Last month, a controversial article crossed my path and rather stunned me that I felt that I needed to respond to it. It was written by University of Iowa student Cathryn Sloane for the NextGen Journal publication and was provocatively titled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25“. At first glance, one might think that this is one of those posts where it’s a ironic joke or something like that, so you would give it a glance and read it once thinking that some marvelous point would be made. But after reading it once, you’re going to start to realize that Ms. Sloane’s perspective and post are widely off-base.
The premise behind Ms. Slone’s point (right or wrong) was that her generation was way more suited for the role of helping companies and corporations figure out how to use social media simply because her generation was more closely tied to the development of social media. Yes, as Ms. Slone points out, when the largest social network, Facebook, came into being, her generation was just “teenagers in high school” and that they saw how these new tools and services came out and evolved. Whether it’s Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Foursquare, Digg, Technorati, MySpace, AIM, Skype, Zynga, etc., that generation tagged along. So why exactly should companies hire young individuals for that role?
The mere fact that my generation has been up close and personal with all these developments over the years should make clear enough that we are the ones who can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come.
So because of one’s age, they should be more skilled at that role? I honestly beg to differ and respectfully disagree with what Ms. Sloane’s opinion is. It’s not an issue about someone’s age when picking the right person to manage your social media presence, but rather your understanding of the technology and experience handling the situations. Essentially, the social media manager will be the virtual spokesperson and community leader for the company–something that you can’t automatically be qualified for because you “spent your adolescence growing up with social media.” So what? It’s time to enter into the real world and realize that there’s so much more that you’re going find that you’re not qualified for…
Anyone can be a social media manager as long as they have an understanding about the profession, the technology, and know how to work with people–not just your co-workers, but also all stakeholders, including your customers. There’s a big difference between how you are going to use a service like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, etc. to communicate with consumers versus enterprise companies. And it’s going to get more complicated depending on what industry you’re actually working with (e.g. pharmaceuticals, financial institutions, government, non-profit, CPG, etc.). The issue behind an individual being able to operate the technology is akin to a construction worker being able to operate a bulldozer–what they may lack (and I don’t say this as a generality), is the understanding of the strategic goal of the construction and how should they respond in good times and in bad times.
Judging by the way “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25″ was written, the above point is clearly not shared in the post. If you look at Ms. Sloane’s post, you’ll notice she gives vague references to the use of social media, hardly anything that one would expect from someone seeking a social media manager position. If a young person wishes to be in this role, perhaps they should elucidate the community and the hiring manager on how one could effectively set up an integrated campaign to achieve a specific ROI? Social media is much, much more than just Twitter and Facebook and the lack of understanding is what works against your cause to become a social media manager.
Sure, being an older person isn’t a requisite for being a social media manager, nor should it. But there is something to be said by going after experience, which, if you look at all Ms. Sloane’s post’s comments, you’ll see that many people (including several of my friends in the social media scene) clearly agree with. As Erica O’Grady commented: “The technology is only a platform for conversations to take place. Our allegiance has never been to the platform – our allegiance has been to our network – to our friends. To the amazing relationships we’ve built with amazing – incredible – talented people!” and she’s entirely correct…social media is not the end goal, it’s about building relationships and forming well-intentioned conversations. Someone with the experience in marketing, public relations, or communications will have the gumption and the skills capable of sustaining this for the long-term for themselves and their company.
I applaud Ms. Sloane for writing her post, but what I think she, and anyone (age generic) who thinks this way, needs to do is to really look past the shiny metal objects and instead focus on what the whole strategic point of having a social media manager is and what the qualifications really entail–look past the fact that you can use Twitter and Facebook and think about whether you can understand what’s being said and whether your experience supports it. If not, go after an internship or a lower position on the totem pole and work your way up. No one gets to the top that quickly…
But live and learn. Now we must move on past this controversy and instead focus on helping teach the next generation on how to become successful at social media management. Whether it’s through internships, training, shadowing you, or whatever, opportunities must be given to help expand the minds of the next generation so that they can also become productive members of the community. And, perhaps most importantly, we mustn’t harshly attack people with differing opinions–we’re all entitled to what we think, no matter what.
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