A Message from the Next Generation of Digital Marketers – “We hear you loud and clear about Pandas, Penguins, and Privacy”

Three weeks ago I had the chance to present to a class of seventh graders at a local middle school here in New Jersey.  The language arts class filled with 13 year olds wanted to know how they could actually use writing in a real-world job and career.  You know, the classic, “how am I going to use what I’m learning?” deal.  So based on how important writing is in digital marketing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain how it’s used every day across marketing channels.  Let’s face it, almost every aspect of digital marketing involves writing, including blogging, SEM, content creation for SEO, video marketing, social media marketing, etc.

I really didn’t know what to expect when getting in front of the class, but I thought the students might relate easily to Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  So, I crafted a 25 slide PowerPoint presentation filled with stats, facts, visuals, graphs, etc. explaining how digital marketers use writing and language arts skills every day in their jobs.  As you can imagine, this was a radically different audience for me.  Jobs weren’t on the line, revenue implications were non-existent, and the subject matter was extremely new to them (other than general knowledge of using Google, Facebook, etc.)

So I walked up to the front of the class, launched my presentation, turned to the students, and asked my first question.  “How many of you use Google to search for answers?”  What followed was both amazing to witness as a professional, and fascinating to analyze as a marketer.  By the end of the presentation, I felt as if the students learned a lot about digital marketing, but I also learned a lot about the future of digital marketers.

Smart Kids, Smart Questions

As I took the students through how Google operates, how it generates revenue, how blogging impacts businesses, the privacy implications of sharing via social networks, etc., I saw their eyes start to light up.  I could tell they were genuinely interested.  During my presentation, I asked some key questions in order to hear the thoughts of 13 years olds versus professional marketers or adult consumers.  Their answers were both extremely valuable and somewhat surprising.

At the end of the presentation, I couldn’t help but think this was an incredibly smart group of kids.  I felt better about the future of digital marketing if some of these students were going to join the industry.  And by the way, Google should also feel better about it (more about this soon).

As many of you know, there’s a lot you can learn by asking questions versus simply analyzing data.  For example, let’s start with a few of the questions I asked during my presentation, followed by the students’ answers:

Question: How many of you use Google on a regular basis?  How about Bing or Yahoo?

Answer: Every single student used Google.  Not one raised their hand for Bing or Yahoo.  Wow, not representative of Bing/Yahoo’s 29% market share… while being a strong sign of Google’s dominance (and possibly for years to come.)

Question: When searching Google, how many of you know the difference between the search ads on Google and the organic listings? (Showing them a screenshot to make sure they knew what I was referring to.)

Answer: Not one student knew there were ads listed at the top or down the side.  Holy cow, this was fascinating for me to hear.  And of course, this helps drive Google’s revenue… Seems the light background color behind ads is working.   By the way, this question got the students thinking about why and how certain listings ranked highly.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that happen.

Check out this question I received at the end of my presentation from one digitally smart student in the class:
“Glenn, can a company just pay Google to be at the top of the rankings?”  My answer involved explaining more about paid search and organic search, and how you can’t pay Google for organic rankings, but you can utilize paid search to have ads above and to the right of the organic listings.  By the way, they seemed surprised that Google generates 96%+ of its revenue from ads (like many people are…)

Student Confusion About Ads Versus Organic Listings:

The Package That Made My Day

So I finished my presentation, waved goodbye to the class, and felt great about their reaction.  I truly felt as if they connected with what I was presenting.  But my experience didn’t stop there.  About a week after presenting, I received a package in the mail from their middle school language arts teacher.  It was a stack of thank you letters from the students.  As I opened the package of letters, I envisioned a standard “Thank you for coming in…” stack of thank you notes.  But what I found made my day.  No, it made my month. 

As I started reading the letters, I realized very quickly that these were no ordinary thank you notes.  It ends up that these students truly listened to what I was saying, internalized it, and the core concepts of my presentation stuck with them.  There were mentions of privacy, producing quality content, Search algorithms (yes, algorithms), advertising revenue, blogging, etc.  I was floored.

Those letters led to this post, since I wanted to share some of their thoughts about digital marketing.  But instead of explaining more about what the students wrote, I’m going to provide a series of quotes directly from their letters below (with commentary from me where applicable).  I think you’ll get a kick out of this.  And if you work for Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, etc., you should pay attention to the quotes listed below.   Google, in particular, should be happy to know that the concepts of Panda and Penguin resonated with them.    So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy the quotes.  Remember, these students are only 13.

Quotes from Seventh Graders Regarding Digital Marketing:

“I never knew much about blogs and how writing has to be high quality on the internet.  I learned that it is extremely important to write effective information on the web, or it will be wiped off the internet by Pandas.”   <- awesome, Pandas even strike fear in 7th graders

“What I found really interesting was the use of Panda and Penguin algorithm updates by Google.  I also learned that just because a website ranked #1 in Google doesn’t mean it’s there because of how reliable it was, but because of their money.”  <- referring to paid search, not organic

“Your job sounds really fun and interesting.  I learned how writing could impact my life in the future.  I found what you said about Panda and Penguin very interesting.”  <- the first sign that some students might be interested in becoming digital marketers.  Very cool.

“I learned how we should be careful about what we post online, whether that’s pictures or writing, because it will be there forever.” <- my points about online reputation management, the business of YOU, getting into college, etc. resonated with this student. Excellent.

“I enjoyed listening to the interesting facts you presented. I learned that Google is amazing and you can use it to learn anything.  Also, that writing helps people become rich.”  <- not exactly what I said, but the revenue numbers I presented for ecommerce retailers, Google, Facebook, etc. probably stuck with him.

“I thought your job is really cool. I had no idea about Panda and Penguin programs from Google. I wish I could have your job.”  <- Ah, a future digital marketer. Nice.

“I found it very interesting that Google makes almost all of its money from ads.  I also found it cool that your content has to be good, or your website will get kicked off the front pages of Google and most likely won’t be seen anytime soon.  If I get my own website, I will be sure to write great content.”  <- OK, that might be the best quote of them all.  This student now understands how Google’s business works, and that quality content wins.  Yes, fear of the cute animal algorithms now hits seventh graders too.

“When you came into our class and talked to us about writing in a digital world, I learned a lot and it made a big impact on my life.  I think writing a blog could have a big change for me and others my age.” <- a future blogger that wants to impact other people. YES!

“I really enjoyed your facts about Panda and Penguin. I also didn’t know that people could pay to have ads on Google.” <- more mentions of Panda and Penguin.  Google, your future algo updates might not impact as many websites if this keeps up.

“I was impressed to see that just another person from where we live could be popular on the internet.  You know, not like a movie star, but like a blogger.”  <- LOL, funniest quote I received.  And no, I never said I was popular.

“I never knew that you could find a problem, blog about it, and then people could find that to solve their own problem.  That’s a very good thing.  Without bloggers, companies wouldn’t recognize problems with their products.”  <- Yes! Don’t be afraid to solve problems that can help other consumers (and to make sure companies know about those problems).

“Personally, I found your job very interesting.  Who knows, maybe this will be my job one day! I learned how dangerous Facebook and other social networking sites could be to your future career.  You taught me how careful I must be with my posts because you never know who could see those posts.”  <- Two things hit me square in the face. I think I found a future intern for G-Squared Interactive, and I might have just saved a future online reputation management client.

“I learned how one piece of writing can change your life for the better, or for the worse.  I found it interesting that you can create a blog, have ads on the blog, and get paid when people visit it.”  <- the first part of the quote was in response to my points about personal branding, while the second was in response to Google’s business model.  Both good points to make from a 13 year old.

I’m Cool With What the Future Has in Store
Needless to say, I was thrilled to read the letters.  After speaking to the class and reading their thank you notes, I feel a lot better about the future of content creators, SEO’s, social media marketers, etc.  From Pandas to Penguins to Privacy, I think this group of students “gets it”.  And sooner than we think, it will be time for them to brainstorm, write, and execute.  I just wonder which cute Google animals the students will have to deal with then. 

Now it’s your turn to make a difference.  I’ll be sharing this post with the class today, so definitely include your advice below in the comments. Let the students know how what they are learning now could be used in digital marketing down the line. Remember, they are 13.