David Perell

College Students: Focus on This

David Perell
College Students: Focus on This

Your college years are pivotal.

College is a time to consider your career aspirations and embrace your passions. While most kids are drinking, or slacking off in class, wise students use their free time to get ahead of their peers. As the world evolves with increasing speed, young students are in some ways, at an advantage in comparison to their older peers. They aren’t burdened by the inherent assumptions of the old world order and offer unique insight into how young people think and behave.

Four months after graduating from Elon University, and three months into my work at a media company, there’s one thing I wish I’d spent more time learning about: Facebook.

Cultivating a strong understanding of Facebook requires more effort than merely scrolling through your algorithmic feed. Among other things, it demands a nuanced understanding of social media strategy, distribution, new video formats, and advertising.

In a perfect world, universities would empower their students with a deep understanding of Facebook. Unfortunately, education is too inertia prone to truly prepare its students for success in rapidly evolving industries. Facebook has become so essential to the way we communicate that colleges would serve their students well to devote semester-long classes to the platform. With 1.71 billion monthly active users, 1.13 billion of which use the service every day, Facebook is central to the way we communicate. For millions of these users, Facebook is the internet.

Most university communications programs are stuck teaching their students skills for the pre-mobile world. The ubiquitous rise of the internet, and by extension, Facebook has catalyzed tectonic shifts in the way we communicate, learn, and engage with the world. Some examples below:

  1. Fall of television → rise of short form video
  2. Fall of the cable bundle → rise of SVOD (subscription video on demand) services and social media
  3. Fall of newspapers → rise of personalized news feeds

The once permanent bastions of the old world are crumbling before our eyes, giving way to more efficient mediums of communication. The changes extend to all sectors of communications including journalism, public relations, advertising, cinema, television, design, and media analytics. As a student, you’d be smart to conceptualize your own vision for where the world is headed and focus on building skills for that new world. If your professors think you’re crazy, you’re doing something right. 😉

The internet has democratized distribution — brands, traditional publishers and students have the same opportunity to spread ideas, making college the perfect time to share your work with the world. Whether you’re a writer or a filmmaker, Facebook is a low cost distribution channel where you can target your posts to potential employers or the exact people who will appreciate your work. Recent changes in distribution allow viral videos like this one and this one to reach millions of people at little to no cost. This wasn’t possible ten years ago!

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon — it owns your online identity, your memories, your online friend graph, and knows your interests. For at least the next decade, it will dominate our attention, and by extension, serve as the online hub for media and communication.

College students should let Facebook to guide their preliminary career decisions. Find businesses that are leveraging the platform in ways that intrigue you. Facebook’s impact extends beyond media and communication and into novel, more niche businesses using Facebook, and the internet broadly, to reach a clearly defined set of consumers.

Examples include: Harry’sThrive MarketBevelTrunkClub, and (yes, I’m so excited for this one 🍭🍬) Candy Crush. All these businesses are uniquely enabled by hyper-targeted Facebook ads. The businesses of the future will look a lot like these companies — smaller, nimble, focused, and Facebook dependent.

College students: learn everything you can about Facebook. Observe how it’s impacting the world, giving rise to new business models. In particular, watch what Facebook doing to video — Zuckerberg is on record saying the news feed will “probably be all video in five years.”

Those who narrowly focus on their craft with no understanding of business models and broad societal trends are at a disadvantage. The internet uniquely empowers independent creators like Casey Neistat who produce their own content, distribute it, and build a business around it. Doing so however, requires a business acumen that communications students aren’t known for.

As a college student, you’re about to enter a highly competitive world ripe with opportunity for those who dare to test the status quo. Technology, the industry where college students have a competitive advantage, is increasingly impactful and lucrative.

As Facebook continues to permeate society, developing an expertise on the platform will become increasingly beneficial. Understanding Facebook is a worthwhile endeavor that you’ll probably have to conduct on your own.

Next time you’re crushing beers in your friend’s dorm room on a Saturday night, remember that Facebook is the pillar of modern communication and the nexus of online activity. The company is increasingly powerful and filled with potential — and if you possess the intrinsic curiosity to make it through this blog post, so are you. 👍


To start, explore these resources:

Facebook Newsroom

  1. Follow these media companies: CycleBuzzFeedVoxRefinery29
  2. Follow these SVOD (subscription video on demand) services: Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon Prime.
  3. Subscribe to Stratechery and listen to Exponent
  4. Wall Street Journal Media Mix
  5. Follow Matthew Ball, and subscribe to the Media REDEF newsletter
10 Year Roadmap