We’ve all heard the argument: the next generation of professionals will become tomorrow’s business leaders. Companies also think these new professionals will guide them into the Social Media age. Perhaps an “age” correlation between the adolescent digital technology and its user counterparts makes Millennials inherently more able to take up the task. This isn’t new: I remember in my late teens, the gaming industry held a similar opinion that my age group would be better skilled at creating bigger and better simulation experiences because we grew up in the 80s and 90s with Mario, Zelda and Atari.
But back to social media: many companies don’t only believe today’s college students are the key to their success; they’re banking on it. And a number of social media postings are tailored to recent grad applicants with little to no internship experience. When I worked in B2B publishing, many of my former journalism colleagues agreed, saying they knew very little about Twitter and Facebook and were looking to hire interns and recent grads to show them the ropes.
Today NextGen Journal furthered this argument. In Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, recent college graduate Cathryn Sloane writes why her generation is the most qualified to understand and use social media above anyone else. She supports her premise by saying,
“We were teenagers in high school at the time, a period when we were young enough to be the most impressionable yet old enough to grasp an understanding … We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of it, no matter how much they may think they do … The key is that we learned to use it socially before professionally, rather than vice versa or simultaneously.”
I can somewhat understand why many people, including Sloane, hold this viewpoint. Because social media changes at rapid speeds, sometimes daily, it can be difficult keeping up with the latest trends, especially with all the expectations and obligations we all face. That said, the idea that the younger generation is armed with all the skills needed to leverage social media tools professionally, and in a strategic way, just because of their age, is a bad idea. And to give a young professional the keys to your brand’s online success without first arming them with business skills is not only damaging to your company’s image but also to the next generation’s future.
Why Youth Doesn’t Make You Qualified
Don’t get me wrong: the younger generation has amazing potential. They’ve watched social media boon when they were just dipping their toe in the professional pool. Unclouded by stodgy, cumbersome business practices, they approach professional challenges with wide-eyed zeal and enthusiasm. With an understanding of the latest social media tools, you’ve got a powerful asset on your brand’s side. Many of my colleagues are younger than I am and are extremely talented.
But many people forget how social media is just like traditional forms of marketing and PR. Used professionally and you rely on the same tenets:
- Planning your marketing strategy
- Communicating a solid message
- Consistently representing a brand
- Targeting your key audiences
At the core, these four elements are business skills. And even though the medium has changed from a printed magazine ad or radio spot to a tweet or post, the skills remain the same; skills that aren’t learned overnight. As with any skill, social media prowess takes training.
It’s Not About Age
And that’s just it, isn’t it. We can argue over age, whether Millennials or the 30-plus crowd largely behind the creation of these sites are better suited to fill the role of social media managers, until we’ve all been up to bat, but, as Sloane even says, “The truth is, regardless of age, some people have a better handle on social media than others.” That statement, at least, I can agree with. The truth of the matter is your age doesn’t make you better or worse at using social media professionally. What does make you better? Business chops, marketing skills, clear strategies and the ability to execute.
Lightspan’s own Jessica Funcannon weighs in on her personal experience learning social media for professional use and who her mentors have been along the way.