Guest Posts, Social Media Strategy, Personal Branding

Secrets of Social Media You Learned in High School

Bill MurthaGuest post by Bill Murtha, President and CEO of Roberts Communications, a leading independent advertising agency with offices in New York and Minnesota.

Everything you know about social media you probably learned in high school.

In full disclosure, a lot of our social media strategy flows out of the work we do with Jay Baer. He’s been great, taught me and our entire agency a ton about how to develop and deploy social media for our clients and own efforts to grow business. That said, much as we love our time with Jay, I’m always struck right after hanging up the phone, or at end of a webinar, just how simple this whole social media thing is. The hard part—like losing weight, quitting smoking, eating your fruits and veggies– is doing it and sticking with it with in a disciplined day-in and day-out way. But the real basics of how the ecosystem works— well, I learned (and you did too) back in high school.

Cliques and groups define you

Who’s your audience? What are they thinking and feeling? What’s important and relevant to them? In high school, I spanned a bunch of cliques, groups, even a few lame gangs. We had juicers, druggies, motor heads, hippies (yes I’m that old,) rockers, heavy metal rockers, jocks and nerds in my HS. And that’s not an exhaustive list. But in each case, as I’d weave through my angst filled teenage years jumping from group to group, each had its own coda, jargon, ethics, special interests, badges of honor (or dishonor) and tests of loyalty.

If you wanted to be part of one – you had to connect with authenticity. Fake it or fail the test – sniff, whiff or otherwise –and you’d never really be accepted or “in.”

Sound familiar?

Word spreads fast (True or not)

Once you were “in” or “out” – anything you’d do that either enhanced your status or tainted it would be known fast …at least before homeroom, often in time for the bus ride home or that night’s game. Word of your distinction (“you won’t believe what Murtha did?”) or loser move (also, “you won’t believe what Murtha did?”) spread instantly and widely.

News about your peers, their activities and interests reached everyone like an organic virus. News about the Beatles, The Doors, Hendrix’s latest riff, a new album, or movie were known and evaluated, liked or disliked in-between class changes and hallway conversations. “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” “Hell no, we won’t go.” “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” McMurphy asking in Cuckoo’s Nest, “Which one of you nuts has got any guts? “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Like the info-overloaded hyperactive characters in the current Bing commercials—all this stuff flew through our “social media landscape” like a T1 fire hose. Even without all of today’s technology accelerators, I still think a teenager or tween on a land line can spread word of mouth at comparable speeds. Add texting, tweets, retweets, online reviews, Flickr, HootSuite, Droids, iPhones, transparent consumer rating sites….and you get the idea. Word spreads fast.

Friends want to hang out with other friends

Homogeneity was the goal. Fitting in with a HS clique meant you shared a clothing style, a haircut, an attitude, special interests, leaders, and of course, common enemies and causes. And sharing meant hanging out with your group and talking incessantly in-between chemistry and honors English about the stuff that really mattered to us. And after school, it meant hanging out with a following of like-minded individuals. And followings mattered. The size of the crowd that would show up at that nights’ game, or at the corner store, or on the bridge that severed North Bergen from Jersey City heights all depended on who was there. No sense going if there’s wasn’t someone there worth hanging out with—someone with a decent following.

You can’t be a friend without being a friend

And what good is hanging out and doing stuff together if you can’t talk about it in minute detail. Over and over and over again. Why see Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson rise out of the smoke filled stage at the Fillmore East if you’re not going to share the experience after the concert. And relive each Aqualung or Locomotive Breath crescendo. So we were “atomizing” and recycling our content streams and we didn’t even know it.

Good friends talk, listen, comment, trash or praise and relive everything they experience.

What did you see, hear, watch – and most important, what did you think and feel about it. So if you’re not talking to others, listening to others, telling and retelling their stories, saying thank you with comments, retweets, and pass alongs, reading others blogs, and adding knowledgeable content to the thread—you’re not really a friend. Friends don’t just eavesdrop and watch – they converse and engage with passion and purpose.

You can try to belong to a bunch of groups

But you can only really belong to as many groups who allow you to join. Permission marketing at work in the real world. Ever try to fake or force your way into a group in HS? Do you remember the look on their faces…the stone cold silence or one word answers you’d get in response. You can ask to be in a group as much as you want – but ultimately the group has to let you in or not. They have to accept your invitation and credibility as someone true, valued and worth hanging out with.

I guess everything old is new again?

(Flickr image by Arborreality)

Facebook Comments


  1. BrendaLynch says

    Social media is a subject most of us never took in high school so many still need a good teacher to help them understand the intricacy of this evolving field. I taught in a high school for 20 years before creating a social media training business, so I know that your article is spot on in understanding relationships. Similar to your story, I compared social media to high school proms to illustrate the planning and considerations needed for success. ( )

  2. TechSocialInc says

    I think that this is probably the best aspect of social media. We have returned to the customer their ability to chose which companies they interact with based on how genuinely that company gives a damn. This, in turn, will determine the success or failure of a company. Social media is critical, simple, and a wonderful thing. In the next few years this will become a bigger and bigger part of how a company conducts business. We know this, and sooner or later businesses of every size will know this (either because they’ve flourished by embracing this changed, or gone out of business by ignoring it)High school, for many, was a painful process of learning who your real friends were. For businesses, they will have to find out who their real market is. Posting a billboard on the highway doesn’t cut it anymore (unless you’re asking people to find you on Twitter?) The process for a business doesn’t have to be as painful since using the right listening tools can point you in a good direction to start. In high school, there was no way to search for keywords or trending topics and easily jump in on a conversation mid-way through!

  3. Snaptech says

    Interesting analysis on social media, it is quite true that the internet is full of cliques and groups. Being an active member on a forum or an active blogger does give someone more credit. Creating and maintaining a social media platform does require work. Working with different companies and trying to get them to go into social media can be a challenge, yet those who take the leap into the pool are finding that increasing your presence (or popularity) is quite easy once you get the conversation rolling. On a radio show we hosted, some mining companies talked about how social media has impacted them. “How Mining Companies Are Using the Internet to Reach Investors & Stockholders” at

  4. debkrier says

    Social media is very much like high school…or even eighth grade! You are who you associate with. I work with college students to get them to understand that even if they aren’t drinking, drugging and so on, if their friends are – and their friends are posting about it – the impression is that they do those things, too. The whole “Like” button is very high school – my friends are “cool” and if they like something, I should, too!

  5. teriel says

    Yes and no. Yes it can be like high school, but that’s also over simplifying it. Certainly social media is a social environment and everything you mentioned is true, but something many high schoolers lack is that fine sense of etiquette and awareness of manners, which is just as important for fine tuning your social media presence and making a lasting impression. There’s a lot to be said for looking at the behavior of people and what will prompt them to respond or care.

  6. joemanausa says

    Old is new again Bill. I think the biggest mistake I made early on was trying to “get popular” on every social media site … a strategy that also failed in highschool :)

  7. CurtBizelli says

    Hey Bill & Jay, thanks so much for bringing this “Hit Home” content to me this morning. I could totally relate to most of what you mentioned about HS and I see the similarities between cliches and Social Media. This was definitely a powerful article. I would love to syndicate it for you. I will provide a snippet and a backlink. Thanks so much again for the great, REALLY VALUABLE in depth article. Blessings over your success, feel free to hit me up anytime. Curt Bizelli

  8. OnlineBusinesVA says

    Hey Bill, Great post and awesome one. . Social Media platform is ideal for different uses and should therefore have a customized strategy. Due to the rapid rise in popularity and relevancy many online marketing companies now offer Social Media Marketing and strategy development services which are paramount to the success of Social Media as a viable marketing channel.

  9. says

    A hilarious but truth-hitting post Bill! I like, totally appreciate this analogy, and I do think social media is right up there with rock music and sneakers as one of the best gifts youth culture has given society at large (of course, high schoolers didn’t create any of these things, but they have popularized them). While I agree with these as characteristics of the social media landscape, I do agree with commenter @teriel that they are not always worth striving for or valuing, especially when using social media for marketing purposes. A clique can be analogous to your social media audience, say, potential customers or thought leaders in your industry, but cliques also carry the negative connotation of being exclusive (as you mentioned), at times, viciously. While a company’s social media efforts should show a deep engagement with its relevant industry and that industry’s constituents, it should also be welcoming to anyone with an earnest desire to join. It should simultaneously help define a community and open it up, make it accessible.

    • murtharoberts says

      @RyoatCision @teriel

      Thanks for liking and I agree with the need to be open and welcoming as well ….you never know when an heretofore “unconennected member can turn into a reference or a client!

  10. murtharoberts says

    @CurtBizelli Don’t really know what’s invovled in syndicating it???? But if it doesn’t cost money and it’s cool with Jay — fine by me.Thanks.

  11. murtharoberts says

    @joemanausa yeah…like HS you gotta focus ….which we always struggle with staying on a plan!

  12. murtharoberts says

    @debkrier yep, I thinkthe ease of hitting the “like” button and some of the gravitas many in SM circles put on it is way over-rated. I mean does anyone really believe that their 678 friends really really like them….maybe Sally Field?

    • debkrier says

      @murtharoberts I wish that Facebook would change its terminology. I always feel weird asking people to like me! Definitely like Sally Field!! I wish they would go back to Fan. ☺

  13. murtharoberts says

    @TechSocialInc Agree it’s all about returning to the customer….but I don’t think billboards and all the rest of our magnificent communication tools are defunct or made irrelevent because of SM.

    • TechSocialInc says

      @murtharoberts Not irrelevant. But far less relevant than 10 years ago. If a companies ad campaign consisted of posting 50 billboards and 10 radio commercials while ignoring all forms of social media they would be in for a rough, rough ride.

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