Yesterday, my friend Tammi invited me to participate as a judge in a DECA competition. Having never been in DECA (an international marketing association of students) in high school, I wasn’t familiar with the process but it sounded like a fun change of pace. It turned out to be an educational experience for me too.
There were 200 high school students from the region who had come to compete in 19 categories. Tammi and I were the judges for the Business Services Marketing category. The competition worked as follows: We were to role-play as the owners of a party planning company called Professional Affairs (to which Tammi quipped: “First recommendation… change the name!”), and the students were to role-play as employees of the company, tasked with telling us why the company should be using social media. Talk about an “up my alley” task!
The students were given the scenario about 10 minutes beforehand and wrote notes on a sheet. They came in one at a time and we were to evaluate them on everything from handshakes, attire, eye contact, presentation skills and content. Here’s what I learned from the competitors:
(1) We are old.
Apparently, Facebook is only for old people. Each of the students who mentioned the 800 pound gorilla of social media said something to the effect of “we would want to use Facebook for our older demographic.” Ouch.
(2) LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ who?
Only one student mentioned using LinkedIn, but he clearly had no idea how to use it. Not one kid mentioned Google+ or Pinterest as social networks worthy of being used. This could be a function of the students only having 10 minutes to prepare or perhaps they don’t know how to use these networks, but Pinterest seems an obvious choice for a party planning business. Every single kid mentioned Instagram (“it would be great for showing off photos of events”), so they did understand the value of photos in social media.
(3) Discounts, Promotions, and Reviews are excellent content!
All of the students discussed offering discounts with special codes, so this is clearly a concept they understand. Several of them mentioned promotions, including one who suggested a contest for a new logo. (Did we need a new logo? I like mine!) They also definitely comprehend the concept of getting reviews from clients and publicizing them. However, Tammi and I were a bit disconcerted when one student mentioned working with a specific company that pays people to leave fake reviews for your company. We thought that was pretty unethical, and were taken aback that an 18-year-old thought this was a good idea for a competition.
(4) Mobile is HOT!
Most of the kids mentioned using the different social networks from their Smartphones. This must be why all of them mentioned Twitter and Instagram, both of which have excellent mobile apps. All of them mentioned, “young people today are constantly on their mobile phones.” (Some grown-ups are too, by the way!)
(5) Kids Don’t Really Understand “Social Media for Business.”
Not one student mentioned blogging, which is always a great way for companies (especially party planners) to show off their work. Only one kid talked about using Google for advertising in local markets, via a short 30 second YouTube video. I was surprised that only one student mentioned YouTube at all! Again, only one student mentioned ROI and getting measurable results. This was obvious when we asked, “How will we know if our new clients are coming as a result of our social media plan?” To which one student replied, “well, we have 300,000 people who live in our community. So any fans that we get over 300,000, they came from the social media plan.” Finally, regarding frequency of posting content, one girl told us “you can never overpost.” Ummm… yes, actually you can.
I don’t want this post to seem like I’m making fun of these students, because Tammi and I were both blown away by the courage required for these 14-18 year-old students to prepare a 3-8 minute presentation on a subject they wouldn’t learn about until 10 minutes beforehand. Some of the students were extremely professional and highly knowledgeable. A few were very nervous, and justifiably so. Some of the students came from more disadvantaged neighborhoods… we weren’t sure how much support they got from the faculty at that school, but we were impressed that they came and gave it their best shot anyway.
As judges (and moms), Tammi and I were both frustrated that we weren’t able to ask more than the 3 standard questions on our rubric, or to offer feedback on the spot. We wanted so badly to coach these kids, to provide advice (such as “don’t read from your notes the whole time… maintain some eye contact!”) but that’s not how it was set up. We did provide lots of written feedback on their score sheets. It’s the only way they can learn.
In any event, I came away highly encouraged about the future business people of the next generation. The coordinator of the program told us during orientation, “We always hear in the news about the bad kids in America. Today, you’re going to be meeting the good kids.” And indeed, he was right. These are natural born leaders, and I’m proud of them all.