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Attention Nonprofits: Hire a Teenager

Whenever I lead a nonprofit workshop about social media, it always concludes with someone (or several people) asking: "Okay. I get it. Social media works in terms of generating buzz about my nonprofit. It's important and here to stay. But how do I implement any of it?"

And then we chat for a bit about what tools might work best with their particular organization, depending upon what message they want to broadcast. And then I'm asked, "Yeah, but how do I do it?"

Which means: "How do I set up a Facebook account? How much time will it take to be effective? What do I do once I'm on any of those social networks? What do I say and to whom do I say it?"

And then we talk about finding a champion on staff, one person who can donate some amount of time to crafting a strategy and putting it into practice. People nod, but rarely then go do anything about it.

The next time I lead a workshop, when asked that series of questions, I'll just say, "Hire a teenager."

An article in the New York Times highlights how teenagers use social media and how the benefits of all their online time include being ready to compete in the real world. That's right: texting and wall posting and blogging prepare teens for tomorrow's careers. Which is why nonprofits should hire them part-time to do all of that for them.

Instead of the 47-year-old director of marketing running your fan page, a local 17-year-old should be. They know how a fan page works. They know when too many updates annoy people. They know how long someone will spend reading a message.

Instead of sending your 61-year-old CEO to a social networking seminar, just find a 15-year-old and tell them you want to find new volunteers using free online tools. They'll hook you up quicker and better than your head honcho learning how to poke people.

A key quote from the article:

[T]heir participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They're learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.

And they can do all that for you, if you're willing to bring them on board. They can do it immediately because it's second nature:

In a situation familiar to many parents, the study describes two 17-year-olds, dating for more than a year, who wake up and log on to their computers between taking showers and doing their hair, talk on their cellphones as they travel to school, exchange text messages through the school day, then get together after school to do homework — during which time they also play a video game — talk on the phone during the evening, perhaps ending the night with a text-messaged "I love you."

And, they can do more than just socialize. They can give you a strategic and competitive advantage:

While online socializing is ubiquitous, many young people move on to a period of tinkering and exploration, as they look for information online, customize games or experiment with digital media production, the study found.

For example, a Brooklyn teenager did a Google image search to look at a video card and find out where in a computer such cards are, then installed his own.

Right now, I'm in the midst of interviewing several candidates for a few CoolPeopleCare intern positions for the spring. We're looking for people to help market and brand us better online, to tell our story using social media like we never have before, and to spread the word to more and more people interested in our message. I'm interviewing a high school student Monday. I've spoken with college juniors and seniors, many of whom have held prior internship positions where they've used blogs to market products, planned viral marketing strategies and created original online content.

They're all better than a 35-year-old communications manager with years of experience working the press and crafting newspaper articles. If nonprofits want to attract the next generation (and why wouldn't they?), they need to hire younger.

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