It’s the Social Media Age – Now How Old Should That Be?

At almost every conference and Meetup I attend, there’s a discussion about who in an organization should be responsible for social media.  Normally, the argument is about departments (i.e., should it be owned by marketing, PR, customer service, or even human resources), but sometimes the point of contention is generation.  In other words, how old should your social media manager be?

I started this entry as a comment on the blog of Chris Kieff, a friend and fellow NJ social media junkie, when he asked “Are Young People Better at Social Media?”, but I quickly realized that I had enough to say for a whole entry of my own.  Chris points out that most failures in social media are due to the planners and implementers not considering consequences, and that “the cynicism, and skepticism that often comes with age is a valuable business defense system that will protect your company from forseeable [sic] missteps.”

A main argument of his post is against using interns to manage your company’s social media, and I agree with that point.  However, my views aren’t solely based on the age of the individual.  The key to successful representing a company online is two-fold: you have to understand the medium and you have to understand the brand that you represent.  It’s ultimately futile to blame the failure of interns on generational traits, as those are the same traits that will be ubiquitous in the marketplace in another decade or so as Generation Y reaches upper management.  Social media managers, whether they’re 20 or 50, need to understand the difference between representing yourself online and representing your business.   People of all ages can be incredibly unprofessional, if they don’t put their mind to it!

When I covered a panel on hiring social media managers at OMMA Global in late September, Josh Karpf, a senior manager of digital media communications at PepsiCo, voiced a similar concern when discussing whether to hire Millenials as social media managers.  He noted that while they understand the channel, they don’t always understand the brand.   The question then becomes what do we do?  Do we throw all of our social media interns into MBA programs?  Do we send all of our marketing directors to Facebook workshops?  Do half of us try and fail while the rest rail from our digital porches?

I’ll be honest, I’m more than a decade Chris’ junior, and even I’m a little intimidated a bit by how quickly young twenty-somethings are turning an agency internship and their own experience online into easy social media mastery.  However, the only time I’ll argue against them getting their shot is when I’m applying for the same job! It’s incumbent that those with experience mentor the emerging professionals, and it’s critical that the young and hungry recognize that having a big social graph doesn’t mean that they know it all.

So, who is better at social media, the young or the old?  My answer: it’s inconclusive.  It doesn’t depend on age; it depends on one’s skills as a whole and the ability to communicate well.  An inexperienced intern probably won’t succeed, but neither will a brilliant CEO who isn’t passionate about the social media space.

What do you think?  What have I missed?

  • http://sminorgs.net Courtney Hunt

    In the context of external applications like marketing, branding, and customer service, I equate social media with flying: hours of “boredom” punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Too often people think success with social media is based on someone’s ability to be a peppy brand ambassador who can cyber-chat with the best of them. In reality, true success is defined by how individuals manage the crises that occur. Nestle’s Facebook debacle earlier this year is a great example of social media managers who failed to respond in appropriate ways to the challenges that were presented not just by Greenpeace, but by other detractors and even supporters.

    In the end, content trumps technology. Though it may not be easy at first, social media technologies are wicked simple to learn. Wisdom and judgment, however, are the hard-earned result of experience. The limitations of Millennials as social media managers has virtually nothing to do with their generational characteristics and everything to do with their lack of experience.

    To me the issue goes beyond the staffing question. There also needs to be sound guidelines for engagement and procedures for handling brand challenges, criticisms, and other crises.

    I’ve included this item in a Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) S.M.A.R.T. News Digest focused on “social leadership.” Here’s a link to it: http://www.sminorgs.net/2010/12/smart-news-social-leadership-i.html.

    Thanks!

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, SMinOrgs Community

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