Sunday, July 22, 2012

How Old is Your Social Media Manager? My Response to @CathrynSloane25


My coworker showed me this really interesting article today and it struck a couple of chords with me. Author Cathryn Sloane is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa and  in her article, she makes the claim that every social media manager should be under the age of 25. She states that people from this young generation “were teenagers in high school at the time, a period when [they] were young enough to be the most impressionable yet old enough to grasp an understanding.” She makes the argument that because social media had been introduced to “under-25ers” at such a young age, they are naturally social and therefore, the best candidates for social media positions. Needless to say, this sweeping statement caused quite the reaction. Bold statement + angry social media professionals = disaster.

As a 23 year old working in the social media industry, I hear ya, girl. I’ve always had a strong passion for social media because I’ve always felt like it was something I understood. I was using Facebook before it was cool: before the “like” button, brand pages, and sponsored stories. In fact, during my freshman year of college, my friends made fun of me for being “that girl” who used to start conversations with strangers by saying, “Oh yeah, I know who you are. I think we talked on Facebook that one time.” Naturally, as soon as I saw an opportunity to intern at a social media agency, I jumped at the chance.
However, to say that I was hired because of my youth and “superior” understanding of social media would be a bit naive. Did growing up in a social generation help me explore my passion for the industry? Definitely. Is that what makes me good at my job? No.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that social media is about more than understanding how the platforms work: It’s about understanding how people work. How do people interact with one another? Why do people use social media? How does the relationship between two individuals on Facebook differ from the relationship between brands and their consumers? What demographic is most active on social media and what are the typical behavior patterns? Although social media has been a huge part of my life for quite some time, knowledge of the platforms alone would not provide me with this information.
The other key element that Cathryn overlooked is the importance of understanding how businesses run and keeping in mind that everything one does for a brand must tie into the company’s overarching business strategy. I could understand Twitter like the back of my hand: I could tweet 20 times a day, use trending topics, search key terms and @mention users... but where’s the value in that? What is the company looking to get out this? How is this driving sales? What am I providing for my clients that a college student couldn’t provide (and for less money, I should add)? 
Although the concept of “social media” is relatively new, marketing is not. People who have worked in the marketing industry not only have a clear understanding of how business works, but they’ve also had experiences that have helped them understand consumers and their relationships with these companies. This is something that an understanding of social media for personal use cannot necessarily teach you.
I have been fortunate enough to be an “under-25er” working at a social media marketing agency for over 2 years. However, I do not attribute my successes to the fact that I grew up in a social generation (although it definitely didn’t hurt). I believe that I’ve been successful because of my capacity and eagerness to learn as much as I can. I’ve never hesitated to schedule brainstorming sessions with my “over 25-year old” coworkers because although I’ve always been confident that I’m intrinsically social, I know that they have a lot to teach me when it comes to business, marketing, and strategy. I have many great qualities and skills necessary to manage social communities, but I owe SO much of my success to my more experienced coworkers who have helped and guided me each step of the way. A thorough understanding of the platforms is important, but an eagerness to learn and never stop learning is essential. A 20 year old with a thorough understanding of social media and the capacity and willingness to learn about business and marketing has the potential to be a great Social Media Manager. However, a 40 year old who has experience in business and marketing and the capacity and willingness to learn the ins and outs of social platforms is just as, if not more qualified for the job. Pair the business and marketing experience with a thorough understanding of the platforms (believe it or not, many "over-25ers" HAVE in fact been using social media since its start), and you've got one super qualified candidate.
For those of you yelling at poor Cathryn and harassing her online: you really need to stop. It’s one thing to disagree (in fact, I enjoy a healthy debate once in a while), but to insult and ridicule a young journalist at the brink of her career is just unnecessary, not to mention immature. For those of you leaving comments referencing “the arrogance of youth” while simultaneously calling Cathryn an “ageist,” you are being extremely hypocritical. As a 23 year old, I know I have a lot of learn. That being said, I’ve worked extremely hard and I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished in my life and career so far. Making such harsh (and false) generalizations about our generation is demeaning and I cannot accept anyone belittling my accomplishments. 20 or 50, I respect anyone who has a passion for what they do, a killer work ethic, and the drive to succeed.


  1. Nicely written post, Amy! As a mid-20 something, I was slightly horrified by Cathryn's post. Not because of the blanket assumption/opinion, but because her argument relied on age and not experience. Age doesn't mean squat in social media. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that often times we think just because someone is "good" at social media for personal use (that could be a 20 year old or a 65 year old), that they would automatically be good at social media for a business. That may be true or that may not be true. It's not about how to use the tools, instead its all about how to use the tools in the most strategic way to meet a business's core goals.

    In addition, my only real grip with Cathryn is the fact that she hasn't responded to one comment, tweet, or post since her post ran on NextGen. She didn't even write the response post - after it received all the backlash- her editor did. That shows immaturity and lack of experience. A true marketer would at least know that responding - in even a small way- would be way better for the overall reputation of a person or brand- is better than just ignoring it. That's PR Crisis Comm 101.

  2. @Jessica Malnik Jessica, I completely agree! She really should have at least responded to some of the comments and tweets. The truth is, I kind of get where she's coming from and I think that had she responded, she would have had the opportunity to explain herself a bit better.