Aug 12

Youth vs. Experience in Social Media: The Ugly Truth


Back in July there was a little bit of a social media shit storm that was created by a post written by Cathryn Sloane over at NextGen Journal (an online magazine dedicated to the “voices of the next generation – our generation”) that called out quite strongly that social media managers should be under 25 and that anyone older than that can’t possibly do it right because, ahem, we haven’t grown up with it.  As many of you can imagine, it did start a great deal of conversation.

Kat French over at Social Media Explorer weighed in as did Mack Collier of Blogchat, and countless others did as well.

I figured there is no reason to put my hat in the ring. Better people than I have responded in interesting ways.  But then, yesterday, a former student of mine tagged me in a Facebook post and she wrote, “Thanks for making it even harder for us to find jobs…? what.”  She was referencing this article from INC entitled “11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media” by Hollis Thomases. Coincidentally, Danny Brown had just that day also shared a link to a rebuttle by Daniel Agee to that INC article which actually focused on a more important aspect here: It’s not about age, it’s about stupidity.

But back to my former student…

She specifically tagged me which meant…well I needed to respond.

The comments from that one post that Jackie made were very interesting and included many Champlain College students who were justifiably unhappy with that article as they are all … well 23ish.

Here’s their reactions:

“That article is insulting.”

“i agree. it was a headline on linkedin this am… awesome, right?”

“Yeah, that’s a wonderful place to post this. We’re not eager to settle down and become adults? Maybe if we were able to make enough money to afford weddings, houses, and children we would settle down.”

“idiots. the type of 23 year old she describes, nobody should hire anyway. the “not to generalize” preface doesn’t make her sound any smarter. she sounds like a crabby biatch that just got beat out of a social media management job by a 23 yr old that is prettier than her.”

“haha the comments say it all!”

“It’s actually kind of funny because they’re making sweeping generalizations about an entire class of people. That’s like me saying, “Those who can’t succeed in business, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.” Those statements sound reasonable because they’re basically a truism, but they’re far from true for the populous as a whole. I love it when potential clients show me these articles and I show them all the work I’ve done prior… they usually don’t question me after that 🙂 As the saying goes, “Don’t tell me, show me”


“eff that noise. my fav “8. Humor is tricky business. People like to be entertained, on social media as well as elsewhere. Will a young hire understand the boundaries of humor and entertainment appropriate to your target audience, or could your audience wind up being offended?”

” lol and also i always let my friends tweet for me, because, you know, that’s how jobs work.”

“It’s like saying don’t hire anyone over age ____ because they don’t understand computers.”

“this is funny”

” Wtf.”

I have my own point of view on all of this as a College Professor who has been teaching 18-22 year olds for over 10 years.  And I’ve been teaching these young people digital marketing BEFORE there was social media, and I’ve been teaching them social media since there’s been social media.  I sit smack dab in the middle of it all as a 40 something teaching 20 somethings how to incorporate these tools into their marketing repetoir so they are ready for a work world that needs them.

So what’s the reality here?  All of this bru ha ha is about setting up an us vs. them mentality. Youth vs. Age. Experience vs. Inexperience. Why is this going on? The ugly truth of the matter is fear.

Fear of change. Fear of loss of control. Fear of life long learning. Fear that the young person is going to take my job. Fear that the old person is going to take my job. Fear that inexperience will cost me a client. Fear that too much experience will cost too much or is stale.  Let’s look at it this way:

  • The NextGen piece was written by a young woman who was lashing out at a workplace culture that wants her skill, but doesn’t want to pay her for that because she lacks experience.
  • The INC piece was written by a professional woman who was lashing out at the workplace culture that needs her skill, but doesn’t want to pay her for that because she has too much experience.
  • The Punk piece was written by a young man who is lashing out at the silliness of pegging this all on age.

There is a terrible misconception that business people have that doing social is easy.  It’s “just Facebook”.  They relegate it to interns (believe me…I know) until there is a crisis.  The individuals in charge realize just how difficult it is to change a workplace culture and get people to accept things that are different so it’s just easier to hire young, lay off old, and start fresh…if the powers that be (The PTB) can allow the shift.

So what needs to happen here?  And this is where I get to the point for each of the populations mired in this epic battle.

Business owners and managers:

  1. Take Daniel’s advice and don’t hire a #%&*! idiot.
  2. Actually take a look at your marketing in a holistic fashion, budget for social (cause folks this is NOT going away) accordingly. We are talking a 24/7 365 job that requires constant attention, content, measurement, and training. This is not peanuts work and it is far from easy. Come up with a salary that acknowledges that fact.
  3. Craft a job description that is realistic. You want a social media manager, stop asking for a PHP coder and a graphic designer.  That’s like asking for the security guard to do your accounting. Get clear and focused and move beyond the thinking that this is add on work.
  4. Look for an individual who has a good mix of experience that includes CLASSES (where else are they going to learn?), special projects, internships, employment.  Remember you are looking for cultural fit as well as experience that addresses your needs. Don’t assume that because of their age they can do this better or worse. Let’s face it…we all grew up with electricity.  How many of us can rewire a circuit?
  5. Google them. Seriously.  If they can’t brand themselves with social they certainly can’t brand you.  Not sure what I’m talking about? Take a minute and search for Brittany Leaning in Google or Nichole Magoon. I bet you’d hire either of them for anything social wouldn’t you? Doesn’t matter what their age is.

 College Students/Recent Grads aka 20 somethings

  1. Don’t do this work unless you love this work. Social is hard. It takes constant energy and passion, and a deep interest in always learning. Always being connected. How do you know you love this work? It is a thrill when you get a RT, when you see likes, shares, and comments light up your Facebook Insights, when you open up Google Analytics for the first time and see that traffic spike to the landing page that was drive 100% because of social media.
  2. Pick a college that actually teaches this stuff. Teaching that is hands on, current, and super relevant. Naturally I’m biased here.  Pick my program at Champlain College: Marketing with a specialization in Digital Marketing (or one like it…if you can find one). Notice we don’t teach a “social media class” for three credits. That’s because our marketing students start learning social media integrated in their first marketing class. Just ask them. They’ll tell you. They read books like Me 2.0, and CrushIt, and Engage. They build their personal brand starting in the first semester and end with a bang with this assignment in their senior Capstone class.
  3. Look for professors who know their stuff — research is awesome but in the world of digital marketing, marketing experience is key. How are your professors engaged on social media? Do they use Twitter? Are they on Facebook? Can they talk to you about Pinterest?  On your college tour, if they can’t do that, then that is NOT where you want to be.
  4. Do multiple internships with companies who need social media help or are experts in social media.  Here in Burlington, VT we have students who intern with People Making Good and Brandthropology and Union Street Media and Vermont Teddy Bear. They take what they learn in the classroom and then add to it with these amazing organizations. Target your internships to build your skills and learn something new every day.
  5. Build your personal brand while you are in college. Seriously. See that link to Brittany’s and Nichole’s content. Do that. Own it. Prove yourself. This isn’t just me saying it either. Read this from Michel Brenner over at Forbes if you don’t believe me.
  6. As graduates don’t be afraid to take on another internship or work part time to build your experience.
  7. Connect with local organizations such as Chambers of Commerce and The Burlington Vermont Young Professionals (find an equivalent where you live). Network, connect, meet up, chat. Stay active on your social channels.
  8. Blog. Blog. Blog.
  9. Stay current. Read everything you can, sign up for Google Certifications and utilize sites like Hubspot Inbound Marketing University

 Current Employees with Experience (not 20 somethings)

  1. Face it, staying current is hard when you have a ton of other responsibilities and reading a Marketing book, or playing with a new tool often seems pointless within the daily grind. It’s not easy, but if you want to stay in this business there is no other mode but continuous learning…WHILE you get your regular work done.  Your employer is not going to pay you to read Mashable, write your blog, and sign up for Klout.  You should just be doing that anyway.
  2. Get rid of the pay me for it or I’m not doing it mentality.  Do it. Not for your company, but for you.
  3. Go back and read Steps 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9 for the 20 somethings. Do them no matter what your age.
  4. Yep, brand yourself. There is NO tool that you shouldn’t be exploring.  Your goal is to be the go-to person in your organization and to help build a team of go-to people who are valuable assets to the brand.
  5. Set your sights on what is next. The days of the long term employment are long gone. Always build your skills not just for today’s job but for tomorrow’s opportunity (um…this works for you 20 somethings too!).
  6. Lose your fear. Remember to be curious. Remember to have fun.

And now a special note to INC and the writer of the article.  Hollis Thomases wrote, “No class can replace on-the-job training.  Social media for business is really so many things wrapped into one: marketing, customer service, public relations, crisis management, branding. How deep is the experience of a young person in delivering any of these things?” Take a look at what we are doing at Champlain and tell me that the skill sets of these students coming out aren’t exactly what they need to get them ready to do the job faster and better than many. A well conceived degree that is current and relevant, coupled with hands on projects (our students start working with businesses in their first year) and first rate internships absolutely gets these students ready to do more and accomplish more than college students without the same curriculum. Just ask some of those businesses I’ve listed above, or ask some of our grads like Nichole or Brittany or others (just look at the #campchamp hashtag on Twitter).

So folks let’s stop making this an us vs. them. It’s not. Let’s focus on what is really important. Doing excellent work, loving what you do and always…always learning.