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.
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:
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.
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.
joostharmsen Totally agree. Social media isn't about age, it's about a willingness to learn.
Nice job on this post, I agree with you...it's not about one's age, it's about an individual's attitude, ability, experience, etc. To make a blanket statement that says a social media (or marketing) campaign needs to be managed by a certain age or demographic, is not right. All of us, as marketers and consumers, are very different and we bring very different backgrounds and experiences to the table.
I hope these discussions lead to hiring managers making smarter hiring decisions....decisions based more on fit, experience, passion and other intangible characteristics.
I'm enjoying the comments shared here, great job!
TimPio Thanks for reading. I agree hiring decisions (as with all positions) should be based on fit, experience, passion and other values held by the company. Nice point.
TimPio kudos go to katemhamilton and the Lightspan team.And yes! Marketing is about the different experiences. It's about crafting the right content for and with the help of the right audiences. There are no age restrictions.
Reading this article brought a smile to my face as I'm one of the great unheard on social media by all the analytics I read. For I'm 64 and if the numbers are to be believed my age group makes up less than 5% of the online population using social media. It seems that those of my age are supposed to be checking out the ads for Florida condos or listening to Andy William’s music on YouTube when they are online.
And I've so often found that the feeling all too often is that someone of my age just doesn't get social media. And as you stated nothing could be further from the truth. Age has nothing to do with one’s communication skills or abilities and that is what social media is all about, communication and engagement. And people of all ages can do well in both of these areas. But as you point out age does have a great deal to do with experience. There is just no way to get years of experience but to live those years.
So I’m in agreement with you that while the young have the technical skills to manage social media they are short in the area of experience. Companies need to remember that before they turn over the keys to all those bright young kids fresh out of college.
Worse is that most companies often fail to use both groups to their best advantage. And I’ve found that the best way to do that is to pair off their older experienced employees with their younger more technically proficient employees using what is commonly called mentoring.
For when you match employees using mentoring you get the experience of the older employee and the technical prowess and zeal of the younger employee. And usually there is little disruptive pressure as both know they are in much different times in their careers. As long as the older employee doesn’t feel that they will be pushed out the door as soon as the young one is trained all will be fine.
Anyway with planning and proper use of mentoring both the younger employee and the older employee can be used to the best advantage for all concerned with each complimenting the other.
kstaxman What a great idea: "And I’ve found that the best way to do that is to pair off their older experienced employees with their younger more technically proficient employees using what is commonly called mentoring." Completely agree with you! Combining the skills of everyone on your team to have an amazing strategy!
kstaxman thanks so much for your thoughtful response. Aren't we all just a mix of skills and capabilities? We all need each other. We all need mentoring. In fact, those who think they don't , worry me...
manamica I have enjoyed reading the post and the comments and have both smiled and nodded my head multiple times in the process. I appreciate Kate's measured and logical response to poor Catherine Sloane's recent post and had a version of this conversation yesterday. Unfortunately, many organizations are being told exactly this: that they need someone very young who has grown up using the tools of social media. And they will very likely learn painful lessons if the young person is also lacking in life experience, business understanding and knowledge of marketing and communications.
allenmireles manamica Thanks Allen! I appreciate your comments! Truly a compliment. :)
allenmireles I have a serious issue with companies that bring on interns only as "free labor." If there is no future potential there, please don't waste your time and the intern's time. Internships are the equivalent of apprenticeships. "Masters" would take on apprentices, teach them the craft with the hopes of creating new Masters. So if you can't teach them, why take them on as interns? And if they're better than you at it, why not offer them a job?
manamica allenmireles This situation is also a really difficult one to remain motivated. I've unfortunately been faced with the situation of having to hire interns without pay and it's been so frustrating to both sides. For me, I wish I could pay them so there's more value to them. For them, I can only imagine the challenge of paying their bills and working for free. We should pay people for their work. Whether interns, freelancers, contractors or consultants. Pay people for their work and you'll get better results.
I couldn't agree with you more. It bugs me no end when I hear of companies employing some fresh-faced young thing to run their social media for them. Whilst I'm not saying that they couldn't do it (I'm sure they could), just being young and using Facebook to connect with friends doesn't mean that they understand marketing, or business processes.
You just need to look at the history of social media to see where mistakes have gone wrong because someone wasn't quite switch on enough - and that has nothing to do with age. It's understanding of a tool. Would being young automatically qualify you to teach, because you have more experience of school - no, of course not. So why should it for social media?
rainbowclaire I fear it's the "low-cost" decision, which is a terrible way to drive your marketing. These are the same folks that call "social media" ineffective. If you do it badly it can't be effective. There's no secret there.But I don't want to leave the impression that I don't appreciate young professionals. Our young community managers are great at social media work, but they've been working with us for almost 2 years in some cases, they have extensive training (we do training sessions every week), we all work within a structure, and use the same process, and there's a always a senior team member involved. Why? Because we want to deliver the most value to our clients. Even the senior team members consult with each other. We're not playing at social media here. We don't need to debate who's better. We need to get the work done so we help each other all the time, so we can keep up with the times, get smarter and do more. We have internal wikis, trainings, educational goals and challenges each month (Google Analytics IQ test is the most recent one). Regardless of age, we all need to learn. And we take it so seriously that's it's #4 on our 10 values list: http://lightspandigital.com/about/mission/
Long story short, katemhamilton calls this "business chops" ;)
manamica Exactly - People are never old enough to stop learning! I completely understand that you appreciate young professionals - I'm only 26 myself! Every business needs energy, enthusiasm and fresh ideas just has much strategy and focus - but none of these traits come from age.
A quick glance through of the comments and possibly I missed this one, but social media is a marketing channel to attract attention and begin to build a relationship leading to the goal to increase sales (results). Funny, I just wrote in my blog about "believability" this am before I read this blog.
Yes younger people can deliver results and have done so. However, many confuse, IMHO, knowledge with results. Just because you have the knowledge does not equate to results.
The comment about marketing goals is so true. As I shared in my blog in working with my small business clients who have hired younger people (for clarification under 30), the absence of any integrated marketing plan is absent most of the time and probably closer to 99.9% of the time as well as a written social media plan including goals with desired results or outcomes.
Enjoyed everyone's comments coming from an older person.
CoachLee thanks for the comment Leanne. Don't even get me started with the "integrated marketing plan." I'll be the first to say, "social media," whatever you may think it is, is just a part of your marketing. No company should just do social.
A-freaking-men! It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with whether or not you're willing to keep up with trends. We have this conversation with clients a lot and what I always ask them is if they'd let an intern run a new business meeting or take a client golfing alone. If the answer is no, then the intern also should not be running their social media efforts. Not because they don't know how the tools work, but because they don't have the business sense (yet) to go along with it. Look at what happened in the U.K. last week with the Aurora hashtag. An intern was running their social media efforts, saw Aurora was trending on Twitter, didn't look to see why, but ran with it. And it was a disaster. Not to say someone with experience couldn't make that same mistake; rather it's important for young professionals to gain business experience before becoming the face of one's company.
ginidietrich Thank you so much! Appreciate you commenting. It's truly an honor.
I agree we have a lot to learn from past mistakes. You mentioned in your latest post, "Our industry is not regulated by a governing body so it’s up to us to self-police." (http://spinsucks.com/communication/trust-me-im-lying-how-one-person-is-hurting-an-entire-industry/) I think this applies here too. We need to set the standards and guide the business world in how they can take advantage of these tools. I think we learned a lot in the last few days which will benefit the industry as a whole.
katemhamilton This certainly has ignited a lot of debate. We talked about it during our staff meeting. There are some very bright young professionals out there (I'd like to think I was one), but there is only one thing that gives you the experience you need to be the face of one's company: Time.
ginidietrich time? who has time for time? ;) And talking about time, time doesn't just mean experience, it also means taking the time to do marketing right... katemhamilton
ginidietrich Thanks Gini. I'm ticked pink you took the time to respond. I noticed "a-freaking-men" a couple of times recently. Is this the new hot expression? :)
I am the social media director for an advertising agency. I'm also 25. Look, just because this girl started railing on the older generation doesn't mean she speaks for for all of us. I tell my team members and also my clients that youth doesn't equal social media proficiency. This is often a response to the client's position, "well, why don't we just bring in an intern fresh out of college?". My answer: not all young people know what the hell is going on. Just because they can mention a few blogs that have to do with social media, they drop the term 'engagement' and know how to create boards on Pinterest do not make them a good candidate for a social media professional. The last thing we need is this argument to get blown so out of control that it becomes THE ARGUMENT that people know about when it comes to hiring. This article may have hurt more of us young folks than it helped. When hiring people for social media - regardless of age- they have to be part of a team. They do not stand alone in your company.Who does? They should be in a position to teach and also to learn.
I have achieved some remarkable success at a young age in the field of social media. I could not, and would never wish to have achieved this success on my own. We are not born with business acumen. We are the result of the knowledge that was earned before us. We have the benefit of being born after that knowledge was gained. We have the benefit of a new perspective. So will the people who come after us who used the knowledge that we created...
Mutual respect. Constant learning. Recognizing your place in the context of collective knowledge. Collaboration. Supressing that bubbling, acidic bile that rises up in our throats, pride. These are some of the concepts that we need to embrace. This is the page we need to be on. Time to go ahead and lay down those swords and learn from this. And by 'learn from this', I mean we need to be learning from each other.
Finally... we all need to get the hell over ourselves, ok?
Social media whippersnapper and eternal student.
Ryan Crowe I fear you are right. I fear lots of nextgenjournal 's posts rather hurt the job-finding chances of new graduates. And congrats on putting in what it takes to get where you're at by 25. But back to the article in question, there's no place for age considerations in hiring, except under-16 which is a whole different story. No one deserves a job because of age. Everyone has to earn a role, a position, an advancement. So that's that.
Ryan Crowe Well said Ryan! I felt like I, as a 21 year old, had to write a post to get back on the industry's good side after Cathryn's post! I work hard every day to build myself a reputation as a social media marketer, and it is very tough to find a job. Posts like this just make it even worse for recent grads :S
Check out the post I wrote, that explains age has nothing to do with it, but rather knowledge and experience is key! - http://danielghebert.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/why-i-a-21-year-old-should-be-a-social-media-manager/
danielghebert Glad I wasn't alone in my need to respond! I loved how jfuncannon also rose to the response occasion. There's definitely a lot of people disagreeing with Cathryn's post, which I find really comforting.
katemhamilton Just reading her blog was making me cringe up and down. I am learning just as much from my team members as they are learning from me. Also, I have degrees in Russian and Theatre and a Master's degree also in Russian... do you see business there anywhere? Nope. You can bet your bottom dollar that I am spending more time listening than speaking - especially when I first started.
Ryan Crowe I love that we're all talking about the same thing: learning from everyone we can and moving forward from things we learn. You never stop learnign!
katemhamilton I'd like to think, in my heart of hearts, that most of my peer group knows that we have much to learn - and that we also should be endeavoring to teach.
Ryan Crowe katemhamilton I know I have much to learn and I'm not in your age group :). We ALL have to learn. Ideally, all people would think so.
Ryan Crowe Great thoughts Ryan, especially your final one. It's all about who works hard to gain the knowledge, whether they're 15 or 55. Social Media grows more complex by the minute and using it effectively for business and branding over the long haul is not luck and not just your personality. We're moving beyond Social Media as an afterthought for business, fortunately, but just barely. We provide value by knowing how to evaluate what works, by knowing what results matter and which are B.S., by knowing where to dive in and where to dabble. Being young - nor being old - doesn't earn any of that, hard work, time, and research does (and I won't even go into the value that comes with years of mistakes and failures).
MylesPulse Yep, well the other... the other problem I saw was that the negative comments - rather, the opposition, was levying their insults at not just Ms. Sloane but her peer base. We do not all agree with her, and I am not saying WE as in... I've taken on the mantle of Millenial spokesperson... but come on, this is simply not the common belief. I have never actually heard this come from someone my age who works in social media.
Ryan Crowe MylesPulse I actually look to nextgenjourn not the "young generation." Content marketing is about publishing with purpose. If the objective is to empower the next generation, they should only publish content that promotes that goal. I don't blame Ms. Sloane for having her opinions. But the publication should do better if they want to be a trusted resource.
Social media is a technology like any other. Statistically speaking, the "under-25" group is likely interacting with social media more consistently than do older individuals, but that difference means nothing if their is no engagement with the content. In my nextgenjournal piece (http://nextgenjournal.com/?p=27318) from today: "College students...have the ability to be just as, if not more, creative. Arguably, we have even more creative potential, as we tend to have a better grasp on the tools available to be creative (like social media) than do older generations. The missing link, then, is the conscious effort of combining the requisite perspective, risk, and space, to act on that potential." Facebook, Twitter, etc. become useless information landfills without deliberate cognitive effort, which is empirically age-independent.
caitlinsgilbert While statistically speaking, the "under-25" group is interacting with some social media channels more consistently than older individuals, it's still important to realize that there are several channels with differing active audiences. For one example, over 60% of Pinterest users are over the age of 25.
That being said, I completely agree with your statement of "the missing link, then, is the conscious effort of combining the requisite perspective, risk, and space, to act on that potential." What I don't understand is why we're putting an discriminatory age limit to this... I feel discriminated on when people don't consider my opinions because I'm young so we also have to realize that by saying "only people under 25 should be social media managers," we (as in our generation) are pulling the exact same ageist stunts that we hate.
jfuncannon I don't know that there's any evidence any particular group uses social media more consistently than others. Even more so, what does "social media" mean here? Are we talking about social networks, are we talking about marketing through those networks? The entire debate here is preposterous. As Maureen Blandford @maureenb2b, put it on Google+, "And babies should design diapers. After all, babies are intimately familiar with diapers. Right?"