It’s social, but about business, too: Students share social media wisdom at first-ever Youth Social Media Summit

IT WAS TIME for students to be the teachers for one day when more than 30 high school students listened to their peers share wisdom about social media at a day-long summit in February at the University of St. Thomas.

High school students, about 30 from St. Paul Harding, traveled to the university that morning for the inaugural ThreeSixty Journalism Youth Social Media Summit, a pilot program aimed to empower local teenagers to use social media “wisely, responsibly and effectively to acceler­ate their future success in a digital world,” according to the summit’s mission statement.

Louisa Akoto
Louisa Akoto (second from left), a senior at Coon Rapids and one of ThreeSixty’s Social Media Leaders, speaks to students during a breakout session about social media campaign. (Photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

The program, several months in the planning, featured breakout sessions with titles such as “Activism vs. Slacktivism,” and was led by the 11-member ThreeSixty Journalism student social media team and volunteer professionals from the Twin Cities. The summit was sup­ported by Youthprise and was in partnership with College Possible at Harding.

Professionals outside the summit said they appreciated the insight the students had to offer.

“I value the way young people are mindful of new media and value the ways they use it,” said Jamie Millard, 29, co-executive director of Pollen, a community-building website that aims to connect people through sto­rytelling and opportunities. “I don’t think that there’s anything for them to learn from older people. They’re digital natives. It’s in your blood. You can teach us how to be creative with new digital media.”

Social Media Leader Nesani Sabal, a 17-year-old senior at DeLaSalle High School, helped lead a breakout session informing students on how to build a brand and connect on social media.

“I’m on social media and I think that it’s a really good platform for a lot of people, especially teenag­ers,” Sabal said. “I think that putting (social media) to a good use, talking about how to build a campaign, how to build your own brand … I think that that is stuff that we as teens really need to start looking at.”

As the summit’s featured speaker, Erica Hanna, owner of Puke Rainbows, a creative content strategy and video production company—she’s also the reigning two-time Minneapolis Twitter personality of the year—spoke to students about how she used social media to build her career and find her voice.

Erica Hanna and ThreeSixty students
Erica Hanna, owner of Puke Rainbows Creative, takes a selfie with students and others from stage after speaking to students at ThreeSixty Journalism’s Youth Social Media Summit in February at the University of St. Thomas. (Photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

“Social media is just a great tool to amplify what you love,” said Hanna, who at one point used Twitter to raise $30,000 for Charity: Water, a nonprofit that provides drink­ing water to people in developing nations. “If you know how to use it correctly, it can really help you. You’ll get out of social media what you put into it. If you put in a lot of time, you’ll get a lot of benefits.”

At the summit, teens had a chance to interact with social media profes­sionals, to engage their digital voice on social media, to connect for future success and to explore college life at the University of St. Thomas, among other things. The idea stemmed from a program called Protect My Rep, which originated with ThreeSixty several years ago. Leaders of the program went from school to school, spreading awareness of the impact, both positive and negative, of information posted on the web.

“Protect My Rep was a traveling thing. We would go to different schools, which takes a lot of time and resources, so our question was, ‘How can we do it in a more efficient way?’” said Chad Caruthers, ThreeSixty’s executive director. “‘What if we had a social media day where the kids came to us?’ The idea here was to just give it a shot with digital professionals and give our students a youth-led social media program, led by other high school students.”

Many professions use social media in some way, which is why social media can help teens make progress in the professional world.

“(Social media) has gotten me every single job I have ever had,” Millard said.

“It makes the difference between getting an OK job and a great job,” Hanna said.

The social media leaders and ThreeSixty staff said they were satisfied with the results of the summit, and hope to host it again in the future.

“It is a great platform to build upon,” Caruthers said.