A digital native might not be your best social media manager

Millennials who grew up with all manner of mobile devices might not be your best choice to lead your social media engagement team.

There is little doubt that social media has made its presence known in the government community. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others have become part of the communication landscape, part of the GovCon ecosystem. Is there a federal agency or Tier 1 contractor without a Twitter account or LinkedIn company profile?

LinkedIn is arguably the main social channel for GovCon. With 1.6 million federal employees representing all federal agencies (and yes, even intelligence agencies, though the numbers are small), LinkedIn is the place to be seen or to be found. Twitter and Facebook both play significant roles as well, but once again rumors abound that Google+ is on the way out (my reliable source is my digital native son, Travis, who is 19).

Regardless, social media is here and in a very big way.

One tell-tale sign of that is the rise of the “Social Media Engagement Manager” or similar title at many companies. The job function has been around for a few years now, but it is becoming more widespread, often with entire social media departments created.

There is, however, a problem that some companies are creating for themselves.

Most companies entrenched in government contracting are not run by digital natives, millennials who grew up with all manner of electronic devices. Some of us even grew up without computers, and certainly without the web.

When social networks first invaded the web in 2003, no one in the government market paid attention, at least as far as the business of GovCon was concerned. LinkedIn may be the oldest (May, 2003), followed by the likes of Friendster, MySpace and Facebook (February, 2004).

Not only did these not garner interest in our market, feds were actively discouraged from using social networks for business until late 2010. At that time GSA was successful in negotiating agreements with the major social networks on how federal employee data could be used by the network.

Once these agreements were in place federal employee membership grew quickly, and where feds go, contractors follow. Which leads back to six-plus years later LinkedIn having 1.6 million identifiable federal employees as members. After all, LinkedIn was built for business professionals, even if it was born in Silicon Valley.

Millennials have always been “connected” via the web and are used to a life that is defined by the latest tool or app, and access to those tools 24/7. Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram are all interesting and may be great for peer communications, voting for some contestant on TV, sexting or whatever the hell they do.

And this is where the problem arises. Digital natives can navigate the seemingly never-ending stream of evolving tools that seem to pop up daily.  These tools may all be great and have value for certain communities.

But not GovCon.

LinkedIn was seven years old before significant adoption of the platform. Critical mass did not occur until about 2012. Yet now the millennials who can navigate everything BUT LinkedIn are being hired by some contractors simply because they are truly talented digital natives. They just are not talented in the social tools utilized in this market.

Millennials hate LinkedIn and find it archaic. Oddly enough, that’s why it’s popular in government circles: it is a “safe” place for business communications, even communications between feds and contractors. LinkedIn has been fully vetted and has achieved critical mass.

Most of the newer tools are unfamiliar, unvetted by the GovCon community and therefore have little or no traction in our market.

Hiring a digital native as your in-house social guru, even if their social media skills are extraordinary, may not be the best move you can make.

The government has always been a slow adopter and being ahead on this curve is not the best way to go.