How old should a Social Media Manager be?
It’s not hard to create an online firestorm by blogging something that is more perspective than experience. No one is feeling the brunt of this more than Cathryn Sloane these days. On July 20th, 2012, Sloane published a blog post titled, Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, over at the Next Gen Journal in which she attempts to explain why the best Social Media Managers are those who understand the Internet more than everybody else because they grew up with it. She states: "…every generation has changes in history that define them, and social media happens to be one of those for mine. I do commend the way companies (and basically the entire population) have jumped on the social media bandwagon and recognized that it is the best way to connect with people nowadays. Yet, every time I see a job posting for a Social Media Manager/Associate/etc. and find the employer is looking for five to ten years of direct experience, I wonder why they don’t realize the candidates who are in fact best suited for the position actually aren’t old enough to have that much experience."
It’s a ridiculous statement.
I’ve blogged about this before. Just because I use a lot of electricity (I’m constantly turning on lights, flicking switches and plugging in stuff), it doesn’t mean that I should be an electrician. I’m not an electrician. I’m not trained. I haven’t practiced and just because I use something or have always been around it, it doesn’t mean I have any semblance or experience or expertise with it when it comes to using it for success in business.
Knowing how to use something is not experience.
I hate talking about young people in this manner, because it makes me feel old and like a parent. I’m also cautious because I would never want to discourage anyone from speaking their mind or putting their thoughts out in public. Blogging is a great way to do some critical thinking and get some additional perspective. So, instead of attacking Sloane’s thinking (enough people have already done so… just look a 550-plus comments), let’s look at the more macro truth: you can’t fake experience. Experience (actually doing the work – and not just tweeting about it – day in and day out over a progression of time) is something you can’t fake. You have to earn it… the hard way. There’s a reason why so many blogs have failed to gain significant traction over the years: most of the bloggers lacked real work experience (which provides vision) to see it through.
Social Media is still fairly undefined.
That’s the real 800 pound gorilla in the room. Social media isn’t an ad, it’s not a marketing campaign and it’s not customer service (sorry). It’s a publishing platform. It’s a place where any brand (or individual) can publish – in text, images, audio and video – instantly and for free to the world. With that comes a group of people who see it as a free broadcasting platform, or people who see it as a place to help customers get their answers, or a place share ideals. This judgmental attitude is silly (to me). It would be like going back to the days of Gutenberg’s press and demanding that everything being printed must be a certain way. Do you think we would have things like poetry, comic books, magazines and fanzines if we judged the printing press the same way we judge social media? We’d probably all be priests and nuns.
Don’t be confused.
Sloane’s heart was in the right space. She’s right: her generation understands the very underpinnings of what makes something social and why people behave this way. That shouldn’t be swept under the rug. We’re going to need that generation to help us reshape the very fabric of what it means to be a marketer. That being said, those with the greyer hair should not be thrown out with the bathwater, either. Last I checked, I was in my mid-teens when modems and BBS‘ came online (the original social media) and being connected through these digital channels is something that I have been focused on for around twenty years. I’m not blogging this to toot my own horn, but rather to demonstrate that connectivity, digital media and social media was happening long before Mark Zuckerberg thought up a better way to do what MySpace and Friendster were messing around with. Just because it was popularized in the generation that Sloane represents, it doesn’t mean that what came before it didn’t have the same level of significance, or create a layer of experienced and seasoned professionals able to handle the tasks at hand.
In the end, opinions and ideas are great. Experience is much harder to come by.