Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Social Media and the "Too Old"

After being forwarded this article, Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25 by Cathryn Sloane, I felt like my day had been totally disrupted.

And while there are TONS of spot-on comments and responses to this article, there were a few things gnawing away at the back of my brain. I tried to put this post off, but since my work day had become a distracted mess, I knew my response couldn't wait.

First, for those who don't know, I am one such social media manager (on top of other job duties which you can read about in this post). I juggle lots of different tasks, but a huge one is managing multiple social media accounts. And while I'm still considered quite young in my industry, I am not under 25. I never had any doubts about my knowledge/skills or understanding of social media because I felt like I had been introduced to it in just the right way at the right time.

Sloane begins by stating the year Facebook started, 2004, and how she was in high school at the time. What she fails to mention, and possibly was too young to remember, was that Facebook was only available to college students when it first began. Colleges had to submit information to be allowed access to Facebook. Then, students had to register with a valid, school-issued email address.

Therefore, there were no high schoolers, no parents trying to check up on their kids, no businesses. Just college and university students, clumped into networks denoted by their educational institutions.

Sloane's argument is that her generation was present for the initiation of social media and therefore are the most experienced with it. I beg to differ. While I don't agree that just because you grew up with something, you're the only expert in it (anyone can master and excel at social media, regardless of age), if I were to use that argument, I would actually have one-up on Sloane. I was one of the select few who first had access to Facebook, before she event knew it existed. And though I was technically an adult at this time, I still have had more years of use on the site than she.

So if we're going to use Sloane's own reasoning, anyone who was in college in 2004 is more qualified to be a social media manager than anyone else in the world. (And because I went to school with people of all different ages, I know there were 40-somethings using the site since its inception.)

Also, while Facebook is undoubtedly the global social media giant at the moment, there were rudimentary forms of social media existent before it. We were building personal web pages, chatting on AIM and uploading pictures to MySpace in high school, riding that first wave of internet connectivity. So if we're making the argument that "those who grew up with it know best" then those of us who were in middle and high school in the early 2000s would still technically know the most.

What it really comes down to is not age. There are some extremely immature and unprofessional young people in the workplace today. There are also lots of (by Sloane's article's standards) older people who excel at social networking. Age is merely a number we're stuck with to mark the years of our existence. What social media managers should be judged by are their skills.

We should be examined by our experience (again, not always years but exposure and interaction with the given media). Do we know the social media platform inside and out? Have we mastered its use; do we interact, create, post; have we networked, connected; have we represented businesses before?

We should be examined by our knowledge. Do we know what businesses want; do we understand how best to use the platform; do we understand our market, what the people in it want, and how to gauge success where we're at; do we conceive new ideas, better ways to use the platform? Do we know how to learn and grow with the changes in social media?

We should be examined by our interpersonal skills. Social media is just that, social. It's about connecting with people, interacting. It's about representing yourself or your business on a personal level. Do we understand this fact? Do we know how to interact with a measure of restraint and tact, as well as friendliness? (Because it's a given, there will be someone slamming you at some point and you're going to want to go off.) Do we know how to encourage others to interact, can we build relationships with customers and keep them coming back?

We should be examined by our skills beyond social media. Someone can know and understand social media inside and out, but that doesn't necessarily make them the best social media manager. Managers should possess strong attention to detail, because as any business owner will tell you, accuracy is key. Nothing looks worse that misspellings, over-use of exclamation points and poor grammar. Therefore, a manager should have solid writing skills (maybe I'm biased but nothing turns me off more than having to de-code a business's Facebook post).

Additional skills should fit the desire of the business. Do you want quality photos posted to represent your product? Do you need graphics to be designed and posted? Will your manager be recording, editing and posting videos? Will the manager be creating written content like notes or blog posts? Will the manager be facilitating contests and give-aways, promotions and advertising?

So all of this to say, social media management is about so much more than age. Age can always help, but it's not an instant qualifier--or disqualifier--for the position. To make such a blanket statement, that anyone 25 or older is too old, is insulting to say the least. And it's disheartening to know that after decades of work to get equal employment for all, a new generation is stepping up and basing employability on age. I ask, what will they do after the few short years they've given themselves to build a career in an industry that will no longer need them after 25? Will they willingly step aside for the new, young up-and-comers, or will they do what the rest of us are going to do, fight for the careers we love?

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