitter and other social tools may change how we manage our careers and brands, but they don't change what is required to succeed.
I've long railed on my blog against brands that think they can buy fans with sweepstakes and social game giveaways. We've seen story after story of brands accumulating hundreds of thousands of fans using these methods, but have these brands really succeeded at anything? They've gained a Facebook "fan," but have they gained a loyal customer or an advocate? These brands believe they've acquired a prospect, but with little to no affinity and low EdgeRank, this connection is as thin and valueless as a purchased email address. This isn't a relationship--it's a mockery of one--because relationships take time, effort, mutual interest and shared values. The brands that are truly succeeding in social media are not the ones taking shortcuts but the ones that stand for something, commit to the customer and work hard to earn a lasting relationship.
The same is true for social media leaders. Some young people think they own the market on social leadership because they've grown up with social media. By this logic, Steve Jobs, a man who did not grow up with mobile tech, should never have been able to relate to the way young people use tablets and cell phones. How could Walt Disney, a man who was in his 30s when television reached mass adoption, have succeeded at creating entertainment for children of the TV era? Dr. Dre, who turned eighteen when Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band topped the charts, still produces music relevant to young people year after year. And let's not forget people like Brian Solis, Scott Monty and Frank Eliason, recognized leaders in social media, despite the fact Facebook launched after they were 30 years old.
Beyond the gaping holes in this 20-something logic lies the same sense that social media can be a shortcut. Why should young professionals have to put in years of hard work, prove themselves, earn their way up the corporate ladder, gain experience managing budgets and people, and validate their judgment in ever larger and riskier programs when, you know, they all tweet and post? They're social and that counts for something, doesn't it?
Social media and social business are not shortcuts. They do not make earning loyal customers or earning job promotions any easier (although failing to use social media appropriately may make both more difficult). They operative term here is "earn." You earn these things; you don't just get them because you are merely present in social media and have a Klout score.
Later this week, the Olympics will begin, and two thousand athletes will compete for 302 gold medals. A billion children run, jump and swim, yet only 302 gold medals will be awarded. It takes more than just showing up to be the best. It takes hard work. It is earned.